Saturday, May 31, 2014

Three hours to mourn

Baby Diona Andrea died forty-eight hours after she was born.
According to an estimate by UNICEF, about 29,000 children under the age of five die every day, or 21 every minute. These children die mainly from preventable causes.
Baby Diona became another statistic that defies the human heart and mind, which puts this infant’s wretched fate upon us, or squarely on those who had the power and opportunity to have saved her from the pangs of death.
Preventable causes and needless circumstances, both make up the dynamic of life and death of children that slays the lives of the very young, and in baby Diona’s case, the single cause that nips the promise of a life of what might have been.
Andrea Rosal bids goodbye to daughter Diona Andrea. Photo by J. Elao,
By all means, the circumstances of baby Diona’s death were avoidable. More than a month and a half before she sprang to life in her mother’s womb, Diona’s mother, Andrea Rosal, along with two others were arrested by the military in a house in Caloocan City. The seven-month pregnant Andrea was going for a pre-natal check up at the time of the arrest.
Andrea is the daughter of the late spokesperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal. With a communist father, so she must be one too, must have been the simple logic that presumably worked behind the mind of the military. Why can’t that same unintelligent thinking process work when one sees the picture of the President smiling with the pork barrel queen standing beside him? Or why not arrest me, too, here in the cozy comfort of Toronto for being friends in our younger days with the recently-captured communist rebel chiefs?
After her arrest, Andrea was confined in a crowded 10 x 5 detention cell along with 31 other prisoners. She chose to sleep on the cold cement floor because she could not climb the third deck of the bed bunk assigned to her. When she started complaining of contractions in her tummy, the prison guards simply ignored her and negligently deprived her of medical attention.
A high number of neonatal deaths occur largely in the developing world. More than 70 percent of almost 11 million child deaths every year are attributable to six causes: diarrhea, malaria, neonatal infection, pneumonia, preterm delivery, or lack of oxygen at birth.
While the majority of these deaths are preventable, others may be caused by marginalization, malnutrition, poverty or civil conflict which, though also escapable, may take time to overcome.
As barbaric and inhumane as Andrea’s captors could be, notwithstanding she was a woman seven months’ pregnant, the miserable jail conditions compounded her health issues. In fact, she even needed to go to court to get an order granting her to give birth at the Philippine General Hospital. After giving birth on May 17, her baby Diona experienced difficulties in breathing and had to be rushed to PGH’s neonatal intensive care unit. Barely two days old, baby Diona succumbed the following day due to pulmonary hypertension and lack of oxygen in her blood.
There are some, somewhat callous and insensitive, who even think that Andrea’s status as a political prisoner has no bearing on what type of accommodation or treatment she could have gotten from her captors, that other infants in the Philippines have similarly died even in worse circumstances. Exactly. The fact she was a political prisoner should not have figured in the decision-making process of her military captors.
But Andrea was a woman, detained in an overcrowded jail, seven months pregnant and needing urgent medical attention. That was enough to elicit a more humanitarian and sensible decision under the circumstances. And that was more than enough to consider transferring her to a more appropriate detention cell.
Forget she was a political prisoner and that she shared her father’s political ideology. There were two lives at risk here, that of the mother and her baby. It wasn’t the time of day to debunk the communist leanings of both of the baby’s ancestors.
As if to rub salt to the wound, Andrea was initially denied to spend time with her dead infant during her wake and funeral. What was she going to do, after all, that scared the wits of her military captors to allow her to pay respects to baby Diona?
Eventually, the court allowed Andrea three hours to spend with her dead child. Three short hours, not three mysterious days which the military might perhaps have suspected Andrea could use to resurrect baby Diona from her eternal sleep.
“It is not my fault that I am my father’s daughter. It was also not her fault that she was the granddaughter of my father,” Rosal told the media.
Here is Andrea’s declaration which she composed after the court made its decision regarding her request to attend her daughter’s wake and funeral.
“I was again denied the opportunity to spend more hours to be with my baby for the very last time. Three hours seem very short.
“It was all right if she were alive, even if we could see each other now for a short time, because I knew we would see each other again after I am released from prison. But this was the last time we could be together, that I could see her.
