Can we still trust America?
HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2019 - 12:00am

The surveys continue to conclude that we trust the United States but we don’t trust China. For all the good will most of us feel towards America, it is time we subject this conclusion to further scrutiny.

For sure, the best test of America as a trusted ally was when China invaded Philippine territory – Scarborough Shoal off the coast of Zambales – in 2012. Our treaty with the United States says that the US will assist us if we are attacked. And Scarborough Shoal was a downright attack, one which we could not repel. Only the United States could have helped us but it did not.

We have always overestimated our relationship with the United States. The reality is that a small laid back country like ours is just an expendable pawn in the game of international geopolitics, and we are ignored because we are not strong like Japan or South Korea.

American policies towards Asia do not always tally with ours. Mood swings in the United States can also affect its relationship with other countries. At the moment, there seems to be a slow swing towards isolation. This is not because America has lost its dynamism but because it finds that sustaining all its global commitments can be very expensive and can even sap the morale of the party in power and at the same time give strength to the opposition.

American presidents have always been wary of entanglement in a land war in Asia. This must be uppermost in the minds of those policymakers in Washington when they mulled over the problem of a recalcitrant China in the South China Sea.

Our South China Sea problem with China has an ominous collateral at home. Realize that 80 percent of the Philippine economy is now in the hands of ethnic Chinese. They came to the Philippines with nothing, and became wealthy through exploitation of the land and the people. The priority, therefore, is for us now to see to it that the economic power of these ethnic Chinese, whose loyalty to the Philippines is in doubt, should be emasculated. The silence of our Filipino Chinese on this crucial issue is deafening. Vietnam is a very good model.

Vietnam has not hesitated to fight the Chinese frontally and yet maintains a close relationship with China. Its economy had been dominated by ethnic Chinese. Cholon, then Saigon’s busiest district, was actually a Chinese enclave. After the triumph of the Revolution in 1975, Vietnam applied a simple solution to its China problem. The Chinese were simply expelled and their properties were confiscated. Several Chinese establishments were set up through the following years, but during the riots some three years ago, when China set up an oil rig in Vietnamese waters, to which the Vietnamese objected furiously, the Chinese factories in Vietnam were burned.

The United States has billions of dollars in mothballed war material, and has excuses for why it is niggardly in its military aid to the Philippines, compared with its assistance to other governments. We must be prepared to increase our military capability on our own, to sacrifice for it even. One of our first priorities is to build a navy with fast frigates to patrol and defend our country. We already have shipbuilding facilities to do this.

We should have three military academies, the military academy in Baguio, perhaps a naval academy in Cebu, and an air force academy in Davao. The first two years of military study will be spent in Baguio. And in the following four years, army officers will continue in Baguio, while naval officers will be in Davao, and air force officers in Cebu.

The ROTC should also be revived. It will be a two-year course, after which anyone aspiring for a military career is qualified to take exams for the military academy. The last six months of the course should be spent with the army units. We will then have ready reserve forces whenever the country needs them. We can gain some lessons from Singapore and Israel.

We also should strengthen our ties with our ASEAN neighbors, and also see to it that these ties have military significance. We must always remember that a strong and united ASEAN is our best defense against any imperial design to colonize Southeast Asia. It is important that ASEAN should form a pillar not only in trade and cultural relations but also in our military ties with neighbor countries.

Our diminished relationship with the United States may be replaced with alliances with other nations – Australia, Japan, South Korea. Because of its consensus decision making process, ASEAN may not be a military deterrent to China’s land grabbing. On the other hand, we can forge alliances with Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

The Defense Secretary has asked for a review of our defense treaties with the United States. All military aid from other countries should also be reviewed.

An American author described us in the 1930s as “the Orphans of the Pacific.” Perhaps that definition fits us now for, in a sense, to be truly free, we must reject our colonial past and struggle not only to survive but to preserve our hard-won. Orphans know they are alone so they strive hard to prevail.

To alter our barnacled attitudes towards the United States means that we will have to be less dependent on the United States for aid; we will also diminish the teacher-pupil relationship. In reviewing our alliances with America, it must be noted that Japan, Korea, and Taiwan took advantage of the American umbrella and market to develop economically and militarily. We did not.

I remember Joseph Lelyveld, former managing editor of The New York Times. He said it is very difficult for America to take our leaders seriously because they are silly. Herein lies the problem: if we should no longer trust America, with our kind of leaders, can we trust ourselves?

PHILIPPINE TERRITORY SCARBOROUGH SHOAL
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