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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

VP Kamala Harris’ visit

“This issue of US military presence in the country has been a thorny issue for some time and that is understandable”

By the looks of it, the three-day visit of United States Vice President Kamala Harris was a resounding success.

This, in spite of the protests staged by the usual suspects of progressive politicians and negative reactions of so-called national security experts.

In the past, such a visit would have taken just a day with the visitor always in a hurry to leave to go somewhere else.

This time, however, VP Harris lingered. The optics also could not have been better.

She was careful not to concentrate on alms giving but more on cooperation on areas of mutual interests like trade. She for instance offered to help in the area of nuclear power technology which is favored by PBBM.

She also offered technical help in the processing of cobalt and nickel, two minerals that are abundant in the country.

Most important of all, VP Kamala Harris reiterated the usual ironclad guarantee of military assistance in case any Philippine government vessel or plane is attacked in the West Philippine Sea.

She made it clear that such an attack will automatically trigger the activation of the Mutual Defense Treaty of the two countries.

That must have been music to the ears of PBBM and his national security team.

She also visited Palawan which is the nearest Philippine territory to the contested areas in the WPS and interacted with the fishermen who are often prevented from fishing in our own exclusive economic zone.

These indicate that a lot of preparation went into this visit and shows that US strategic views on the importance of the MDT and EDCA have become more important.

During the visit, our defense officials also offered no objections to the desire of the United States to add five more facilities to the original five identified under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

The US has apparently already earmarked funds for the construction of these facilities including the ones to be located in the provinces of Cagayan and Palawan.

As usual, however, not everyone in this country is convinced that we should be letting all these things happen.

There are those who sincerely believe that building these facilities will give reason to a prospective enemy to target the country in case hostilities will break out between the powers in the region.

These people do not seem to realize that whether we like it or not, we will not escape getting involved for reasons of geography.

PBMM has also pointed this out in a couple of interviews.

To do what the critics want, we have to abrogate our MDT with the US, declare our neutrality and pray that countries in the region will respect it and leave us alone.

But that is wishful thinking.

We also have to build a strong defense force like what Switzerland has done so that we can defend ourselves.

The only problem is that we do not have the funds to build a strong and modern military force.

The two World Wars have taught us that those countries who were neutral and did not want to get involved were invaded just the same and that should be a lesson to us.

Japan and South Korea are two very rich countries who can afford to buy and manufacture all or most of their defense requirements but still must rely on their military alliance with the US to bolster their defense capabilities.

Both countries accept the hard truth that alone, they do not stand a chance with a prospective enemy.

Among all the countries in the region that are allied to the US, we are the weakest.

We know this as well as everyone else.

Even with our modest defense modernization program, we are still the weakest and it will remain that way for some time.

After six years of interregnum, this administration seems to want to invigorate our military alliance with the US.

The country also wants to explore some kind of visiting forces agreement with Japan which, to my surprise, is not generating any objections from the usual critics.

It seems that the opposition is only directed at the US and not Japan and Australia with whom we also signed a kind of defense agreement.

Does that mean that it is alright for us to sign a visiting forces agreement with Japan but not with the US?

This issue of US military presence in the country has been a thorny issue for some time and that is understandable.

After all, it has not always been smooth sailing for our two countries.

Will we be better off without an MDT as some are suggesting? I doubt it.

But if there are outstanding issues for resolution, we should be able to sit down with the US and talk about it.

There is no reason why we cannot invigorate the alliance to enhance our capability to defend ourselves while at the same time try to maintain friendly relations with as many countries in the region to further our economic development.

That, after all, is what most countries are doing.

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