“You are also parents, and you understand what a mother feels for her child when they are separated even for a second. It is much worse in my case for I have lost my child forever.
“Before I was afraid of becoming a mother because I knew it would be hard. When I found out I was pregnant, it made very happy. I learned to take care of myself and be careful because I wanted my child to be healthy. But then I was arrested. The conditions in jail were hard, not just for me but also for my child.
“I felt so sad and anguished when my child died. They didn’t only prevent me from attending my child’s funeral, they gave me only a few hours to be at her wake. Isn’t it enough for me to lose my child?"
The moral principle behind the right to life is the belief that a human being has the right to live and should not be unjustly killed. And the life of a child, in this particular instance, is central to the question of morality of war or any civil conflict.
This child, baby Diona, was caught in the crossfire of an ongoing civil conflict between the government and the rebels. Call her death by any name, perhaps, as a collateral damage of this long-drawn conflict, but her death was unnecessary, unjust and inhumane. It is simple cruelty by any imaginable extent.
Under international humanitarian law, the right to life by a child has been upheld many times, thus it has been codified into the Convention on the Rights of the Child which came into force in September 1990. As indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”  
After baby Diona Andrea was laid to rest, Rosal's supporters chanted:
"Free Andrea Rosal!" Click to view
A Mother's Tale," a brief story  about another former detainee who went through a
similar plight as Andrea Rosal's.

The Convention under Article 2 expressly states that the right of each child to life must be respected, protected and ensured without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parents’ political or other opinion.
Andrea Rosal’s captors clearly breached international humanitarian laws when they prevented her from getting appropriate medical attention before she gave birth. Andrea did not demand that she be treated differently because she was the daughter of a former communist party leader. But her captors treated her as an enemy of the state and simply took no notice of the fact that she was a woman and seven months’ pregnant who needed urgent medical care.
Yet the pork barrel queen, Janet Napoles, who has defrauded the government of more than 10 billion pesos, has been afforded by the government with a comfortable jail cell and the best health care whenever she feigns she needs it. Andrea, on the other hand, didn’t steal a dime from the government and was genuinely struggling with her condition at the time. Her only crime was being a communist’s daughter.
The circumstances of baby Diona Andrea’s death should have aroused wide public condemnation, but the government-controlled media kept mum and dismissed her story as a non-event. Another horrifying story, the Boko Haram kidnapping of several young Nigerian school girls was denounced worldwide, and major governments of the world expressed their disapproval, which was of course to be expected. Countries of the world naturally come together to share their humanity whenever a horrendous event happens that shocks the conscience of humankind. Where was the public outcry in the case of baby Diona Andrea’s death?
Baby Diona was brought home to her mother’s hometown of Ibaan, Batangas. On the early morning of May 22, relatives, friends and sympathizers of Andrea Rosal marched from the Rosal family ancestral home in Barangay Talaibon to St. James the Greater Parish Church before heading to the baby’s final resting place at St. Mary Memorial Park.
Members of the Free Andrea Rosal Movement made a compact to “swear by baby Diona Andrea’s grave that justice will be served. Through collective efforts we will do everything to free her mother from the fangs of the devil that killed her and deprived her of her right to life.”
During the three-day summit in Toronto this week on Saving Every Woman, Every Child: Within Arm’s Reach, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper stepped up to the plate and identified foreign aid for maternal health as his Conservative government’s top international development priority.
Harper was hoping it could be his lasting legacy, this in addition to Canada’s customary role as a peacekeeper in the world. He said, “There is a moral imperative to saving the lives of vulnerable women and children in some of the poorest countries around the world when it is in our power to do so.”
It’s easy to put words in one’s mouth but all these words are useless if not reinforced with deeds. For starters, the Prime Minister perhaps can find time to remember what happened to baby Diona Andrea by showing his indignation, and in the end, also help her mother Andrea Rosal recover from the trauma of losing her infant child.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Presumed guilty

Without fully understanding the implications of what he says in public, President Benigno Aquino III is actually supplanting the time-honored principle of presumption of innocence with a presumption of guilt. Even worse is his arrogance to ensconce a double standard of morality in politics.
