Obama’s visit

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Monday, April 21, 2014


HOW many times does a United States president visit a small economy like the Philippines? Not often. There is reason, therefore, for Filipinos to be upbeat about US President Barack Obama’s visit to the country on Monday and Tuesday next week.

But while we can be all agog about the visit, we should not treat it like we are beggars waiting for a rich man to pass by. Being poor does not mean we have to shunt aside dignified conduct. We should not forget that we are a sovereign nation and not the 51st state of the US.

Consider the seeming rush to seal the Enhanced Defense Cooperation (EDC) agreement in time for Obama’s arrival. While Malacañang has agreed that it would be wrong to rush the signing of the agreement, its actions do not tally with it. The agreement seeks to increase the so-called “rotational presence” in the country of US troops.

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There should be a wide consensus on the provisions of the agreement to ensure that we wouldn’t be placed at a disadvantage like in previous security pacts with the US. This means the process should be transparent to ensure greater awareness of the proposals’ pros and cons.

Meanwhile, I won’t be surprised if Filipino activists make a noise about the EDC and Obama’s visit here. US imperialism, after all, is still a concern for NDs (national democrats), aside from bureaucrat capitalism and feudalism. Unfortunately, swaying public opinion to their side has always been difficult as far as “US imperialism” is concerned.

That difficulty has been compounded by the recent acts of China in the South China Sea. It has flexed its muscle in the area we now call the West Philippine Sea, claiming islets and shoals so near our archipelago. Its armed ships patrolling the areas of conflict only exposed the inadequacies of our military.

The worry that the Chinese would use its armed might to fully occupy the areas we are claiming as ours is what has pushed the administration of President Noynoy Aquino to move closer to the US. This plays well into the US military strategy under Obama to give more attention to the Pacific. The EDC is the product of this “MU” (mutual understanding).

I consider what is happening now as a choice between the lesser of two evils. Of course, the US is not the lesser evil in a strict sense considering that its exploitation of the Philippines is real and has been going on for more than a century already. China only becomes the bigger evil because its threat is direct and imminent.

But the ideal is for our current overdependence on US military help to be only temporary. The goal is to improve the capacity of our Armed Forces to defend the country from outside security threats. On this, parity with China’s military would be an impossible objective. But so-called “minimal credible defense” can be achieved.

The Aquino administration has started the ball rolling on this regard by improving the capacity of our Navy and Air Force to defend the country. I understand that more military ships and aircrafts are being purchased. But PNoy is winding down his presidency, so choosing the next president in 2016 is crucial in this regard.

If Filipino voters will choose a corrupt president, then the thrust for a “minimal credible defense” will be scuttled. This is because a big chunk of the budget for the purchase of military ships and aircrafts will be pocketed by corrupt minions of the president and the Armed Forces. We will again end up with rickety and rusty armaments.

Meaning that, what PNoy has laid under his administration could go for naught if we err in 2016.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 22, 2014.

Opinion

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