IN the metaphorical sense, the concept of a “third strike” typically refers to a final warning or opportunity before taking significant action. The term originates from baseball, where a batter is allowed two strikes before the “third strike” causes them to be out.
In a policy or diplomatic context, going beyond a “third strike,” considering repeated actions that have been perceived to infringe upon a nation’s sovereignty or constitutional principles, would imply that a situation has reached a critical point where decisive action is warranted to address a repeated transgression.
The latest controversy on the clandestine transfer of around 39 million gallons of military fuel through a commissioned tanker, Yosemite Trader, that ferried the fuel from the US Navy-run Red Hill Underground Storage Facility in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Subic Bay facilities was devoid of transparency, accountability, and was seemingly shadowed from the public eye and scrutiny. Based on news reports from Hawaii, the fuel is intended to “support operations in the South China Sea (SCS), where tensions have been on the rise” and intended for a facility in Subic called San Diego. This, accordingly, is in line with the US Navy’s “distributed fueling strategy” with (fuel) stocks distributed in several locations in the Pacific, ready for any eventuality.
Had it not been for the vigilance and activism of anti-war civil society organizations on both sides of the Pacific, these clandestine operations by the US military would not have been exposed and would have remained concealed from the public eye, leaving Filipinos entirely unaware and oblivious to their occurrence.
Last Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, the Hawai’i Justice and Peace and the Stop the War Coalition Philippines, with the support of the Berlin-based and Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Peace Bureau, organized a media forum at the 85-year-old Kamuning Bakery Cafe.
The forum questioned the clandestine transfer of around 39 million gallons, or around 40 percent of the Red Hill fuel, to the Subic facility, which was confirmed by the US Embassy in Manila on Jan. 11, 2024.
The anti-war coalition inquired into the implications of this fuel transfer, whether it is something that the Philippine government has allowed and is aware of, and raised concerns about its impact on the country’s sovereignty, environmental safety and the transparency of US-Philippine military agreements and operations. They also underscored the regional geopolitical dynamics, particularly with regard to the US-China rivalry and strategic competition, the tense security situation in the Taiwan Strait and the escalating tension in the disputed SCS. The coalition demands accountability and transparency in this matter from the two governments, the Philippines and the United States.
Moreover, the involvement of Subic Bay, a location not officially listed as a site/base under the expanded Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) as the alleged destination of US military fuel from Pearl Harbor, prompts a critical inquiry about its role and whether it might be serving as an unofficial or de facto EDCA site. And if so, could there be other undeclared de facto EDCA sites serving similar purposes other than the nine declared ones?
Meanwhile, Sen. Maria Imelda “Imee” Marcos demanded an explanation from the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines regarding this matter. She lamented that the “inexplicable silence” of both the Philippine and US governments before the voyage only raised suspicions about the pre-positioning of military supplies in the country amid predictions of an eventual war between China and the US over Taiwan.
This is, according to her, a “strike three” in attempting to deprive the Filipino people of the right to know. She said the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) was not licensed to leave the Filipino people in the dark, and this was not just an issue of foreign policy but of Philippine sovereignty and even environmental safety, and the government better have a clear explanation for this.
Beyond the third strike
As far as the broader concerns on transparency and respect for Philippine sovereignty and constitutional principles are concerned, the issue of the covert shipment of 39 million gallons of military fuel by the US Navy from Pearl Harbor to Subic is “beyond the third strike” already. Note that since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office, there have been several instances that have been viewed by many as infringing on Philippine sovereignty and the bounds of constitutional mandates, where the Marcos government is also perceived as complicit in constitutional infidelity.
“Strike one” to this is the expansion and full implementation of EDCA, granting the US passage not only to install and construct four additional US military bases on top of the existing five but also the deployment of American troops, the pre-positioning of US military assets on Philippines soil. The expansion of EDCA raises concerns about the potential entanglement of the Philippines in geopolitical tensions, especially concerning the Taiwan Strait issue and the heightened tensions in the SCS between the Philippines and China. It also raises questions about the constitutionality of foreign military presence in the Philippines and the potential impact on Philippine sovereignty.
Note that the 1987 Constitution, specifically Section 25, Article XVIII, is categorically against foreign military bases, troops or facilities “unless under a treaty duly concurred by the Senate and, when Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting state.”
EDCA, while not a formal treaty, has circumvented this provision by framing the US military presence here as temporary rotations rather than permanent bases. This legal nuance continues to spark discussions about whether EDCA and its expansion are constitutional and what it means for the country’s independence and sovereignty.
“Strike two” was the controversial issue of the secretive and undisclosed demand of the US for the Philippines to temporarily host around 50,000 Afghan “refugees,” and “strike three” was the lapse in advisory concerning the multiple unannounced and unadvised landings of C-17 Globemasters of the US Air Force in the country’s domestic and international airports.
The “beyond strike three” is the clandestine transfer of 39 million gallons of military fuel by the US Navy from Pearl Harbor to Subic, which means that supposedly, the threshold for tolerance has been reached, and corrective action should have been done already by the existing political establishments and leadership of the country. Surpassing a metaphorical “beyond the third strike” in matters of national sovereignty should have necessitated already a rectification and recalibration of the US-Philippines military agreements such as the MDT, EDCA and the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) to uphold the country’s constitutional principles and sovereign integrity.
The deafening silence from the government regarding the alleged infractions on the country’s sovereignty and constitutional mandates by US military operations in the country seems worrisome.
Could it be posited that the current administration appears to prioritize the demands and interests of the United States over its own national interests, sovereignty and independence, suggesting a level of deference that could be interpreted as reminiscent of a vassal state? This perspective raises questions about the autonomy of the Philippine political leadership and the extent to which it serves the interests of its citizens first and foremost.
The lack of public discussion, accountability and transparency on matters that potentially impinge on national sovereignty could be seen as indicative of a disproportionate influence by the US on Philippine domestic affairs and foreign policy, prompting a reevaluation of the true nature of the bilateral relationship between the two nations.
With such deafening silence, in the context of the current geopolitical climate, how long can the Philippine political establishment sustain a stance of nonresponse in the face of actions that could be construed as undermining the nation’s sovereignty, self-governance and constitutional principles, particularly with respect to US military operations on its soil? This query prompts an examination of the thresholds of tolerance within the country’s leadership and the Filipino people and at what juncture a collective assertiveness may be deemed necessary to affirm the nation’s sovereignty and national integrity, and uphold the core tenets of its constitutional framework.
When will Filipinos say enough is enough, and it’s time to decisively defend the country’s genuine national interests and sovereign integrity? I hope not when it’s already too late.
Source: The Manila Times