Dec 05, 2022

Why Captain America May Not Come to Our Rescue

DEC 03, 2022 12:01 AM


PRACTICALLY, the whole of Asia was once colonized by Western and European Powers. The Pacific Ocean was known as the Lago Española or the Spanish Lake until the signing of the Treaty of Paris when it became the American Lake. The colonization of Asia draws my attention to the question of treaties.

Treaties entered into at a time when we were still under the post-colonial influence of the United States should be reexamined, so that our national interests may be fully protected. A glaring example is the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 (MDT) between the Philippines and the United States of America. Strictly and literally interpreted, its provisions apply only to that area around the Pacific Ocean and not to the West Philippine Sea. The Pacific Ocean is that immense body of water to the east of the Philippines where American military bases protecting the landmass of the United States are situated. The words of the treaty are magnificently clear: "Deserving to declare publicly and formally their sense of unity and their common determination to defend themselves against external armed attack, so that no potential aggressor could be under the illusion that either of them stands alone in the Pacific area." (Italics mine)

It is also specific and legalistic: "Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes." The last phrase means that before Captain America enters the fray, the consent of the Congress of the United States consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate must first be obtained. It also means that the US Congress must first determine that the armed attack in the Pacific is also a threat to its peace and security. The decision to go to war therefore may take months or may not be made at all.

Article V of the treaty also states that "an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific."

The disadvantage of the treaty to the Philippines is that most of our disparate islands cannot be referred to as "metropolitan territory" since they are not densely populated or commercial areas and that the only territory that we have in the Pacific Ocean with the exception of our eastern seaboard is the Benham Rise which is underwater. The United States has military bases in places like Hawaii, Guam, Wake Island, Diego Garcia, Marshall Islands and Puerto Rico.

We also cannot take solace in the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) because it concerns only the treatment to be given to the US Armed Forces while visiting the Philippines. It only reaffirms the obligations of the MDT. It reiterates the need for "regional security in the Pacific Area" in its preamble.

The VFA deals with the mundane tasks of visa exemptions, waivers of driving permits, of criminal jurisdiction of personnel, arrest and detention of US personnel, investigation of offenses, waiver of landing or port fees of vessels and aircrafts charges, etc. In other words, everything necessary to keep a military base in order.

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement of 2014 (EDCA) allows the USA to maintain troops for extended periods and to build facilities, but not permanent military bases. As stated in its preamble, the treaty was signed in furtherance of the MDT of 1951. It authorizes access to agreed locations in the territory of the Philippines, the holding of joint-training activities, the transit of vessels, temporary accommodation of personnel, rent-free use of the agreed locations, pre-positioning and storage of defense equipment, supplies and materiel. According to Article VI (2) of EDCA, the Philippines will retain "primary responsibility for security with respect to the agreed locations."

Colonial mentality permeates the 71-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty. Undeniably, its ultimate objective has always been to protect American interests in the Pacific Basin, the exclusive military zone of influence of the United States of America.

Although I will concede that we were once colloquially referred to as the Pacific Islands of the Philippines by unlettered American sailors and soldiers, with erroneous visions of girls wearing straw skirts and dancing the hula, nevertheless, the geographic orientation of the 1951 MDT should have been more precisely stated since it defines the military obligations between two sovereign States. War pacts which delineate the areas where they should apply must be clear and completely unambiguous since citizens will be asked to die to comply with its provisions. The defense imperatives in the two bodies of water that surround the Philippines have changed since 1951, but not the military obligations specified in the MDT. We should now update it to reflect our interests as a sovereign State. We are after all, an Asian archipelago straddling a fortified ocean and a contested and dangerous sea.

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