By the end of this week, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. will fly to the US of A, on an official visit where he is to have a tete a tete with President Biden at the White House on May 1.
There may be some significance to the date, which is universally commemorated as Labor Day.
The Philippines continues to “labor” for America, perhaps no longer as “hewers of wood and drawers of water” as there are not much more natural resources for us to export to the rich countries.
We had cut down our timber in Mindanao and sent them to the US as “Philippine mahogany” and later to the Japanese in the 60s, and American companies mined our gold, during which time we were hosts to several military bases in our islands, the last big ones being Subic and Clark, which, thanks to the Senate under Jovito Salonga, we closed down.
Now, in apparent reversal of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s “independent” foreign policy, we have offered the Americans, our “beloved allies” the use of nine different strategically-located sites for “joint use” as part of the Visiting Forces Agreement and its version of “enhanced defense cooperation.”
In one very real sense, America’s newest identified “enemy,” the People’s Republic of China, had it coming.
They bullied us in what is ours in the vicinity of the South China Sea which we call our West Philippine Sea, over which our “beloved” America just watched on the sidelines, and due to several incidents particularly against our fishermen, many of our people began to “hate” China.
Survey after survey shows that we dislike the Chinese even more than the Japanese invaders where half a million of our forefathers were killed.
And despite extraction of every economic advantage in their favor during and even after their colonialist years such as parity rights, we continue to “love” America with trusting passion.
Not until 2016 did we have a president who never set foot nor paid obeisance to our “beloved” America, and profusely declared admiration, even “love” for Xi Jinping and the likes of Vladimir Putin, while he cursed Barack Obama.
Despite this contrast with the Filipino’s obsession with the US of A, paradoxically, Duterte has maintained the highest trust and approval ratings.
Yet towards his last year in office, after suspending the operation of EDCA which his predecessor PNoy acquiesced to, and other predecessors FVR and Erap fathered through the VFA, Duterte agreed to fully restore the VFA after a July 2021 meeting with the US Defense Secretary.
He justified the acquiescence because the pandemic had crippled the country and we needed vaccines which America had developed, a case of “give and take” according to him.
Despite his spokesman — Atty. Harry Roque’s vociferous insistence that America owed us big time – comparing what perennially troubled Pakistan got in aid (US$16 billion in 16 years versus our US$3.9 billion in the same period of time), President Duterte gave in.
We got 3.2 million doses of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, on top of a laundry list of military equipment to “modernize” our defense system.
Whether the modernization is real or we are to receive, as in the past 60 years, hand-me-downs some of which were of WW II vintage, this writer cannot ascertain.
What is clear is that our soldiers drool over the modern arms and munitions they get to use momentarily during the Balikatan exercises, the biggest of which is on-going, equipment which the American soldiers bring back to Okinawa or San Diego after the joint military exercises.
And our generals press Congress thereafter, with little success, to purchase in the name of modernization.
Sometimes you get the impression that the joint military exercises are likewise an opportunity to “sell” hardware to us through live demonstration.
Be that as it may, what is done is done. The weak depend on the strong.
Meanwhile that we were happy with crumbs and were middling our way oh-so- incrementally towards economic growth, once impoverished China with its billions of mouths to feed, was marching by leaps and bounds towards prosperity, at a pace never before witnessed in world history.
And now that it wants to “re-unify” Taiwan into the mainland, consistently labelling the island as a “renegade province,” America wants to re-define its long maintained “strategic ambiguity” towards the “strategic clarity” as expressed by Joe Biden himself as willingness to defend Taiwan against a Chinese take-over.
And our President acquiesced, verbally yet, according to Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo in a Senate hearing, to add four locations on top of the five previously agreed to, three of which point without any doubt towards the potential theater of conflict between Taiwan and China.
Is the written agreement to be signed come May 1 in Washington, DC?
Three of the new locations are in Lal-Lo airport which was originally intended as a commercial airport for domestic and regional use; the Camilo Osias Naval Base in Sta. Ana, Cagayan (erratum: in last Thursday’s article, I hastily typed San Vicente instead of Sta. Ana – my bad), both of which are within “spitting” distance of the channel that separates Taiwan from Luzon, and the Camp Melchor de la Cruz army base in Gamu, Isabela.
The president’s sister, Sen. Imee, wondered why these locations face Taiwan, if they are indeed for defense purposes.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian likewise asked “why not Bicol?” if these are for immediate disaster response.
Unable to justify the choices, Sec. Manalo said these sites have yet to be finalized in writing anyway.
Meanwhile, after the brouhaha raised by Ambassador Huang Xilian’s undiplomatic statements before a captive audience of “understanding” China lovers, newly-minted Foreign Minister Xin Gang flies to our country to confer with Manalo and the President.
One would think this is a case of “patay-sunog” yet just before he left China, Qin made a statement: “The Taiwan question is the core of the core interests of China,” followed by the firm assertion that “we will never back down in the face of any act that undermines China’s sovereignty and security. Those who play with fire on Taiwan will eventually get themselves burned.”
Now that ain’t “patay-sunog”. As we locals would say, “nanggagatong pa.”
Vamos a ver.
After listening to Qin, our President will report to Biden on Labor Day, after which he will fly to London to visit the king on his coronation, and thereafter fly back after attending an ASEAN confab in Indonesia.
Can he please collect payment from the US of A for his clear departure from the foreign policy of his predecessor Duterte?
One such payment is in getting Biden to extend our GSP+ privileges which we enjoyed until it expired in 2020 and has not since been extended.
After the pandemic has abated, perhaps it is time to renew?
Those GSP+ privileges, which we also enjoy with the EU but due to expire by the end of this year, are the main reason why FDIs go to our ecozones to the extent of 26 percent of our total exports, my DTI source said.
In the EU, they will mix politics with economics, and will likely discuss human rights and Leila de Lima when they make a decision to extend the GSP+ or not.
The US also presses on similar topics of interest, but nothing matters more at this point than to threaten China if it departs from the status quo on the Taiwan Strait.
Having made ourselves an accomplice to America’s strategic interest in the area, the GSP+ and the long-aspired for free trade agreement are the least we could ask.
As if to warn us not to dream too much, the US trade representative Katherine Tai who visited here recently doused cold water on an FTA, while stating that the GSP+ extension is up to Congress.
Can or will our President be able to collect from the all-mighty US of A after agreeing yet once more to be America’s little brother in Southeast Asia?