Why BBM is pro-America

VIRTUAL REALITY - Tony Lopez - The Philippine Star

Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr.’s pivot to America will soon yield dividends – in terms of investments in critical areas, jobs and job training, solid infrastructure, energy independence, digital connectivity, microchip production, agribusiness, mass transport and logistics hubs.

The Philippine President elected with the greatest number of votes ever, Bongbong Marcos has decided that his success as the leader of 115 million Filipinos lies in partnership with the United States – and Japan.

The US and Japan are funding what is called the Luzon Economic Corridor (LEC) to develop the Philippine main island’s economically robust 300-km stretch from Subic to Batangas by linking its three major ports – Subic, Manila and Batangas – and three major airports – Clark, Bulacan and NAIA through massive investments in infrastructure, railways, ports modernization, port upgrade at Subic, microchip manufacturing and labor training, agriculture, clean energy, digitalization, supply chain and deployment.

This May, high-impact projects will be tackled and presented to investors at a trilateral event on the sidelines of the Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Manila.

The projects will be bankrolled partly by the newly created US International Finance Development Corp. (the successor of OPIC), which will put up its regional office in Manila.

Additionally, the US and Japan will open cutting-edge technological opportunities for Filipino businessmen.

One such project is Open Radio Access Network (RAN) to be based in Manila with an Asia Open RAN Academy to boot, also in Manila, with funding from the US and Japan, to enable future commercial deployment and an open, interoperable, secure, reliable and trusted information communications technology ecosystem in the Philippines. This builds on prior US and Japanese investment of over $9 million for these projects in the Philippines. Open RAN is a national broadband program and free WiFi project.

Also, the Philippines, US and Japan will develop a new pool of semiconductor workers. Filipino students will receive world-class training at leading American and Japanese universities, to help secure the three nations’ semiconductor supply chains.

This initiative complements the expansion of semiconductor investments in Manila to strengthen supply chain resiliency among the US, Japan and the Philippines.

The idea, it seems, is to secure a cyber network free from intrusion and sabotage by hostile countries in the future.

Incidentally, Metro Manila, the national capital, is home to the six military and police headquarters – the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City and across it, the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame; plus the headquarters of the four major armed services, the Army at Fort Bonifacio, the Air Force at NAIA, the Navy at Roxas Boulevard, Manila and the Coast Guard in Port Area, Manila. A single missile, or even a drone, can wipe out these command-and-control centers in one blow, thanks to the foresight, or lack of it, of our forefathers. How do you secure these camps? Well, through reliable cyber and internet infra. And of course, physically, by the presence of troops.

Marcos Jr. has offered Washington DC no less than nine Philippine military bases for use by American soldiers as the US pivots to Asia (now referred to as the Indo-Pacific) to counter China’s rise as the region’s greatest economic and military power.

Considering the dynamic power balance in Asia, the view is that foreign direct investments and economic development can be merged with geopolitical and military objectives, like mixing guns, gasoline, galunggong and a ganta of rice.

In economic output valued at what the US dollar can buy in local goods (or purchasing power parity, PPP), China is the world’s richest, with $35-trillion GDP. The US is only second, with $26.95 trillion.

However, in annual defense spending, the US is unrivalled, $832 billion, vs. China’s $227 billion. While China has a larger army (3.17 million vs US’s 2.12 million), the US has more nuclear weapons, 5,500 vs. Beijing’s 400; more aircraft carriers, 11 vs. two; more intercontinental ballistic missiles, 405 vs. 300 and more aircraft, 13,209 vs. 3,304 of China. China has the larger naval fleet, 730 vs. the US’s 472, and more navy personnel, 380,000 vs. the US Navy’s 13,513. In the Indo-Pacific, whoever controls the oceans controls the region’s future.

Gunboat diplomacy aside, China is also dominant in spreading economic largesse to the poor and middle-income countries, up to $1 trillion in the last decade, under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), its spectacular infrastructure strategy.

To regain lost ground, or waters, and superpower prestige, the US has uncorked an ambitious strategic initiative to counter China’s BRI.

In June 2022, the US inveigled its G7 partners to put up the G7 Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), with a $600-billion funding, from the G7 governments and the private sector, by 2027, to provide financing for quality, high-standard, sustainable infrastructure in developing and middle-income countries. They need up to $40 trillion in ten years of infra funding.

In the ASEAN, Vietnam has been the biggest beneficiary of the PGII – $15.5 billion for energy transition away from fossils.

Initially, from the GPII, the Philippines has the first Southeast Asia earth observation program with Copernicus (Copernicus Philippines), launched April 2023 in Manila, with a $37.2-million EU grant, and the $2.8-billion North-South Commuter Railway in Metro Manila, financed by Japan’s JICA and ADB.

Copernicus is a satellite data archive to tackle disasters and climate change and to ensure fast access to data through high-speed broadband, mobile connectivity and new fiber submarine cables. It will also aim to boost education, research and innovation and to mobilize the data economy market. This has the potential to unlock digital economic opportunities and scientific benefits at national and regional levels.

As for the Philippines’ recurring rice shortages, perhaps it could tap JICA’s $1-billion funding under SAFE (Facility for Supporting Agricultural supply chain and Food security Enhancement) of GPII.

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