On one hand, President Aquino believes Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada are guilty as charged of corruption, plunder and other crimes against the government. All of them are presumed guilty to the eyes of President Aquino, just like most everyone else is led to believe, even if the charges are still in the process of being filed before the Sandiganbayan.
On the other hand, people like the President’s Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, and Technical Educational and Skills Development Authority director general Joel Villanueva who were also named in the list of those involved in the pork barrel scandal are innocent to his eyes. To the President, his cabinet men are on a different plane and should be presumed innocent unless proven guilty by a court of law.
Members of the Kilusang Mayo Uno wear masks depicting President Benigno
Aquino, Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, lawyer Lorna Kapunan, and
(on wheelchair) alleged pork barrel queen Janet Lim-Napoles during a rally in
Mendiola. The rallyists called for an end to the preferential treatment being
accorded Napoles. Photo by Alexis Corpuz.
Curiously, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo continues to be detained even if none of the charges laid against her have not been proven by the state. Because President Aquino and the public in general are all convinced that Arroyo is guilty by any stretch of imagination.
This is the new normal under President Aquino’s administration. Allies and friends are presumed innocent while political enemies are presumed guilty.
However, the bastardization of the presumption of innocence under the Aquino presidency is not without its merits. After all, the reality is that no defendant would face trial unless it is believed there is probable cause that the defendant was guilty of a crime. They wouldn’t have prosecuted the accused if he or she weren’t guilty of something, which is the common supposition before the court. For instance, outside of the formal investigation process, there is widespread public knowledge, thanks to media scrutiny and vigilance, that those involved in the pork barrel scandal are factually guilty even though a trial has not been set for them to face the charges.
The only problem with this presumption of guilt is it could apply to all accused of corruption in government. Guilt is a very wide net that can catch everyone in the government, whether by suspicion or mere inference, and regardless of rank or pay grade. That said, even President Aquino is not immune from a presumption of guilt for he could be as culpable as any of his cabinet staff or his dreaded political enemies.

President Noynoy Aquino with one of his most trusted men in cabinet, Budget
 Secretary Florencio Abad. Could Aquino be talking about Abad's innocence?
But as an alternative to a presumption of innocence, a presumption of guilt is inquisitorial and contrary to the principles of a free society. Thus, the presumption of innocence is not just symbolic but essential to the criminal process.
What does the presumption of innocence mean?
The presumption of innocence is a vital part of our criminal law system. It means that the accused doesn’t have to prove he or she is innocent. Instead, the job falls on the prosecutor or the state to prove the accused guilty. In other words, unless the accused has been proved to have committed the crime, he or she is entitled to be acquitted or found “not guilty.”
The underlying purpose of this presumption is to protect the rights of individuals when the state accuses them of a crime. It is often said that it is better that the guilty go free than the innocent be convicted.
But the judicial system is not without controversy. Some see the system as being stacked in favour of the accused, rather than protecting their rights. And despite all of the protection in the system, miscarriages of justice still happen where innocent people are convicted. Those in positions of power are generally perceived as more likely than those outside this circle to exercise warped judgment, transforming the criminal justice system into an instrument to protect themselves and their exercise of power.
President Aquino’s exhortation, therefore, that his cabinet secretaries should be presumed innocent rather than guilty as he has characterized the actions of his political enemies, is clearly aimed in protecting and preserving the incorruptibility of his government. In short, he is ignoring the true purpose of the presumption of innocence while affirming that many of those accused or alleged to have been involved in the pork barrel scandal are presumed guilty just because they happen to be his political enemies.
Civil society, however, is under no obligation to refrain from criticism of government officials based on a blatant misunderstanding of presumption of innocence. This is particularly relevant in the current situation in which the public is being fed with too much conflicting information about government corruption.
There are many incompatible lists of individuals implicated in the scandal and inconsistent testimonies between the alleged mastermind or potential state witness and whistleblowers who could be motivated by personal or vested interests. The executive and legislative branches of government seem to be at a loss on how to proceed with their respective investigations.
Spokespersons for the President appear to offer differing statements on behalf of the administration. The Ombudsman has left for a trip abroad without filing the charges against the three aforementioned senators before the Sandiganbayan. Even half-brothers elected to the Senate are at odds with each other as to the possible fallout of the scandal on their own political careers prompting their father, a disgraced former president for acts of plunder, to intervene.

