President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. Contributed Photo

Peace on earth in Bongbong’s hands

First of 2 parts

BONGBONG must know it was a lie when he announced his pursuit of the foreign policy “friend to all, enemy to none.” I first heard it from him as an answer in an ambush interview, and later as an official fragment of his inaugural speech. I don’t know if that policy was a result of simple political naivete or mere immaturity in geopolitics. Either way it defies logic.

If the former, how come he repeatedly admonishes against remaining in the old “cold war mentality”? This indicated he was quite aware that in international politics, nations for a time needed to take sides in the contest for world hegemony by the superpowers, first between the United States and Russia, with China eventually joining the fray, in fact now in primary contention with the US for dominance in the South China Sea region. So, he knew beforehand that once he became president, he would have to make that choice between the contending world powers, particularly between the US and China in the Indo-Pacific.

If the latter, it would mean his lifetime deep observation of the political career of his father had not told at all on his breeding. This would then be completely incongruent with his much earlier declarations in life, like that in 1989 when at the memorial for the Marcos patriarch, he already admitted he was being faced with the awesome responsibility of filling in the shoes of his father.

Immaturity in geopolitics

Certainly, this would belie any aspersion on Bongbong of immaturity in geopolitics, the fact being that up to the last minute of clinging to power in 1986, the magnificent obsession of the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. was to sever the Philippines from its bondage to America through the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951. The ultimate fact is that 1985 was the year the MDT was to be reviewed, particularly for upping the rentals of American military bases in the Philippines. As taken up with US media during Marcos Sr.’s visit to the US in 1982, those rentals, begun only by Marcos when he became president in 1965, had already amounted to billions of dollars, and counting. From the looks of it, “Tama na! Sobra na! Palitan na!” This should explain why that was the battle cry of Cory in the snap presidential election of 1986, snap polls being a main machination of America. Marcos handily won the count but America had cleverly manipulated the popular perception of Marcos being an electoral cheat which, fanned by the National Movement for Free Elections, led to the so-called People Power Revolt on EDSA which catapulted Cory to the presidency.

The senior Marcos’ obsession with regard to the MDT must constitute one shoe of his father which Bongbong must fill. But the recent accord that Bongbong reached with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin grants America’s wish for additional agreed locations as provided for under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) where America has the unhindered right to deploy American troops and war matériel. This simply must mean Bongbong has, in fact, grown so mature in geopolitics that he has gotten the gall now to unfill the shoes of his father in this regard.

As I earlier pointed out (read “Times of trouble,” Manila Times, Jan. 14, 2023), two of those agreed locations are in northern Cagayan, directly facing and proximate to Taiwan, evidently aimed at contending China in the event of the US’ widely promoted Chinese invasion of Taiwan; the other two are those in Palawan and Zambales, again aimed at a similarly feared Chinese attack from that area of the South China Sea.

The Duterte tradition

I wrote that piece as a context for Bongbong’s replacement of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Bartolome Vicente Orpilla Bacarro with former AFP chief Gen. Andres Centino, who was AFP chief during the extremely China-friendly administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. The re-installation of Centino to me signified a continuation by the Bongbong administration of that Duterte tradition.

Up until that point, Bongbong’s concern with the MDT had only been hinted at in his brief audience with US Vice President Kamala Harris before her visit to Palawan. Bongbong jokingly said that she would be proceeding to Palawan not for the province’s vaunted resorts and beaches but for something else which they both knew, and which elicited their loud laughter. What that something else was, Harris clarified in a speech aboard the Philippine Coast Guard ship BRP Teresa Magbanua as US readiness to counter with application of the MDT any Chinese attack on Philippine waters, lives and livelihood. Bongbong, having earlier treated the matter lightly, I took the Harris threat as manageable as far as the President was concerned. Indeed, I recalled Bongbong’s declaration at the Awards for Promoting Philippine China Understanding that in the Philippines’ pursuit of prosperity, its most reliable partner is China.

That, of course, notwithstanding a disclosure by Lt. Gen. James Bierman, commanding general of the US Armed Forces’ Third Marine Expeditionary Force, that what the US doing to the Philippines was what the US did exactly to Ukraine. I am prompted to quote again what the general said: “Why have we achieved the level of success we’ve achieved in Ukraine? A big part of that has been because after Russian aggression in 2014 and 2015, we earnestly got after preparing for future conflict: training for the Ukrainians, pre-positioning of supplies, identification of sites from which we could operate, support, sustain operations.”

Coming down to the Philippine scenario, Bierman said: “When you talk about the complexity, the size of some of the operations they would have to conduct, let’s say an invasion of Taiwan, there will be indications and warnings, and there are specific aspects to that in terms of geography and time, which allow us to posture and be most prepared.

“As part of those preparations, the Philippines plans to allow US forces to pre-position weapons and other supplies on five more bases in addition to five where the US has already access.

“You gain a leverage point, a base of operations, which allows you to have a tremendous head start in different operational plans. As we square off with the Chinese adversary, who is going to own the starting pistol and is going to have the ability potentially to initiate hostilities… we can identify decisive key terrain that must be held, secured, defended, leveraged.”

Vital cog in US strategy

So, we are here given an overview of how the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), concluded by the US with the President Benigno Aquino 3rd in 2014, was crafted as a vital cog in the entire US/NATO strategic machination for countering the Russian 2014-2015 annexation of Crimea with the assimilation of Ukraine into the alliance. In the South China Sea region, it is to give the US a “tremendous head start” not for defending Taiwan but for turning the Philippines into the main theater for its proxy war with China for dominance in the Indo-Pacific.

How much has America progressed in this direction? Not only as much as the initial five “agreed locations inside Philippine military bases” for deploying US troops and war material (Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan; Basa Air Base in Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija; Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro; and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan, Cebu), but also as much as the additional five more such Philippine military bases allowed access to the US for the same purpose: two in northern Cagayan, visibly proximate to Taiwan, hence convenient sites for launching US counterattacks in the event of the perceived Chinese attack from the mainland, with another two being those in Palawan and Zambales, right in the midst of a similarly perceived invasion by China from the South China Sea.

So, what Bongbong needs to do now is to get over his lying, if only to himself, that he is not aware that the Philippines is being drawn closer and closer to what the US and its cohorts in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have done to Ukraine over the past two decades — pushing Russia’s closest neighbor to belligerent status until finally pressed against the wall, Putin just had to react in self-defense.

To be continued tomorrow

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