COMMENTARY | The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US is the latest indicator of a resurgent neo-colonialism over the past years | By Sonny Africa
IBON Features—The Philippine government is on the brink of reaching a new agreement with the United States (US) on an even greater US military presence in the country. If sealed the pact will only be the latest step in the country’s steady regression into greater neo-colonialism over the past 12 years. But it will still be notable for overtly subordinating the Philippines to the US and supporting US militarism in the Asia-Pacific.
Negotiations on a framework agreement on “increased rotational presence/enhanced defense cooperation” started in August 2013 and are expected to conclude before or around the Philippine visit of US Pres. Barack Obama next week. The larger US military presence is fully supported by the Philippine government but legitimizing this is made difficult by a Constitutional ban on foreign military bases and nuclear weapons in the country and by contentious issues of sovereignty. There is also a degree of public opposition stemming from a record of abuses by US soldiers during and after the era of formal US bases in the country.
The agreement is in line with the military aspect of the US’s declared ‘pivot’ or ‘rebalance’ to the Asia-Pacific due to the region’s growing strategic economic and geopolitical significance. The region has seven of the world’s 10 largest standing militaries, five of the world’s eight nuclear powers, and the four countries with the world’s largest and most advanced navies. The US is particularly concerned about an increasingly assertive China which counts among all these. After decades of increasingly rapid growth, China’s economy has become the second largest in the world after the US which, on the other hand, has been slowing down.
The Asia-Pacific is an economically significant region. It contains the world’s three largest economies and the three largest countries by population. One-third of the world’s bulk cargo and two-thirds of its oil shipments transits through the region which has nine of the world’s 10 largest ports; this is more trade than passes through the Atlantic. The Asia-Pacific is projected to account for up to 40-50% of global growth until 2030. The US has a significant stake and is the region’s biggest foreign investor with US$651.3 billion in 2012.
These are objective conditions for heightened US attention. The Pentagon has declared that 60% of overseas US military naval and air assets will be shifted to the region by 2020. This includes carrier strike groups, submarines, aircraft and bombers including forces for projecting power across and beyond the Indo-Pacific. The Philippines is militarily strategic – a US military response from the country to anywhere in East Asia takes less than a fifth of the time as that from the US mainland.
The agreement being negotiated correspondingly means to increase the number of US military personnel in the Philippines and to extend their deployments, position war materiel and supplies, allow US facilities to be built, and enable the use of domestic military installations. This bigger and more sustained troop presence has also been opportunistically packaged as enabling quicker disaster response and humanitarian work – especially after the devastation of Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) – but this is only sugar-coating of underlying military objectives.
The US has 265 overseas bases in 41 countries, logistics agreements with 76 countries, and status of forces agreements with 121 countries. It also has 164,227 active military personnel deployed in 152 foreign countries, aside from another 1.2 million stationed in the US and its territories. This is not a passive military presence. The US has used its global network of bases and military agreements to invade, intervene and deploy its armed forces in military operations in 64 countries since 1945. The most violent of these acts of aggression have already resulted in some 17-28 million civilian deaths in 35 nations. Direct US military action in 11 countries has caused 7-13 million deaths while US-supported or -instigated armed conflicts in 24 other countries have resulted in another 10-15 million deaths.
As it is the Philippines already has the third largest US military presence in East Asia and the Pacific, next to Japan, which hosts the most US soldiers worldwide, and South Korea. It has the 12th largest deployments out of some 150 countries worldwide hosting US forces. Some 500-1,000 special forces personnel have been continuously present in the southern island of Mindanao since January 2002 via a Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) which was created for military operations under Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines (OEF-P). There are also up to 6,500 more troops who come annually for various military exercises across the country.
The Philippine government has already started playing its role in US maneuvering to contain China and justified the pact as bolstering its defense against the territorial threat of China in disputed areas of the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines is arguably the focal point of the US rebalance to the region. It is the most militarily strategic country in Southeast Asia. Its government and military is also historically, as a former colony, and currently very friendly to the US. It is one of the largest recipients of US aid in Southeast Asia – at US$1.5 billion just over the last decade 2005-2014, of which US$521 million is overtly military and security aid. This is despite the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and its paramilitary arms being involved in thousands of human rights violations over that period. Aid flows have been increasing since the Philippines was declared a front-line state of the US in its self-declared “war on terrorism” in 2001 and a Major Non-NATO Ally in 2003.
US economic policy in PH
US intervention in domestic affairs goes far beyond the military aspect. From June 1998 to September 2001, the US government directly crafted domestic economic policy through the US$25 million USAID project Accelerating Growth Investment and Liberalization with Equity (AGILE) which had “satellite offices” in 11 key government and quasi-government agencies and produced at least ten major economic laws.
This was followed by the 4-year USAID-funded The Arangkada Philippines Project (TAPP) which published its advocacy paper in December 2010.The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) administers the project which lobbies Congress to implement 471 policy recommendations of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce (JFC) in the Philippines. For instance, all the various nationalist provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution are mentioned as inhibiting foreign capital and thus needing to be creatively bypassed, reformed, revised or removed.
The Partnership for Growth (PFG) initiative formally started in November 2011 where the Philippines is one of only four countries that the US has a partnership with. The US and Philippine governments analyzed the supposed constraints to economic growth, drew up economic policy solutions, and are jointly implementing these. Among the results of this process is the current push to amend the Philippine Constitution, which the US government has long scored for what it sees as restrictive provisions on foreign investment, and to join the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) multilateral trade deal.
There has also been extensive US bilateral “democracy assistance” in electoral processes, good governance practices, anti-corruption reforms, building the legal system, assisting law enforcement agencies, promoting a free press, local governance and decentralization. These have been through USAID and also through State Department-funded organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and The Asia Foundation.
The US colonial period lasted from 1898 to 1946. For a brief moment after the closure of the US bases in the Philippines in 1992, it seemed possible that the country was freeing itself from its neo-colonial bondage. Recent years including under the current Aquino administration however signify a resurgent neo-colonialism and the persistent subordination and underdevelopment that inevitably accompanies this. IBON Features