President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and former president Rodrigo Duterte. TMT PHOTO

Marcos reverses Duterte’s independent policy

WITH President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. giving the United States nine bases for its increased military deployment in our country, which US officials, media and analysts repeatedly link to possible war with China, Filipinos should now assess what exactly our leader signed us up for by going all in with the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Definitely, it’s not the independent foreign and defense policy his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte sought to establish, and which Marcos seemingly espoused with his “friend to all, enemy to none” mantra and his recent statements in Switzerland about Asian nations not taking sides in superpower rivalry. Those presidential words now sound not only hollow but even insincere and deceiving.

As Marcos knows, we cannot be an enemy to none if we host forces capable of devastating nearby nations. He has agreed to let American ships, subs, planes and missiles use AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) bases, even if Uncle Sam never says which of its battle gear have nuclear weapons violating our Constitution’s ban on nukes. (Bar exam question: Based on Article 2, Section 8, can the Supreme Court issue a mandamus for our government to ascertain that military assets coming here carry no atomic warheads?)

Voice of America again

If fellow leaders in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) thought Marcos was enhancing his predecessor’s stance for Asean to resist superpower influence by repairing US ties while maintaining strong China relations, they may now wonder if it was all talk. Marcos said Asia-Pacific nations alone should decide our future. In fact, the United States will now wield immense influence in our nation’s today and tomorrow, and we are back to being a voice of America in Asia as we were under the Aquino 3rd regime which forged the EDCA.

Of the many sound bites he mouthed in recent months, the one that now rings true is his remark that there is no point in building up our armory. With the massive American military presence in nine AFP bases and prowling our airspace and waters, we certainly do not need more army, navy and air force assets, except those needed to decimate fellow Filipinos committing rebellion or terrorism.

But with dependence on America for our defense comes, well, loss of independence. We can no longer take foreign or security positions in the world contrary to Washington’s. Not only would that bite the iron fist that guards us. It would also carry zero credibility. How can we claim neutrality in disputes between China and America yet help one side exert military pressure on the other?

And there will be many such disputes, since no less than the White House, in its latest National Security Strategy (NSS) issued just last October, declared that America’s top global priority is “Out-Competing China and Constraining Russia.” That is the paramount US objective, for which President Marcos has made us a key instrument by implementing the EDCA for massive US military deployment with access to our bases — cited by generals and military experts as crucial if America goes to war with China.

The big danger with Uncle Sam

What is that overarching NSS global priority like in action? Look at Ukraine. While Russia and the West blame each other for the war — with Pope Francis understanding Moscow’s fear of Ukraine joining the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), bringing “NATO barking at Russia’s gates” — the inconvenient truth is that the war helps constrain Russia.

The conflict has hammered its forces, and when President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was set to talk peace last April, then-British prime minister Boris Johnson urged continued fighting with promises of NATO arms. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin further argued that Russia’s military must be degraded so it could not mount another invasion.

Western sanctions have squeezed its economy. Meanwhile, surging food and fuel prices boosted exports of American grain and petroleum. The US is now Europe’s top supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) — displacing Russia — as LNG shipments more than doubled during the war.

The continent, too, has sustained huge economic damage due to massive fuel cost inflation, debilitating huge swaths of industry. Plus: the leap in NATO military spending to replace armaments sent to Ukraine and beef up Western forces for possible conflict with Russia has further burdened Europe while jacking up revenues for arms exporters, especially the world No. 1: America.

Plainly, after the Ukraine war, the United States would emerge least damaged, while Russia would be spent militarily and economically, and Europe is far more dependent on US defense and economic support. Plus: NATO nations would curtail business and technology ties not only with Russia, but also with China. As we saw after two world wars, America emerges even more dominant with all Europe dashed and divided.

Knocking Asia down

Just as Europe was moving well toward mutually beneficial ties with Russia until the Ukraine war, Asia too is set to flourish in trade, investment, peace and prosperity. But war risk has risen in recent years with China and the US alliance of Western nations, Japan and India have stepped up tough talk and military buildup.

The EDCA bases raises this arms race several notches, with Washington’s plan to station naval, air and missile forces near Taiwan going in full swing in coming years. Besides the Philippines, Japan is gearing up for conflict, converting all its Self-Defense Forces to rapid-deployment troops ready for action abroad. And US and Japanese forces in the Okinawa island chain near Taiwan are ratcheting up missile capabilities.

If there is fighting, Marcos has put our nation at the frontline. As in Europe, war would devastate America’s adversary militarily and economically, along with the very allies it has pumped with weapons. And the rest of Asia would suffer economic distress while running for cover behind — you guessed it — the United States, which would remain relatively unscathed while our region loses its spot as the world’s growth leader.

In its strategy toward China, America aims “to defend our interests and build our vision for the future.”

Not ours.

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