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Are we losing the Karburo War?

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After more than two months of standoff between the Philippines andChina in the disputed Scarborough Shoal, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino IIIordered the pullout of two Philippine ships from the area because of Typhoon“Butchoy.”  This was after theDepartment of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippines and China had agreedlast June 5 to pull out their ships from the area.  

But accordingto the latest DFA update, China claimed that it never committed to pull out itsvessels from Scarborough Shoal, which China refers to as Huangyan Island.  Inresponse, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said, “Chinese side will continueto maintain administration and vigilance over Huangyan Island waters.”  

The Chinesespokesman warned the Philippines to refrain from “giving further statements andbehaviors that may further strain relations.”  Then he added, “We wonder where the so-called commitment thePhilippine side mentioned on ‘China’s withdrawal of vessels’ came from. We hopethe Philippine side can restrain their words and behaviors, and do more thingsconducive to the development of the bilateral relations.”  

*Karburo War

It seems that China iswinning the “Karburo War,” a war of words for control and possession of theScarborough Shoal or “Karburo,” as the fishermen of Zambales call it.  With Philippine fishing boats preventedfrom entering the lagoon, China has now exclusive control and de facto possession of the ScarboroughShoal.  And the Philippines washelplessly immobile to deter the intrusion with just a single naval vessel ather disposal, a disarmed U.S. Coast Guard cutter purchased by the Philippinegovernment several months ago. Indeed, China – without firing a single shot – had successfully bulliedthe Philippines into abandoning her territory. 

But what else could thePhilippines do under these circumstances? Without warships and warplanes, the Philippines is at the mercy of Chinawho is claiming the entire South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), East ChinaSea, and Yellow Sea as an extension of her continental shelf.  If nobody challenges her wholesaleclaim to these three contiguous bodies of water that extend from the southerntip of Japan all the way to Indonesia, China could choke the shipping lanes inthe region; thus, preventing vessels from other countries from passing throughher “territorial waters.” 

If and when China would makethat bold step depends largely on how the United States would react to any attemptthe block the shipping lanes in the South China Sea-East China Sea-Yellow Seacorridor.  However, the U.S. hadwarned China to keep the shipping lanes open to international navigation.  

*Ghost from the past 

How did the Philippines getherself into this situation?  Whathappened in the past two months was the culmination of a series of events thatbegan two decades ago.  OnSeptember 16, 1991, the Philippine Senate voted to pass a motion rejecting anew treaty with the United States that would allow her to continue theoperation of military bases in the country.   

But the actual closure didnot occur until a year later.  Theadministration of President Cory Aquino – P-Noy’s mother – tried to salvage thebases but the two sides were unable to work out their differences.  On November 24, 1992, the last Americanforces left.
In spite of the departure ofU.S. military forces, the 1952 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT)remained in force.  But manywondered, “How could the U.S. come to the defense of the Philippines withoutany permanent military bases to operate from?” 

In 1998, then President FidelV. Ramos successfully negotiated the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with theU.S.  The VFA provides for futuremilitary cooperation between the two allies including joint militaryexercises.  But critics said thatthe VFA would be used to get around the 1987 Constitution’s prohibition offoreign military bases on Philippine soil.

Indeed, the ghost from thepast continues to haunt U.S.-Philippine relations.  The leftists are quick to react whenever they see a shadowof American military presence. Last May 14, 2012, when a U.S. nuclear submarine – the USS NorthCarolina – docked at the Subic Bay Freeport to replenish her supplies, membersof the Kilusang para sa PambansangDemokrasya (LPD) staged a lighting protest at the gate of the former Americannaval base, which was converted to civilian use after its closure.

The protesters accused theU.S. of sending the submarine to provoke China whose gunboats and fishingvessels are in Scarborough Shoal, just 125 miles away.  They said that they don’t need the U.S.to defend our territory.  Were theyjoking?  How could they defend ourterritory without warplanes and warships?   War is not a joking matter.
*MDT with U.S.
And this brings to the forethe nagging question: Would the United States come to the defense of thePhilippines if China attacked the country? 
During P-Noy’s recent visitto the United States at the invitation of President Barack Obama, there was noexplicit commitment from Obama that the U.S. would honor the Mutual DefenseTreaty if China attacked us.  Andthe reason is that Obama’s “evolving” foreign policy is to avoid

committingAmerican military forces in foreign wars. However, it would be different if American military forces were alreadystationed – permanently – in a country where the U.S. has a defense treaty likeJapan, South Korea, and Australia. If China attacked any of these countries, the American forces stationed inthat country would be drawn into the conflict.  In essence, the presence of American military forces is aneffective deterrent against invasion.
Such was the case with thePhilippines for almost 100 years.  AfterWorld War II, no foreign country dared to attack the Philippines even duringthe Chinese communist adventurism in the 1950s through 1970s.  With the presence of American militarybases in t the Philippines, our borders were safe from foreign invasion.  Not anymore.  
*MDT with China
Recently, it wasreported in the news that Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson had cautioned theDepartment of National Defense against allowing American troops to use their former navaland air facilities in Subic, Zambales and Clark Field in Pampanga. He pointedout that under the VFA, there is a clear provision that U.S. forces cannot have permanent or semi-permanent basing privileges in the country. 

However, Lacson said that he has an “open mind” on thepossibility of having a Mutual Defense Treaty with China.  “Why not?” he said.  “Why don’t we take the initiative toforge a mutual defense treaty with China? After all, they are our neighbors inAsia.”  He then explained, “Itwould be better if the Philippines enjoys the support of the world’s topsuperpowers – the U.S. and China. It would be beneficial to us to have two big brothers on our sideinstead of one. This is to avoid any animosity and controversies. If allowed, Ithink China will welcome the idea to have MDT with them.” 

However, the problem would be if these two “big brothers” attackedeach other.  Who would thePhilippines defend – the U.S. or China? Or if North Korea attacked the Philippines, would China attack NorthKorea? 

But Lacson brought up his outlandish idea before the “KarburoWar” erupted.  Now, that Chinareneged on her commitment to withdraw from the Scarborough Shoal, can Lacsontrust China that she would honor a Mutual Defense Treaty if it was not to her advantage? 
Please don’t be naïve, Mr. Senator. 





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