The Philippines and the United States are embarking on an “Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation” (AEDC) that would increase the presence of US military troops in the Philippines on a “rotational” basis. US President Barack Obama is expected to witness the signing of said agreement when he visits Manila on April 28.
No one has seen a copy of the draft agreement, which will clearly not be transmitted to the Senate for concurrence. One needs to read between the lines of statements issued by the Philippine negotiating panel after every round of bilateral negotiations to decipher the vague contours of this new security cooperation:
l The enhanced defense cooperation will allow the sharing of defined areas within certain Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) facilities with elements of the US military on a rotational basis within parameters consistent with the Philippine Constitution and laws.
l At the instance of the Philippine side, the United States Panel agreed to the inclusion of provisions on environment and safety, and opportunities for potential Philippine suppliers of goods, products and services.
l Both sides have reached consensus on many provisions, including on the proposed accord’s preamble, purpose and scope, definition of terms, ownership of constructed infrastructure, coordination on security, contracting procedures and resolution of disputes.
l The Philippines and the United States added a key dimension to the enhanced defense cooperation in relation to ensuring timely and adequate humanitarian assistance and disaster relief responses.
l Other significant benefits of the said agreement under negotiations are timely and critical support to the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, achievement of the country’s minimum credible defense posture, and, provision of jobs and other economic opportunities through the local goods and supplies procurement that will be made by the US military.
Based on these statements, it is clear that America’s intention to pivot to Asia has found a staging ground no less in the military camps of its oldest ally, the Philippines. Whether this would be such a good idea depends on what exactly they will do inside, how, and for how long. I asked Assistant Secretary Charles Jose, the spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, on the length of this rotational presence, as well as the number — on the average — of American troops per cycle. Of course, the DFA official had zilch details to share.
My take is that the AFP has facilities everywhere and is at liberty to build more. The sharing of intelligence information between the two allies could direct where to build next, what weapons to purchase now and which coastlines need greatest protection. Both armies have their respective honor codes and all American troops to be deployed to the Philippines must never sully or demean the code that our own men in uniform live and die by.
China’s aggressiveness has led the US back to Asia where stable and reliable economies of Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and yes, even radiation-speckled Japan, are able to consistently build their respective military and defense capabilities.
In that sense, the US and the Philippines are both playing catch-up to the growing firmament of emerging military powers in Asia. Enhancing its defense cooperation would be mutually beneficial as long as the objectives are clear and within the bounds of constitutional laws and military norms and decorum.
What laws would protect Philippine workers employed under this agreement? What happens to wayward, abusive American soldiers? And yes, does the agreement mention anything at all about preventing human trafficking given how US troops and the currency they have serve also as a magnet for all kinds of social ills like prostitution? The devil as they always say, lurks in the details. The Philippine Senate has every right to assert its oversight function as the ratifier of all bilateral agreements. I hope it does, for the sake of national interest.
Arab News Link: America pivots back to Asia