We do not know whether the latest statement by DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo that no refueling, reloading and repairing can be done by the United States in any EDCA military base in case China invades Taiwan was a unilateral decision by the Philippines or was a result of discussions with the US government.
Instead of simply saying EDCA is for defensive purposes only, Secretary Manalo seem to have gone out of his way to respond to the Chinese Ambassador’s remonstrations.
Are we now getting rattled every time the Chinese Ambassador opens his mouth and issues a warning?
We would hope not.
Anyway, PBBM is about to visit the US for talks with President Joe Biden and, hopefully, this Taiwan issue will be tackled and clarified.
The four additional joint EDCA bases, three of which are in Region 2, have certainly riled China and given more ammunition to the critics of the administration to become more vociferous.
To China, Taiwan is a renegade province although China never governed Taiwan throughout its history.
The whole world, however, knows that China wants Taiwan because it will provide an unimpeded access to the vast Pacific Ocean.
This matters very much to Japan and the United States.
But should this also matter to us?
Filipinos are understandably wary in getting involved in any military conflict between China and the US concerning Taiwan.
Why indeed should a small poor country like us get involved in a conflict that has no or very little strategic value to us.
To many among us, it does not matter if China acquires an unimpeded access to the Pacific Ocean so long as it plays by the rules and respects the territorial integrity of small countries like us.
But that is precisely the issue as far as we are concerned.
China has reclaimed four small islands in our exclusive economic zone in the WPS, militarized them then stationed so-called militia ships to prohibit our fishermen from fishing in our own traditional fishing grounds.
China with its military base at Scarborough Shoal is actually now nearer to us than those three joint bases in the Provinces of Cagayan and Isabela to Taiwan.
Yet, China is furious with our Balikatan military exercises and our revitalized military alliance with the US.
With the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Secretary Manalo said the WPS issue with China does not define our overall relationship with China.
True enough, but when it comes to territorial disputes it actually is the whole issue. So, we have to make up our minds and decide exactly what it is that we want.
And once we have made that decision, we must stick with it come what may.
Many might also be wondering that unlike the other countries in the region who are trying their best to position themselves so they will not be caught in the middle in case hell will break loose, we seem to be doing the opposite.
This is at least the view of some who do not agree with what the government is doing especially in the selection of the four additional Philippine military facilities that will be shared with the United States military.
A naval base and two airports just a short distance from Taiwan do appear to indicate the probable purposes of these bases.
Those who are against the additional EDCA bases see the selection as inviting possible retaliatory actions from the Chinese in case that country does decide to invade Taiwan.
On the other hand, not strengthening our defense capability there and leaving the area devoid of any military resources would be foolhardy in case hostilities do erupt in the Taiwan Strait.
In fact, many would argue strengthening our military bases is exactly the right thing to do if we do not want to be caught flatfooted.
Besides the government has stated very clearly all these nine selected shared bases are for the defense of the country and are not directed on any particular country. The joint bases are essentially for deterrence and self-defense only.
PBBM himself also said the four additional bases shared with the Americans will not be used for any offensive military action.
It is not clear, however, what the President means by the word offensive in relation to a possible US-Chinese conflict because of Taiwan.
If China will indeed keep its word and invade Taiwan in the coming years and the US will go to the defense of Taiwan by using some of the EDCA shared bases in Northern Luzon, would this be considered offensive military actions as stated by PBBM?
Perhaps, PBBM should clarify this during his trip to Washington DC.
There is no question that EDCA caught the Chinese by surprise and did not expect the developments to move so fast.
Nonetheless, the rhetoric should cool down to pave the way for meaningful talks.
We cannot afford to let things get out of hand because the stakes are simply too high.
For us, this issue is not going away anytime soon and will occupy PBBM’s attention for the remaining five years of his administration.
Let us just hope he navigates it right for the sake of the people and country.