April 25, 2019
PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. are right.
President Duterte believes the United States, despite the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and repeated US pledges to protect the Philippines, will not go to war with China over our territorial claims.
This is crystal-clear from Washington’s failure to prevent Beijing’s takeover of Mischief Reef in 1995 and Scarborough Shoal in 2012. Plus: When Malacañang media twice asked President Barack Obama in 2014 what the US would do if China frictions turned violent, he merely urged peacefully resolving disputes.
And in June 2016, when President-elect Duterte asked if America would fight to defend our claims, then US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said: “Only if you are attacked.”
So, we have to be suicidal enough to get bloodied by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Asia’s most powerful military, before our top ally would consider action. No wonder Secretary Locsin rightly wants to modernize our external defense, instead of constantly “throwing money at poverty.”
Plainly, without a credible force protecting our 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), 320-nm extended continental shelf (ECS), and territorial claims in the South China Sea, intruders do as they please.
What Aquino did wrong
What do we need to defend what’s ours? When we lost Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a leading Washington security think-tank, urged the US to help us acquire “A2/AD” weaponry.
That’s anti-access, area denial armaments, to deter intruders in areas under A2/AD protection. Specifically, CSBA recommended maritime surveillance aircraft, anti-ship missiles, and air defense systems (https://csbaonline.org/research/publications/the-geostrategic-return-of-the-philippines).
The planes would enable us to efficiently monitor the high seas. If there are intruders, anti-ship missiles can force or take them out. And air defenses protect the rockets.
Washington didn’t follow CSBA’s advice. Instead, the Philippine Navy got another hand-me-down US Coast Guard frigate like the one that broke down during the Panatag stand-off.
And the Navy bought two South Korean frigates with short-range missiles for P18 billion total. It wants four more, even if they are no match against Chinese vessels with guns and rockets hitting much farther than our 8-km-range rockets.
That’s why CSBA recommended not ships, but planes and projectiles effective over hundreds of miles. But American military advisers won’t agree if they aim to keep the Philippines dependent on US might, so we would host their forces in our waters, airspace and bases.
Indeed, in 2014, with Panatag’s loss fanning China fears, the Aquino regime signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), allowing massive US military deployment with access to several airfields.
Thus, Washington got the real estate to move 60 percent of its naval assets to the region, under its Pivot to Asia policy. No matter that its buildup exposed our country to attack in any American conflict, even when we were not involved.
Imagine if President Duterte did not stall EDCA implementation, and the US had started using bases under the agreement in Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Mactan, Puerto Princesa and Cagayan de Oro. North Korea could have threatened those places, along with Guam, at the height of the Korean missile crisis in 2017.
What’s worse, despite EDCA, America would still not defend our territorial claims. But it protects the Japan-administered, China-claimed Senkaku Islands, as the US Senate pledged in an amendment to Washington’s defense treaty with Tokyo.
What a raw deal EDCA is: We host US forces and let them use our bases, exposing our country to attack, and they still won’t defend our maritime claims. Look at their utter inaction over Chinese vessels swarming near Pag-asa Island.
By contrast, when Beijing declared an air defense identification zone over the Senkakus in 2013, American B-52 bombers instantly challenged the ADIZ.
What Duterte should do
So, what weaponry must we have to defend our sovereign claims and rights on our own? As advised by CSBA and the late National Security Adviser and US Naval Academy graduate Roilo Golez, we need missiles.
This column repeatedly urged our Navy to get them (most recently, https://www.manilatimes.net/to-avoid-war-scrap-the-mutual-defense-treaty/511350/, and https://www.manilatimes.net/for-our-security-avoid-war-and-prepare-for-it/514916/). But the guardians of our seas seem wedded to ships, including the six Hyundai frigates costing some P55 billion, with armaments.
Let’s see if the Philippine Air Force would get the patrol planes, anti-ship missiles, and air defense systems we need. The PAF has already obtained some aircraft: eight Beechcrafts given by Japan, plus C-295 planes ordered from Indonesia. For about P10 billion, the Air Force can add six high-performance maritime patrol aircraft for a future fleet of 16 MPAs.
For anti-ship missiles, former Navy chief Golez had advocated the supersonic BrahMos, combining Russian and Indian technology. Russia has perhaps the best anti-ship rockets, designed to counter the world’s most powerful armada, the US Navy.
The BrahMos can strike 300-400 km away, enough to cover our entire EEZ and most of our ECS (the more expensive US-made HIMARS missile has just 82 km range). Mounted three to a truck, the BrahMos can evade detection and deploy where conflicts are. Vietnam is buying it.
Golez wanted 200 BrahMos; the PAF could acquire 100 initially, plus Japan’s Mitsubishi Type 88 or Type 12 projectiles (range: 200 km) at a discount. For P30 billion, we could acquire 100 BrahMos and maybe 200 Mitsubishis, deployed together, so adversaries don’t know which ones are pointed at them.
That leaves about P15 billion for air defense, if we keep to the P55-billion cost of six frigates. In fact, there are ample funds to spend far more — including Malampaya royalties, now exceeding P150 billion.
Budget officials told Golez that Malampaya money can be used for weaponry securing offshore oil and gas. And when President Duterte visited India last year, he got a billion-dollar credit line to buy Indian products.
With patrol aircraft and supersonic missiles protected by air defenses, the Philippines would be a porcupine nation, which no country, not even China, could take lightly. Then, if anyone encroaches on our islands and waters, we can do far more than protest and sue.
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