May 5, 2023
MANILA – After the Marcos administration decided to modernize our Armed Forces of the Philippines thru the building of EDCA sites all over the country, the possibility of our nation being dragged into this war has become inevitable. Will this war be short? Long term? Nuclear and catastrophic? No one really knows.
China has always claimed that Taiwan is part of their territory and vowed to reunify it by force if necessary. The tension is so great that “triggers of war” are sounded off by China including the “declarations of independence” by Taiwan. Many times, Chinese military and its private militia has surrounded Taiwan. But recently, this was challenged by the recent and biggest Balikatan exercise that included the US 7TH fleet in the South China Sea.
In 1972, America already agreed to a “One China-Policy” after the United Nations removed Taiwan as a member the year before. Also, in 1980, the Taiwan-American Mutual defense treaty expired but the US remained committed to Taiwan’s defense under a signed Taiwan Relations Act (this is US President Joe Biden’s legal basis).
Our country has an existing but totally one-sided Mutual Defense Treaty with America, which many believe should be immediately updated and corrected. A legislative decision that must be approved by the US Congress especially its Senate. It is nearly a month since House Speaker Martin Romualdez arrived in Washington DC, in a “listening and lobbying tour” with American counterparts on the proposed MDT changes. At the same time, he was busy preparing the upcoming arrival of his presidential cousin.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr will meet US President Joe Biden and his key cabinet officials on May 1 in a working visit scheduled from April 30 to May 4. The White House called this a “reaffirming of USA’s iron clad commitment to the defense of the Philippines, strengthening the long-standing US-Philippine Alliance and upholding international law and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific”. Interesting here is the BBM’s declaration that these Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites would not be used for “any offensive action” but for “the defense of our territory,”
As we all know, there are already nine (9) EDCA sites, which AFP says it needs to provide its soldiers and the country a 360-degree protection capability. These are the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu, and the Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro city.
The additional four are Camp Melchor de la Cruz in Gamu, Isabela, the Balabac Island in Palawan and two more in Cagayan province, Camilo Osias Naval Base in Sta. Ana, and Lallo Airport in Lallo. Cagayan governor Manuel Mamba announced publicly that he is opposing any EDCA site within his province. He believes the two bases in his province would be magnet for attacks by the enemies of America. DND OIC Carlito Galvez Jr however says 21 of 29 mayors in Cagayan are supporting EDCA sites in his province thru a signed resolution.
Isabela governor Rodolfo Albano III on the other hand, doesn’t think war will break out. He says Americans will invest $82M in their EDCA sites and he would like them to develop their Eastern seaboard, especially a port in the town of Divilican (nearest to our Philippine-Benham Rise) and build an access road in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Albano says China and the US will not engage in MAD or the mutually assured destruction about countries using nuclear weapons. “If this happens, everybody in the world dies”, he says.
Of course, there will be unending debates on these US-China war over Taiwan and the heavy price of these EDCA sites for the AFP modernization. Some geopolitical analysts look at these EDCA sites as efforts of America and its allies to surround and check China’s expansion thru its Asian version of NATO, the AUKUS, a trilateral security pact between Australia, UK and America and supported by Japan in the Indo-Pacific region. Our country, Malaysia and Indonesia have different reactions to this issue and focused on the presence of nuclear submarines within the South China Sea.
But the heavy onus will be on President BBM’s meeting with US President Biden and members of his cabinet on May 1. What concessions will he gain from the 80-year-old Biden whose announcement for reelection next year is still awaited? Will we get a new and quick Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with clarifications that these US military bases will be for defensive purposes only? Or, we will be directly dragged into this Taiwan dispute, killing many or us and annihilating our economy? The very sad part here is the fact that majority of our countrymen are still unaware of the importance of these BBM-Biden meeting and its implications on their lives in the very dangerous scenarios of open warfare and economic fallout.
At this point, we can only hope and pray that our elected leader President BBM will succeed and ensure that our country will benefit positively from these saber rattling and multi-faceted sides of China-Taiwan-USA dispute. All stakeholders must exhaust all diplomatic actions to settle this issue peacefully. On the part of the Philippine Government decision makers, please avoid at all costs that we may lose a Filipino life in this brewing conflict.