Could there be any connection between President Aquino and the alleged pork barrel
queen, Janet Napoles, here in a photo taken in 2012?
It’s a political circus which the pork barrel scandal has created, muddling the fundamental issue of corruption in government, which appears lost in the crucial examination because the personalities and characters involved have become more important rather than their own sins and omissions.
In the end, either President Aquino should presume all are innocent before trial or all are presumed guilty. Not where others have more legal rights and therefore presumed innocent. The better approach it seems is to take heed of President Aquino’s presumption of guilt for those implicated in the scandal, but it should include his own men if he wants to appear fair and just.
Let’s throw the presumption of innocence off the bus and declare everyone guilty, and let them prove their innocence. It makes more sense to reverse the burden of proof and let it fall on the accused, especially for those in the public service. Every time that public trust is breached, people are deceived.
Indulging a presumption of innocence before a finding of guilt is too much of an accommodation to give. Besides, this demand for a presumption of innocence outside of criminal court is both cunning and deceitful when the President of the country uses it to excuse the culpability of his own cabinet.
It is no doubt cold comfort for President Aquino to subscribe to a generous interpretation of the presumption of innocence that applies only to his allies and friends. This interpretation would not comport with the supposed persistence of a foundational legal principle, especially when stretched outside its province.
Furthermore, this is like expecting a lot or dreaming about the impossible from a failed system where corruption is widespread and so pervasive. No wonder that the Philippines consistently belongs in the exclusive list of “failed states,” in the dishonourable company of other countries who have miserably and ineffectually failed to solve corruption in government.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Swindlers’ list

Everybody knows a swindler, a dishonest person who cheats by very clever means in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages through pretense or deception.
The swindler is a bilk, bilker, cheat, cheater, defrauder, dodger, fakir, finagler, fraudster, hoaxer, phony, plotter, rascal, rogue, scammer, scamster, schemer, skinner, tricker, and a wheeler-dealer.
Janet Napoles, the pork barrel queen, is any of the above even if she’s not been convicted by a court of law, and this is not depriving her of the presumption of innocence. Her hands are all over the place, either that she is the mastermind or simply the marionette of a higher brain trust. The pork barrel mess she has created points to her culpability, and whether she brings down with her the entire government or some high-ranking politicians is an ending that needs to be scripted.
That’s why we begin with a list, a list of swindlers. Not just one list, but two or more or even several more. This is how to create a feeling of suspense and make the public wonder how the story will reach a climactic twist to the denouement to all this mess.
Copy of the signed Napoles' List.
Janet Napoles has her own list of politicians and government officials involved in the P10-billion defrauding of the people’s money. Benhur Luy, former assistant to Mrs. Napoles and whistleblower has a list, too. But they are different lists, in that they contain different names. Then there’s another Napoles’ list in the hands of former Senator Panfilo Lacson, albeit with an unsigned affidavit and was given to him by Mrs. Napoles’ husband, a former colleague of Mr. Lacson in the military. President Benigno Aquino III, the tireless graft and corruption crusader, has seen three lists according to him. Because he wasn’t aware of the legal ramifications of the lists, again according to him, he referred them to Leila de Lima, his Secretary of Justice and legal staff to sort out.
But Secretary de Lima seems embattled with a Hamlet-like dilemma. To show or not to show the true and genuine Napoles’ list. Meantime, Mr. Lacson has surrendered to the Senate his copy of the unsigned affidavit from Mrs. Napoles containing the list of all those involved in the pork barrel mess. All those mentioned in the list were up in arms, denying involvement and declaring their innocence. See how the entire drama is unfolding, great script but boring because the people already know what is going to happen in the end.
Secretary de Lima insists that the Napoles’ list is still a work in progress. Meaning, the list is still being sanitized which the secretary vehemently denies. Speculations are rife that there are people who shouldn’t be on the list, the ones (Aquino’s partymates and supporters in Congress) who are friendly with the President, and those within his inner sanctum (like his trusted Budget Secretary Florencio Abad) who are implicated and could bring down the government and make the President’s graft and corruption agenda look a total sham.
