Thursday, May 3, 2012

Philippines to Washington: Help!

The Philippines had asked Washington for help in building a "minimum credible defense" amid an escalating territorial dispute with China as reported by AFP News last Monday.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin accurately described the poor state of the Philippine armed forces as Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta listened across the table.

Del Rosario cited how the international news media has accurately described the poor state of the Philippine armed forces; whereas, Gazmin alluded to tension with China over islands in the South China Sea as he called for the need to "intensify our mutual trust to uphold maritime security and the freedom of navigation."

A couple of days later, the United States officially assured the Philippines of assistance in maritime security and stressed its preference for a multilateral and “collaborative” approach to solving territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

The US assurance was contained in a joint statement issued after a meeting Monday between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

The two countries also stressed the importance of their Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) but kept quiet on whether the 1951 pact obliged the US to come to the aid of its ally in case shooting broke out at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

In their joint statement, the Philippines and the US agreed that their respective military forces should be prepared to respond quickly and effectively to any contingencies that may arise in the region.

They also agreed to jointly explore how to strengthen the defense capabilities of the Philippines to achieve a credible defense posture and to cooperate in building the Philippines’ maritime security capabilities and strengthening its maritime domain awareness.

“To that end, the United States intends to transfer a second High Endurance cutter to the Philippines this year,” the statement said.

The timing of the Philippines' request for military assistance from the United States may not be so auspicious, considering the fact that Washington is coping with even more critical economic and political issues in both its domestic and international fronts.  

Nevertheless, it brings to mind a similar appeal to Washington made by then President Manuel Quezon during the 1930s.

On February 19, 1937, had the U.S. Charge d'Affaires in London, Ray Atherton, not discovered the nature of the clandestine meeting that was to be held between President Manuel Quezon and the British Foreign Minister, Anthony Eden, the Filipinos would have been belting out "God Save the Queen instead of humming Yankee doodle de dum tunes at major local gatherings.

Two years prior to this discovery, making good on his infamous sound bite, "I would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than a government run like heaven by Americans," Quezon -- upon assuming the presidency of the Commonwealth of the Philippines -- immediately pursued the task of laying the foundations of the future Philippine Republic.

However, the relations between Quezon and his American overlords during the transition period were often less than amenable; the resulting tensions and exasperations eventually prompted Quezon to secretly approach the British and explore the likelihood of the Philippines becoming a part of the British Empire -- as a self-governing dominion, like Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

As early as August 1933, then Senate President Quezon had already told his British friend and adviser, Frank Hodsoll, that should the United States abandon their protectorate interests in the Philippines, he would go to London, and on behalf of the 14,000,000 Filipinos, ask for admission to the British Commonwealth of Nations. Hodsoll, acting as Quezon's secret liaison agent, finally contacted top British officials on January 20, 1935.

At this time, Quezon was already coping with serious concerns about the threat of a Japanese invasion. He was also alarmed by the Americans' continued indifference on the issue, as well as their lackadaisical attitude toward strengthening the military defenses of the Philippines.

The British Foreign Office recognized the merits of Quezon's concerns and approved holding official, though initially clandestine, talks with Quezon. Unfortunately, the Americans got wind of the planned meeting in London. President Roosevelt and many high-ranking government officials were aghast; thus, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Francis B. Sayre immediately censured Quezon as per orders received from Washington.

In his response, Quezon riposted that for the survival of the Philippines, it was his duty to seek protection from another powerful nation; that is, if the United States were unable to provide it. He then pointed out the lack of palpable measures by the United States to fortify the archipelago and make her impregnable to a Japanese invasion.

Quezon also admitted that he would consider a treaty of amity and alliance with Japan if the United States and Great Britain refused to protect his country.

Ironically, despite their horrified reaction to Quezon's seemingly lack of loyalty, the United States' war plans from 1937 onward, prioritized winning the war in Europe. Essentially, America was prepared to accept the initial fall of Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines to Japan. Such priority was mainly due to the fact that the American oligarchy at that time was mostly of European ancestry. Therefore, the Philippines was merely regarded as a not too significant a territory located in some far-flung remote region across the Pacific.

Furthermore, the U.S. did not appear to be in any position to guarantee, let alone provide, formidable military defense systems and logistics for the Philippines. This was made apparent when the American contingent at the 1941 secret Japan-US diplomatic negotiations began to consider permanently declaring the Philippines as a neutral country. Regrettably, diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Japan came to a sudden halt when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

These days, local historians could only speculate that perhaps, the eventual massive carpet-bombing of Manila by the U.S. forces during its liberation, might have been America's ultimate true response to Quezon's disloyalty, though his death saved him from seeing the city -- the seat of his government -- practically reduced to rubble.

Title: View of burnt-out Manila, 1945
Date: 1945-03-12
Place/Time: Post-war commonwealth / Philippines / Manila
Publisher: US Signal Corps

Description: Vividly illustrating the condition of burned-out, battle-scarred Manila, as U.S. engineers and thousands of Filipinos begin the huge task of reconstruction, is this aerial view looking southwest across the Pasig River toward hulks of sunken ships in the harbor. Tall building, left foreground, is gutted, Eastern Hotel, center, across river, is burned out, general post office, extreme left, across river is Metropolitan Opera House in ruins. Battered wall of Intramuros, Walled City, and destroyed buildings inside, occupies rectangular area beyond post office. Left is demolished Santa Cruz Bridge, repaired by Army engineers. The streets have already been cleared of rubble.

Rights: U.S. National Archives
Submitter: McCoy, Alfred W.: University of Wisconsin--Madison. 
Center for Southeast Asian Studies.
Local Identifier: SEAiT.Philippines.ph00835.bib

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  1. we have always been treated by the US like an illegitimate child, and we behave like a poor relative.:P even if the US would help us build a "credible defense", we still couldn't match China's military power. China didn't assert their claim over Panatag, Spratly Islands when the US bases were still here. so what's next? an invitation to Washington to build a new US base?:p

    this dispute can only be resolved through UNCLOS--China cannot be intimidated by "credible defense" at wag na tayo magmakaawa sa US.

  2. Hello, Eric:

    So this is where you went. Since I am in Cagayan de Oro, you are only an overnight boat trip away. How are you? It has been a while. I have been spending more time in Cagayan de Oro.

  3. BTW, if you are turning boholano, or more appropriately, bol-anon, then you got to learn the dialect. HiHiHi.