IN an Asian Century forum on the topic last May 6, on the topic “Is war imminent over Taiwan between US and China, is the Philippines now in the middle of a perception war?,” the moderator Wilson Flores stated that there is currently a global call for people to speak up against the perceived impending war between China and the US over Taiwan.
The forum, organized by the Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute Inc. (ACPSSII) in coordination with “Pandesal Forum” held at the Kamuning Bakery, had a panel of speakers that included Herman Laurel, ACPSSII president; Sass Rogando Sasot, a foreign policy analyst; Ado Paglinawan, ACPSSII vice president for internal affairs; and myself.
Laurel stated: “War begins in the mind, and it is the mind that will stop war. The ruling power from the West is now trying to create reasons for the war. Today, we see the US exerting efforts to turn the economic rivalry into an armed geopolitical competition.”
On the other hand, Paglinawan, concerning the South China Sea (SCS) arbitration award, stressed that the Permanent Court of Arbitration is not an international tribunal. It is a registry of arbitrations. Neither is it permanent nor is it a judicial court. According to him, at least two parties are needed in an arbitration. The two parties must submit to a third party. In the case of the SCS arbitral award against China, only the Philippines defined the house rules. Only the Philippines paid for the use of facilities, the staff and the supplies of the peace palace where proceedings were held, and selected the jurors and paid for their honoraria.
Hence, Paglinawan hinted, the arbitral ruling was a charade choreographed and stage-managed under the PNoy administration brokered by the US. Paglinawan further argued that China is willing to push for the Asean Code of Conduct, but China will never agree to anything that will give any foreign country, such as the US, Japan and Australia, any further access to the disputed waters of the SCS other than innocent passage. If military, they must seek permission from China and other claimant states of the SCS.
On the issue of EDCA, Sass stressed that EDCA was being sold to Filipinos on the pretext that it will help modernize the armed forces of the country, to which she further contended that this means that the Philippines needs to give up its sovereignty because EDCA is quite synonymous to “giving up of the country’s sovereignty.”
Furthermore, Sass said that the US has advocated modernizing the Philippine military since 1946, but it never really happened. She asked, “How long is this modernization? She also reiterated that there’s no congressional oversight on what will happen in the EDCA sites/bases precisely because EDCA is purely an executive agreement, and if there is still civilian supremacy when it comes to EDCA sites, that, we don’t know either.
BBM change of heart on EDCA
One of the questions asked during the Q&A portion of the media forum was if the alleged ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses has something to do with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s change of heart about EDCA.
One media practitioner asked this question against the backdrop that during the campaign period leading to the May 2022 national elections, and when he was still a senator, Marcos was ambivalent and critical of EDCA. Lest we forget, BBM maintained the stand as a senator that the EDCA should be revisited to ensure the Philippines got the best terms under the agreement.
It may also be recalled that BBM questioned specific provisions in the agreement that disallows access to Filipino personnel. He also cited the need to clarify the equipment used in the exercises and the US facilities. He also stated that there was a need to spell out the equipment the Americans would leave behind as payment for using the Philippine bases. He also insisted that EDCA increases the rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines and opens the possibility of providing the Americans basing rights in the country.
However, now that he is the president, out of the blue, BBM favored EDCA and expanded it with four more additional sites. It is also pretty much apparent that the BBM administration has cemented the expanded EDCA in the wake of his state visit to the US and his meeting with US President Joe Biden.
It is to be noted that the BBM government is granting the US entry and passage to install and construct four additional US military bases on top of the existing five under the expanded EDCA. Three of the four identified EDCA sites are located in Northern Luzon, facing the Taiwan Strait, a few hundred kilometers from Taiwan. The other identified site is Balabac Island off Palawan, facing the contested waters of the SCS. Likewise, under Marcos’ presidency, it is evident that the country’s foreign policy is leaning toward the US instead of being an independent one, reversing the course pursued by his predecessor President Rodrigo Duterte.
Was ill-gotten wealth a factor?
In this regard, many Filipinos are curious about this sudden change of heart and what prompted Marcos to adopt such a difference in stand/position on EDCA and foreign policy from being an independent one to one leaning toward the US.
In response to the question, Laurel said the Marcoses wanted to protect their riches. At the same time, Sass thinks that the question should be answered by Marcos because, according to her, up until now, he hasn’t given any explanation why he had a sudden change of position vis-à-vis EDCA. To reiterate, BBM’s position when he was still a senator was a different one. Hence, the wealth issue is for Marcos to answer and clarify.
Conversely, Paglinawan said, “I cannot estimate how many arguments are involved here just as the Aquino vested interest of the oil in Recto Reef was the main cause of the stonewalling of the Aquino 3rd administration to protect the US. Again, we see another motivation that would harm our national interests.”
No doubt, there are a lot of speculations as to why BBM’s sudden change of heart about EDCA. Indeed, one of these speculations relates to the alleged “ill-gotten wealth” of the Marcoses and existing lawsuits faced by the Marcos family in US courts. There’s this pending question if, in any case, the alleged ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and the lawsuits they face in US courts are being used as bargaining chips and leverage for BBM to adopt a foreign policy leaning toward the US, which consequently led to BBM’s decision to say yes to an expanded EDCA. Or is there no basis at all even to ask this question? What’s more important for a leader, personal interest or the national interest?
The answers to these speculative questions are up in the air, and only BBM and the Marcoses can provide more straightforward answers. Nevertheless, I believe the Filipino people deserve honest answers to all these questions.
Source: The Manila Times