Sanitizing the Napoles’ list will clear up any inference or allegation of involvement by the current administration in the pork barrel scandal. Thus, it is very important for President Aquino and his cabinet, following the “clean hands” doctrine in law, to show they cannot be accused of unfair conduct and that they have not done anything wrong. But in sanitizing the list, the administration could be accused of partiality by going only after those who are not friendly with the government and leaving friends and loyal supporters of the Aquino administration fully unscathed.
It is therefore a brilliant strategy to concoct more than one list. Without a doubt, whoever thought of the grand idea of circulating more than one list was a great thinker. Alternative lists will muddle the issue, thus benefiting those who swindled the government, protect the conspirators in the scandal, and keep justice in the dark. Debating and determining which list is genuine will take an inordinate amount of time and before the dust settles, a new election is held and the whole mess becomes either forgotten or is buried from the front pages of newspapers to some page nobody even bothers to read.

Copy of the unsigned Lacson's Napoles List
At the end of day, the public will simply throw its hands up and accept a government list naming the three most popular and dispensable among those involved. We already have their names a long time ago: Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada. Indicting these three top senators will be a great achievement for President Aquino, a feather in his cap, not to mention the continuing detention of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the impeachment of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. All things considered, it will be a testament to the persistence of the Aquino administration in prosecuting those responsible for graft and corruption in government. All accusations of non-transparency, unfairness and injustice will just be distant memories of how this government dispenses with justice when everything about the pork barrel dissipates in the air.
Remember too that Congress faces two very important issues which can spell trouble for President Aquino. He doesn’t have any more pork barrel to distribute to solidify support in Congress for the Bangsamoro Law and the Enforced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). PDAF has been abolished. But President Aquino could finagle the Swindlers’ List among members of Congress and let those who defy his wishes be included. In other words, the President could easily subvert the ends of justice to accomplish his aims, and this is not a healthy sign of democracy.
This is why the Philippines remains included in the list of countries (talking about another relevant list) considered “failed states” in the Failed States Index 2013 of Foreign Policy prepared by the United States think-tank Fund for Peace. One of the several attributes of a failed state is widespread corruption, a perpetual sordid state of affairs the Philippines has never figured out to resolve since time immemorial.
There are more pressing issues which the present government must address but the current controversy about which pork barrel list is genuine takes much of the administration’s time and attention. High on this list are issues such as bringing back to millions of workers the dignity of regular employment with its attendant living wage, union rights and benefits like maternity leave and health insurance, and putting an end to contractualization of labour which makes Filipino workers as “permanent contractuals” or non-regular employees.
Despite claims by the Aquino government of speedy relief and assistance to victims and survivors of last year’s Typhoon Haiyan, their situation is far from being close to recovery. The typhoon survivors continue to live in tents. They still suffer from hunger and there is no meaningful program by the government to help them reconstruct their livelihood.
Last May 9, public school teachers stormed MalacaƱang demanding an increase in their salaries. But the Aquino government released a statement that there will be no salary increase for government workers due to lack of funds. Apparently, because a lot of government money has been wasted for ghost, anomalous and corrupt projects through the Priority Development Assistance Fund, Presidential Social Fund and other lump sum allocations.
If only the Aquino government could be serious enough and pay attention to a list of priorities for improving the life of the masses, instead of dilly-dallying in releasing the true Napoles’ list of swindlers, then everyday life for the common folks will be less burdensome. But the government seems not interested in the greater good of the majority of the Filipino people. The Napoles’ list and its different versions have consumed the government to no end.
While the entire nation already knows how this messy scandal will unravel, the incumbent government of President Benigno Aquino III continues to exploit this controversy about a list to the fullest extent. As a result, the people will be no better off than they were before when this charade finally ends.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Deception and containment



“The Philippines give us a base at the door of all the East. Lines of navigation from our ports to the Orient and Australia; from the Isthmian Canal to Asia; from all Oriental ports to Australia, converge at and separate from the Philippines. They are a self-supporting, dividend-paying fleet, permanently anchored at a spot selected by the strategy of Providence commanding the Pacific. And the Pacific is the ocean of commerce of the future. Most future wars will be conflicts for commerce. The power that rules the Pacific, therefore, is the power that rules the world. And, with the Philippines, that power is and will forever be the American Republic.”

