President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. Contributed Photo

BBM should ask what we’re willing to die for

PRESIDENT Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s move to boost military ties with the United States and Japan for a possible confrontation with China over Taiwan may ultimately undo his declared policy of being “a friend to all and an enemy to none.” He could end up supporting one side against the other in the East-West competition for global dominance. This is not as easy to navigate as it may appear, but this is where he’s heading.

In his reported conversation with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, Marcos finally ended his studied refusal to join the US and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in condemning Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine. In a joint statement, Marcos and Kishida deplored the invasion in the strongest terms and called for Russia’s complete and unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine.

These developments put the Marcos administration on the side of the US in no uncertain terms. It is now for Marcos to defend his policy shift under the Philippine Constitution.

The Constitution, not simply a party platform, mandates our “independent” foreign policy, based on “national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national integrity and the right to self-determination.” He needs to assure us that he has not gambled any of these by his latest actions.

Many resurgent Cold Warriors would like to see a war with China in their lifetime. Such a war could quickly turn nuclear, which both Marcos and Kishida consider “unacceptable,” given the fact that the major players are all nuclear powers. In such a war, we could become cannon fodder. Even in a purely conventional war, the use of Philippine military bases by the US would invite enemy attack, in which Filipinos would die. Do you want to die for Taiwan?

As early as the 1950s, Sen. Claro M. Recto warned that the US military bases at Clark and Subic could act as “magnets” for thermonuclear strikes from the Soviet Union at the time. The Soviet Union is no more, dismantled after the Cold War, with the Russian Federation now at war with NATO over Ukraine. China has become the new nuclear and economic world power in competition with the world’s lone superpower.

Meanwhile the US bases, shut down after the 1947 US-Philippine Military Bases Agreement (MBA) expired in 1991 and the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption drove the US forces out of Clark and Subic that same year, have been replaced under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) by the so-called agreed locations inside Philippine military bases where the US could pre-position its forces, weaponry and materiel for its use in war. Except for their name, they are nothing short of foreign military bases for the Americans.

EDCA was President Noynoy Aquino’s gift to the US after his late mother, Cory Aquino, failed to extend the term of the bases by another 10 years. After the MBA ended, Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus and US special presidential negotiator Richard Armitage came up with a new treaty, but the Senate, made up of Cory’s 22 “senators” and two minority members, rejected the extension. EDCA gave Noynoy the opportunity to give the Americans what his mother had failed to give them.

These consisted of five “agreed locations” — the Antonio Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro. But these were apparently not enough, so the Biden administration asked for more.

On his seventh month in office, Marcos agreed to add four more sites to Noynoy’s five. These have not been publicly identified, but they are said to be strategically positioned vis-à-vis Taiwan, the potential trigger of a US-China war. There are reports of frenzied construction activity at the 300-hectare air force and naval base on Balabac island in southern Palawan, but there is no mention of it being one of the new “agreed locations.”

Do any of the sites carry nuclear weapons? The Constitution does not allow it, and EDCA stipulates that no such weapons are stored there. But this statement needs confirmation and verification. In the 1969 hearings of the US Senate foreign relations committee under Sen. Stuart Symington, it was shown that some nuclear weapons had been stored in the Philippines without the prior knowledge and consent of its government.

In 1971, the US National Security Council (NSC) revealed that “the authorized ceiling of nuclear weapons deployed in the Philippines was 201, including 115 tactical bombs on Navy ships.” In 1973, the authorized number of nuclear weapons at Clark and Subic was up to 260, according to the same source. Presumably, this number was reduced to zero when the bases were dismantled or even earlier when the 1987 Constitution with its nuclear-weapons-free provision came into force.

But the more relevant issue now is whether EDCA is in full accord with the Constitution. This provides that after 1991, “foreign military bases, troops or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting state.”

Noynoy Aquino delivered EDCA to the US during a dark period in the presidency when he paid off the members of Congress to pass a Reproductive Health Law he had promised to US President Obama, and bribed 19 senator-judges (P50 million to P100 million each) to convict and remove a sitting Supreme Court chief justice who had committed no serious crime in office. These were two impeachable offenses for which he was never prosecuted.

We need a totally independent and upright Supreme Court to pronounce definitively and conclusively whether or not an agreement that calls itself an “executive agreement” can perform the functions of a treaty as defined in the Constitution. We also need to see from the most objective and reliable data whether or not our people truly support the grant of “agreed locations” to foreign forces in the Philippines.

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