Hagel in Manila : The Beast Walks on a Four-Legged Visit to Asia

For the second time, Manila plays host to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, as the last stop in the four–country visit and right after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ADMM) Defense Ministers Plus Meeting, which was held in Brunei last August 28.

The ADMM Plus meeting is composed of the ten ASEAN members (Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) and its eight dialogue partners (the US, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, New Zealand and Russia.

His presence is designed to spur the on-going negotiations for increased US military presence in the country that started last August 14.

Philippine officials anticipate that it would take three more rounds of talks before an agreement can be ironed out. The new agreement on increased rotational presence seeks to “augment an already robust US force operating in and out of the Philippines”.

As an additional incentive, the PENTAGON is seeking a 50 percent increase in funds to support foreign militaries and training in the Southeast Asian region. In other words, the US is not above bribing countries to see things his way—especially in terms of ever-increasing US military presence in the Pacific theater of operations. It is for their benefit—economically and militarily, to secure the key trade routes and sea lanes in this part of the world, especially from perceived rivals like China.

Knowing that the presence of US troops in the country is a contentious issue, the Philippines Department of Defense and the Department of Foreign Affairs are quick to assure the public that increased rotational presence does not mean putting up new bases.

This is misleading the public, since what the US is really after is open-access to the host nations’ military facilities, equipment and other logistics. For instance, Subic Economic Freeport Zone, is not only accommodating port visits from various US war ships, nuclear-armed submarines and missile destroyers but is also now doing ship repair, in a tie-up with a subsidiary of U.S. shipbuilder Huntingdon Ingalls Industries and Subic-based Korean Shipbuilding company Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction (HHIC).

The new types of bases developed by the US military do not put a premium on physical bases but rather, on developing and cultivating a series of “cooperative security locations” or lily-pads where their troops can jump on and off, coming or going to specific targets. And the more access they have, the more muscle they can project to deter potential or perceived rivals, with host countries none the wiser to their activities.

In a recent interview, US Ambassador Harry Thomas refused to give a straight answer on how many US military troops are stationed in Zamboanga, the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTFP) headquarters, preferring instead to say that the troops stay six months at a time and that commanders are rotated after a year. Clearly, these troops are no longer visiting but can be considered stationed here !

All this one-sided benefit is given a plausible excuse under the guise of modernizing the AFP, putting up a “minimum credible defense” ; and that our Filipino troops would benefit the most from currying more military favors from the US.

This excuse has been around since the time of the bases and it did us no good to be an appendage of US foreign policy and a blind follower of its military agenda then, it will not do us any good now. All we ended up with was a stunted AFP that still has to contend with refurbished (read : antiquated hand-me-down) equipment and vehicles from the US military.

Shall we give up our territorial integrity and sovereignty for the measly three million dollars that purportedly these port calls generate ? Should we sell out our dignity for the proverbial thirty pieces of silver ? As it stands, the historic victory of the Filipino people in 1991 when we booted out the US bases is being overturned as we speak.

What our country needs is to grow a nationalist backbone and enough political will to wean itself away from its dependency to the United States. We should send a clear message to Hagel : his war eagles are not welcome in Philippine soil !

Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KPD)

* Reference : Fidel Fababier, Vice Chairperson, KILUSAN

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