—U.S. Senator Alfred J. Beveridge, January 9, 1901

Map of Asia Pacific
America officially denies that the latest military agreement with the Philippines, inelegantly called the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), aims to contain the rise of China as a superpower. U.S. President Barack Obama made this clear when asked if the U.S. military will defend the Philippines should territorial disputes with China escalate.
Obama said, “Our goal is not to counter China; our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure that international rules and norms are respected, and that includes the area of maritime disputes.”
Before the end of his duty, former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, Harry Thomas, Jr., made a similar declaration a year ago. “We’re here (in the Philippines) with JSOTF-P, our joint special operations task force, temporarily to eliminate terrorism, not to stage bases. We don’t want a conflict with China,” Thomas said.
This is the official line (or lie) by the U.S. government. The truth, however, is obvious and cannot be cloaked by any more pronouncements to the contrary by U.S. officials. There is no denying that it’s all about containing China. The U.S. rebalance of its military forces or pivot to Asia is clearly aimed toward containment of the second largest economy of the world to prevent its ascent to the level of America’s superpower. India might as well be an additional target of U.S. containment since it has recently displaced Japan as the third largest economy in the world, and it could well be another spectre looming with its nuclear capability.
American deception is so patently repugnant. Yet, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and the rest of his officialdom and high-ranking generals are all too willing to turn a blind eye and swallow EDCA hook, line and sinker.

The Philippines and the Unites States sign 10-year defence agreement (Tribune cartoon).  Click link to read newsreport.
In the short term, EDCA will probably provide the much-needed buffer to China’s aggressiveness and bullying in the South China Sea. But this is a short-sighted objective. Over the long term, the country’s defence and military capability would just be as diminished as it was when the U.S. operated military bases in the country from 1947 to 1992. The Philippine military never modernized on account of the U.S. bases or their use by American troops for forward deployment during the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and whether this will be achieved under EDCA is also unlikely.
Containment was articulated by American diplomat George F. Kennan at the start of the Cold War as a means of preventing the spread of communism around the world, particularly in response to the expansion of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, China, Korea, Africa and Vietnam. It spurred the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a mutual defence pact between the United States and its European allies. The U.S. similarly entered into mutual defence treaties with Japan, Korea and the Philippines. The same containment strategy is now being put in motion by the U.S. and its European allies against Russian expansion in the Ukraine after Crimea voted to join the Russian federation.
Communism did not spread the way it was predicted by the advocates of containment, i.e., through Moscow and beyond. Communist movements in other countries were largely inspired by internal civil wars and nationalist struggles for self-determination. When the Soviet Union was disbanded in the 1990s, the Cold War fizzled out making the United States the last and only superpower standing.
The United States lost its military bases in the Philippines in 1992, coincidentally during the end of the Cold War. American troops returned in 1998 under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to combat a new war: the war on terror. Communist rebels and separatist insurgents in the Philippines had been blacklisted by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organizations, especially Abu Sayaff who were operating in Jolo and Basilan in the south. The VFA gave the Americans legal cover to join the government’s drive against the insurgents and joint military exercises on a perpetual rotation basis. The military exercises have enabled the U.S. troops to become more prepared and better trained as they learned from the more experienced Filipino soldiers who have been fighting jungle and guerilla warfare for over 45 years.
But as early as 2001, military strategists in the U.S. government have already been itching to re-establish the bases in the Philippines. They needed to create a more permanent base for the forward deployment of troops to counter the surging Chinese economy and expansion of its military capability. China needed to be contained, not the spread of its communist ideology, but its sphere of influence in Asia. Communism is no longer the main enemy of containment as it was during the Cold War, but the hegemonic rise of economically powerful countries like China and India, and to some extent, Russia, even with its not-so-strong economy which the U.S. and NATO can effectively harass with sanctions.
After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, a steady stream of American troops has been arriving in the Philippines for regular and recurring military exercises. The Philippine government has allowed the U.S. to fly over the country’s air space, use its airfields and ports and travel on its sea lanes.
