MALAYBALAY CITY (16 June) – More than half a century after its nominal independence from the United States, the Philippines is in no better shape in as far as its national defense policies are concerned. The nervous, knee-jerk reactions from Malacanang and other officials over recent incidents at the Spratly Islands attest to the lingering mindset that the country’s security is always intertwined with that of our former colonizer, with the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty as the main justification.
I’m not sure if those officials have read the text much less understood the scope and limits of the treaty. Had they done so, they would have realized that the US could not be obliged to come to our rescue in case a shooting war breaks out between our armed forces and the obviously much superior Chinese military. For tactical purposes, the US may hint that it would not sit idly by if and when such a situation unfolds. But whether it will transform its words into actual deeds is another matter.
Note that the MDT is not an omnibus agreement. Rather, its scope only covers armed attacks on in the Pacific area on either of the Parties, as stated in Sections 3, 4 and 5 and even in the preamble. Technically therefore the US may not be compelled (can we compel them granting the treaty allows us?) to act like Big Brother in case hostilities break out over the disputed territory.
If the Spratly controversy proves anything, it is the one-sidedness and deceptive nature of the MDT; the US needs it more than we need it, if at all. The US forced the agreement to justify the continued stay of its military bases in the Philippines after the Second World War to protect its geopolitical interests in the Pacific region. After the Philippine Senate junked the proposed renewal of the 1947 Military Bases Agreement, on 13 September 1991, the US – and unfortunately, officials too of the Estrada administration – continued to hang on to the MDT as justification for the new face of US military presence in the country, the Visiting Forces Agreement which became effective in May 1999.
Apparently, they were alluding to Section 2 of the MDT which states: “In order more effectively to achieve the objective of this Treaty, the Parties separately and jointly by self-help and mutual aid will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.” Note that the Balikatans, mainly held in Mindanao under the auspices of the VFA, have always been passed off as training exercises between US and Philippine troops.
Back to the Spratly issue, it has reminded us of the hard lesson that should be clear to us by now – perennial, misguided dependence on US military power has prevented us from developing the capability of the armed forces for external defense mainly through modernization.
This is so because from the immediate post-war period and until now, the country’s defense establishment keeps on daydreaming that the US will always come to help us against any adversary in this part of the world, hence a distress call to the White House whenever China flexes its muscle against other claimants to the reportedly oil-rich group of islands. Furthermore, the military is always tied up to fighting communist and Moro rebel groups. Ensuring the success of the peace talks with both the National Democratic Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will eventually unburden the military and enable it to focus on its primary mandate – securing the country against external aggression.
It is high time to cut the umbilical cord of military dependence on the US. As in September 1991, we need to tell the American soldiers – not just Lance Corporal Daniel Smith and his fellow convicted rapist – that we don’t need them here. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])