Why we have EDCA today

- The Philippine Star

Let’s face it, no amount of reasoning will ever convince those who have made up their minds against the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the United States and the Philippines. But the fact is, majority of Filipinos agree we need to secure our alliances to strengthen our external defense capabilities especially with the maritime disputes we face today. China’s aggression continues, its bully tactics directed not only against the Philippines but other claimant-nations in the East and South China Seas – with all indications that the Chinese provocations will not stop.

The Chinese are now shooting water cannons against other vessels in the disputed territories —  causing more tension not only among ASEAN nations but others whose economy could suffer if the trade arteries in disputed maritime territories ever get controlled by one country. Our military defense capabilities are among the weakest in the region – and we have only ourselves to blame as the facts we gathered would indicate.

Fact No. 1: When the US bases were closed down because the Philippine Senate voted against their retention in 1991, the US was actually glad it happened because the operational costs for maintaining bases were getting higher, while advancements in technology were making it easier to sustain American presence overseas even without military bases.

Fact No. 2: When the American troops finally left in 1992, we failed to preserve the integrity of the facilities they left. In fact we flew into Subic Airport with Manny Pangilinan last Thursday for the Ad Summit, and it was obvious that what was envisioned to be a flourishing and progressive Freeport Zone is far from actual reality. We saw it as a wasted opportunity to maintain the American facilities and transform it into something that would showcase our ability to modernize our military. In 1992, the Bases Conversion Development Authority was created primarily to boost the modernization program of the AFP. But to this day, we are just starting to develop a “minimum credible defense posture.”

People are asking, where did all the money from the sale of Fort Bonifacio and the other camps go? It is obvious the AFP is far from modernized, with military hardware and equipment needing serious upgrades. For sure, some of the funds remitted by the BCDA went towards “modernization,” but not everything was coursed through to where it was intended especially after the discovery of the massive corruption in the General Carlos Garcia case.

Fact No. 3: The Abu Sayyaf Group was becoming very strong in the South, sowing terror with kidnapping and extortion activities and it seemed the military was helpless in going after these terrorists. In May 2000, the ASG gained international notoriety because of the Sipadan kidnappings in Malaysia with 21 hostages brought to a terrorist camp in Jolo, Sulu. The following year, they kidnapped 20 tourists in Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan, among them Martin and Gracia Burnham. In September 2001, 9/11 took place. America was stunned, and launched the War on Terror that changed life in America and their ally countries.  Mindanao was identified as a training ground for al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for 9/11 — among them Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who said plans for the deadly 9/11 attacks against the US began in Manila in 1994, with his nephew Ramzi Yousef, the man tagged for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center — as his conspirator. Together, the two were running an al-Qaeda cell and were doing “test runs” in the Philippines.

Mindanao was becoming a hotbed of extremists and by this time, then-president Joseph Estrada had declared an all-out war against MILF rebels. The enhanced terrorist activities in the South convinced Estrada that the Visiting Forces Agreement was crucial, and we needed a strong ally like the United States to enhance our defense posture and confront the enemy – both external and internal – from a position of strength. No one can dispute that American military training and technology such as the Satellite Global Positioning System helped Philippine troops in locating ASG strongholds and rescuing hostages that include Gracia Burnham, and in subsequently capturing Galib Andang a.k.a. Commander Robot, notorious for beheading hostages.

Fact No. 4: China’s growing belligerence regarding maritime disputes prompted the US Asia pivot policy, aimed at maintaining balance in the Asia Pacific region. China however continuously refuses to submit itself to international arbitration to resolve territorial disputes, and contrary to accusations against Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario that he was too pro-American, the Secretary exhausted everything in reaching out to the Chinese — trying backdoor channeling and all kinds of channeling to no avail. Today, China continues to taunt us. Intelligence information also indicates that without the intervention of the United States, the Chinese military command calculates they can take Metro Manila in less than a week. I remember a Chinese merchant once boasted that if the 1.2 billion people in China all pissed at the same time – a tidal wave would drown the entire Philippines. 

Clearly both President Aquino and Secretary Del Rosario did their best in insuring the integrity of the EDCA that we have today. If one would only take the time to carefully look at the facts — then easily the conclusion will be that EDCA is equally beneficial to both the United States and the Philippines. The agreement will actually help our Armed Forces strengthen our external defense and disaster relief capabilities. There is absolutely no truth to those who argue that ultimately US bases will be re-established in the country. The Pentagon has in fact cut down on US bases all over the world including within the continental United States.

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