In November 2002, the U.S. and the Philippines entered into a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) allowing the U.S. to store and pre-position equipment in the country, construct structures and be provided with the full range of logistics and operational services it requires. Some American troops in rotation have also based themselves indefinitely in Southern Mindanao. In 2006, the U.S. and the Philippines signed another agreement establishing a Security Engagement Board (SEB), thus expanding the role of U.S. troops in the country. Then in 2007, a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA), giving similar legal privileges given to U.S. troops by the VFA, was signed with another U.S. ally, Australia, which in the past few years has also begun to be involved in military operations in the Philippines.
Between 2002 and 2006, the U.S. had been providing an average of $54 million per year in military aid to the Philippine government, up from $1.6 million annually in the period after the closure of the bases and before the signing of the VFA. Incrementally but steadily, the United States has been re-establishing the presence of its troops in the country and reinforcing its relationship with the Philippines.
US guided missile cruiser leads destroyers during military exercise in the Pacific
Ocean (AFP Photo/Toshifumi Kitamura)
In “At the Door of All the East: The Philippines in United States Military Strategy,” a report prepared for Focus on the Global South, Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute (CUSRI) by Herbert Docena in November 2007, the author argued that the VFA and subsequent agreements between the U.S. and the Philippines were not adopted for the singular purpose of fighting the war on terror. According to the report, the re-establishment of American troops on Philippine soil has always been a component of the larger U.S. strategy to preserve its permanent global superiority by preventing the rise of rivals like China and maintain itself as the world’s sole superpower.
Docena further wrote that in order “to deter and defeat potential enemies or rivals anywhere in the world,” the United States must have the capacity “to operate across the globe through its worldwide network of forward-deployed troops, bases, and access agreements.”
The report also argued that of all the potential rivals of the U.S., “China poses the greatest threat and must therefore be contained before it becomes even more powerful. To make this threat credible, the U.S. is attempting to enlist countries around China to take its side and to encircle China with bases and troops.”
The report concluded, “Because of its strategic location, the Philippines is among the countries in which the U.S. wants to establish bases, secure access agreements, and station troops. But apart from the Philippines, the U.S. also wants the same in other countries in the region. The problem is that these other countries on whom it is relying for support do not necessarily want to go against China and are not necessarily willing to give the U.S. what it needs. Because of its favorable disposition towards the U.S. compared to other countries, the Philippines becomes even more critical to U.S. military strategy in the region and in the world.”
Seven years after the publication of the report, the United States and the Philippines signed EDCA during the state visit of U.S. President Obama last April 28, 2014, formalizing what has already been effectively allowed on the ground for several years— unimpeded access by American troops to military bases in the Philippines. Both the U.S. and Philippine government officials are running on deception mode when they insist that EDCA would promote the mutual obligations of the two countries as envisaged in the Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT) signed in 1951. MDT was of Cold War vintage, and EDCA is a newer containment strategy.
On the pretext of “enhanced defense cooperation,” EDCA guarantees U.S. military basing in the Philippines that is even more comprehensive than the 1947 Military Bases Agreement. The United States will be able to “preposition and store” military equipment, supplies, and materiel at AFP bases and other territories. Under U.S. operational control, American troops can use airfields, ports, public roads, and community areas; as well as construct infrastructures and other facilities in so-called “agreed locations.”
Why President Aquino would not involve the Philippine Senate in the adoption of EDCA is obvious for two reasons. First, Aquino fears he could not muster the same majority in the Senate that would approve EDCA that he had when Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached. And second, Aquino is simply acting true to form as the best Amboy in the Far East.
Since the Senate cannot force President Aquino to submit EDCA to the Senate for review and approval, the only option is for the Philippine Supreme Court to step in and render its interpretation. But given that Aquino has already stacked up the Supreme Court with his appointees, its decision is a foregone conclusion.
EDCA has been conceived in immaculate deception.
The Philippine government, from President Aquino to his military and foreign policy advisers, has willingly allowed to be duped by their American counterpart in rebalancing U.S. strategy in Asia to pursue its principal objective of containing the rise of China. This is why the Senate has been kept in the dark. And for a gratuitous show of American military muscle on the South China Sea that could intimidate China to rethink its military strategy, the Philippines paid the ultimate price. It gave up its sovereignty to the Americans, all for free.