After 44 years working for human rights and social development in Olongapo city, the former home port of the US 7th Fleet, I have seen the futility of using military violence to solve political and territorial problems. The Korean, Vietnam, and Middle Eastern wars were launched or supported from here. The massive loss of human life and destruction makes war untenable. The return of the US marines, navy and air force to the Philippines will not advance a peaceful negotiated settlement of the sea dispute between the Philippines and China. It's like calling in the neighborhood strong man to threaten a school yard bully.
Dialogue is better and wiser than the threat of violence and confrontation especially when the US has no intention to carry it out. A non-enforceable threat fizzles out like a damp squib. The so-called negotiations between the Philippine government and the United States for "rotational" US troop deployments here to oppose Chinese expansionism make little sense. It will be a basing agreement which is unconstitutional. There must be another hidden purpose.
The Philippine government made the correct move in taking the dispute over the occupation and claims of China to Philippine shoals and islands to the United Nation, bringing in the US military as a threat will not help. What the Philippines needs to do is to summon up its courage and stand up for itself to China, the bully boy of Asia, and shake off its colonial dependency on the United States to rattle its sabers at every incursion of Chinese ships.
If the Philippine government officials will take an independent, non-violent stand to defend its sovereign territory in the strongest words possible, it will win international respect and cooperation and there will be a worldwide protest and outcry against the aggressive occupation and claims of China to Philippine territory. Rushing to hide behind the iron skirts of Mother America is shameful, an indication of moral weakness and an unnecessary embarrassment for the brave Filipino people who can fight non-violently for their rights.
The one thing that a proud nation like China wants to avoid is the shame and criticism that might be heaped on it by the world if it persists in its baseless claims to Philippine territorial waters. It has to protect its "face", that aura of dignity and honor that it believes it needs to convince world opinion that it is acting in a right and just way when in fact it may not be. It's time for China to back away with dignity and "save face". World opinion is a mightier weapon than US warplanes and ships.
China will want to show to the world that it is a responsible member of the international community and not be dubbed a predatory, aggressive, sea-grabbing nation. This negative incursion into territorial waters will damage its credibility in Africa and South America where it is trying to win friends and spread its influence. When international criticism and the ire of nations grows and less trade is the result, it may all the sooner relinquish its baseless claims to Philippine territorial waters and shoals. No amount of oil and gas resources buried beneath the waters will be worth international repudiation.
China will not be intimidated by a show of force anyway. As a proud, ancient civilization, one of the oldest on earth, they know that the US will never be so foolish to resort to threats of military violence or engage in conflict on behalf of the Philippines. So the increased presence of the US military will not frighten China, only increase its resolve. Political action on the world stage by the Philippines and its supporters is the way to resolve this problem.
It was long argued if the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the US covered such disputes as occurred over the Spratly Islands, and the US made it clear at that time it was not bound to act in such a dispute. US Military assistance is only offered if the Philippines is attacked. So why is the US so eager to come back to the Philippines as part of its "pivot" towards Asia, what's in it for them?
A more realistic purpose for the return to bases in the Philippines is to position troops, drones, planes and ships in proximity to areas where militant Islamist organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda are active. Resurgent groups in Mindanao, Indonesia, Malaysia could pose a threat to American interests and for the US to have the capability of a fast response to present and future threats is an important advantage.
The closing of 19 US embassies recently is an indication of the level of that terrorist threat and the Philippine bases are an ideal location for propositioning US forces to counter it and at the same time guard international sea lanes from pirates. The recent bomb blasts (including the first car bomb) in Philippine cities could well be the response of the jihadis to this planned return. The Filipino people will be the first to suffer.
Fr. Shay Cullen is a Catholic priest who serves the people of The Philippines. He is a founder of PREDA.org - a nonprofit dedicated to the defense of children.
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