Read articles about the South China Sea conflict on foreign media sites like Bloomberg, TIME, CNN, the BBC, and even Singapore’s The Straits Times, and you will find the real major players in the flashpoint mentioned liberally — China, the United States, and Japan. Perhaps even Vietnam.
What is notable about international media coverage of the South China Sea is what it consistently omits — the role the Philippines plays. That says something about the Philippines’ place in the global scheme of things. Indeed, the question all the more gets highlighted…
What does the Philippines contribute to the imbroglio?
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The Philippines contributes no more than its victimhood.
The position the Philippine government has taken to underpin its appeal for global support in its efforts to assert sovereignity over the territories in the South China Sea that it lays claim to is based on the painting of China as a “bully”. Inquirer columnist Peter Wallace in his article China – a bully in the block, describes China’s behaviour in the region as akin to “irresponsible action by a bully, by someone who knows he can ride roughshod over others. It is not how responsible nations act.”
Fortunately, Wallace, rather than go down the typically-Filipino path of further wallowing in its victimhood, highlights the more confronting reality of how the Philippines got to this sorry situation…
What I find sad about all of this is that it probably wouldn’t have happened at all if the Philippine Senate had voted differently in 1991.
Twelve senators voted to kick the American bases out of Subic and Clark (against 11 who voted to retain). Now two of those 12 are trying to stop the Edca (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement), which allows US military forces to maintain eight small bases here. It’s really quite simple: The Philippines has no military power at all. This is no denigration of the Armed Forces of the Philippines—they are fine, battle-worthy men, but they don’t have nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and a fleet of battleships or the latest-model fighter planes or all the myriad equipage China has. So any war would be over in a day. The United States has all these things in spades—and China knows it. So why on earth would you make it difficult for a friend to help you stand up to this bully, which only the United States can?
Those 12 Philippine senators deserve to go down in history as the men who turned the Philippines into the regional laughingstock that it is today. In 1991, Senate President Jovito Salonga, Senators Wigberto Tanada, Teofisto Guingona, Rene Saguisag, Victor Ziga, Sotero Laurel, Ernesto Maceda, Agapito Aquino, Juan Ponce Enrile, Joseph Estrada, Orlando Mercado, and Aquilino Pimentel voted to boot the United States military out from its prized bases in Subic Bay and Clark Field among others. You’d think that this astoundingly pompous display of “national pride” would motivate an actual display of self-reliance by following through with a focused effort to build up indigenous defense capability to fill the massive void left by the American pullout. History now shows that this did not happen.
As if that weren’t enough, the Philippines still fails to learn that hard lesson even today as the United States shows renewed interest in rebuilding its lost military presence in the region. Filipinos still regard the American presence as an affront to their imagined “independence”. Some even bizarrely continue to see America as the enemy.
Militant group Gabriela (supposedly a champion of “womens’ issues”), for example, expressed fears that the recent increases in US troop deployments to the Philippines will result in an increase in crime around areas where they are stationed. According to Gabriela party-list Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan “the country could see a rise in women and child abuse cases as a result of the 10-year defense deal that will allow greater US military presence in the country.”
“They will still violate and go around the provisions. Tayo pa rin ang dehado.”
Ilagan said aside from a possible rise in cases of human rights violations, the [Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which currently serves as the basis for governing US military presence in the Philippines] can also cause damage to the country’s environment.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares shared Ilagan’s sentiment against the deal. “Ang daming nangyaring krimen noong panahon ng bases – rape, child prostitution, illegal drugs, human rights violations – mayroon ka bang nalaman na isang Amerikanong na-convict?”
Ilagan seems to conveniently forget, however, that many of the most heinous crimes in the Philippines are perpetrated by Filipinos themselves. Indeed, it is likely that crime that can be directly attributed to American military personnel is statistically insignificant. Recent high-profile crackdowns on child abuse in the Philippines were, in fact, initiated by foreign law enforcement agencies. This is another example of the way Filipinos are motivated by foreign pressure first before any self-initiative. Left to their own devices, local law enforcement agencies will have likely left that cancer to fester right under their noses.
So-called “activists” like Ilagan should also consider the tens (possibly hundreds) of thousands of Filipino lives that were saved and relieved of their misery by the awesome might of the US military back in late 2013 after super typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines. If there were “victims” of “human rights violations” supposedly perpetrated by US troops in the past, as Ilagan points out, maybe that bit of math will put things in a bit more perspective for the honourable party-list “representative”. Perhaps Ilagan should, instead, spend her days going after her colleagues in government who make a killing syphoning off money intended for the rehabilitation of the disaster areas.
The truth is quite simple. The only reason China is not moving faster and more menacingly than it already is in the South China Sea is because it is wisely considering the possibility of military action by countries like the United States, Japan, and Australia that pose real threats to its goals. The Philippines’ efforts at “diplomacy” is really no more than a quaint side show.
Indeed, weak countries like the Philippines continue to exist only because powerful countries allow them to. A world order supposedly ruled by “international law” is no more than a glossy pretense. No less than the United States itself has, time and again, demonstrated that its own national interests trump United Nations “resolutions” any day. Military might is the only real currency in international “relations”.
The Philippines had ample time to learn that simple lesson. But in remaining consistent with its renowned tradition of institutionalised idiocy, it didn’t.
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