“special” relations

Will You Support the Global Protest vs China on May 11? asks gel santos relos:

Amidst rising tension between China and the Philippines, National Chair of the US Pinoys for Good Governance(USP4GG) Loida Nicolas Lewis called on Filipinos to organize rallies and demonstrations in front of China’s embassies and consulates throughout the world on May 11 to protest China’s recent aggressive encroachments on the Philippines’ Scarborough Shoal.

Lewis especially reached out to the Global Filipino Diaspora Council representing 12 million Filipinos in 220 countries throughout the world. The planned protest actions will take place in major cities like Washington DC, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Vancouver, Sydney, Singapore, Rome and Hongkong.

“The most important thing is that they see that the global community led by Filipinos is going to stand up to their bullying. They should be shamed for bullying a tiny country like the Philippines,” Lewis said on The Filipino Channel’s daily newscast “Balitang America” last week.

it does seems like the patriotic thing to do, assert our sovereignty over scarborough shoal and call out china for “bullying” our tiny country.  i can already see cnn and bbc and aljazeera covering these worldwide protests, complete with celebrities and ofws, tampok na naman tayo, pinoys of the world, unite!

of course it’s the right thing to do.  because if we don’t, who knows how much closer china’s claws will reach the next time.  better to stop them now by all means possible.

but please let’s not delude ourselves that we are stunning the world by standing up to beijing.  if anything, i would think the world is snickering at our david-vs-goliath dramatics, especially now that america has unequivocally declared its neutrality vis-a-vis PH-China disputes over the spratlys and scarborough.

The Philippines received standard assurances that the United States will help build its sea patrol capability, but with the caveat that the most powerful country in the world will not take sides in its ongoing territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea — which even the US Secretary of State called by its internationally recognized name.

“While we do not take sides on the competing sovereignty claims to land features in the South China Sea, as a Pacific power we have a national interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, and the unimpeded, lawful commerce across our sea lanes,” Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said. 

now we know.  all america cares about is keeping those sea lanes open.  america doesn’t care that the rejection makes us look, and feel, like fools.  pinaasa tayo, e basted pala.  pumayag tayo sa “visiting forces” kasi kabalikat daw natin sila in security matters.  now these “visitors,” these guests, are quibbling and refusing to back us up over sea matters.  what kind of guests are these, medyo bastos, di ba?  and what kind of hosts are we, to tolerate such inappropriate politics?  medyo suckers, di ba?  kung overstaying bisita ‘yan sa bahay ko, at di pala maaasahan to sympathize with and protect my family’s interests, i would have no qualms about asking them to leave, mga walang utang na loob.

i know, i know, it’s not that simple, getting rid of america, even if we wanted to.  sana lang we become a little more critical of the “special” relationship.  it’s supposed to be good for us, but is it, really?

read gina apostol’s In the Philippines: Haunted by History

On the Philippine side … the relationship with America looms like Donald Barthelme’s balloon, a deep metaphysical discomfort arising from an inexplicable physical presence. In Barthelme’s story “The Balloon,” a huge glob inflates over Manhattan, affecting ordinary acts of puzzled citizens for no apparent reason. American involvement in Filipino affairs sometimes seems like that balloon, spurring fathomless dread. Bursts of anxiety over the bases’ return pop up every time America finds a new enemy.

… When George W. Bush declared his war on terror in 2001, many Filipinos wondered whether a new airport on Mindanao, where American soldiers had increased so-called training operations, was big enough to land an F-14. Nations see global affairs through amusingly paranoid lenses, but as Filipinos joke, just because one is paranoid doesn’t mean no one is out to plant a huge airstrip that might conveniently land a fighter jet.

When Raytheon, the defense contractor, repeatedly consulted with visiting American forces last year about making “dumb” bombs “smart,” and in February actual smart bombs fell on Mindanao, killing alleged jihadists from Malaysia and Singapore, editorials came up with a familiar specter. “Forward base,” one pundit said.

The bases haunt us because they emerged during a dreamspace, when we still believed in our capacity for revolution. America “friended” the Philippines during our 1896 war against Spain then “unfriended” us when it paid Spain $20 million dollars for the islands in 1899. The building of military installations began apace, in step with the trauma of our sense of betrayal.

… American policy has always benefited the Filipino elite — the Marcoses, the Macapagal-Arroyos and the current presidential family, the Cojuangco-Aquinos, are among the handful who have reaped a bonanza. The interests of the oligarchy are the ties that bind. Our spectral angst is not so immaterial: our dread is drenched in military dollars and haunted by civilian blood.

After Mr. Bush declared the Philippines “a major non-NATO ally,” his government gave the last president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid. Mrs. Macapagal Arroyo famously boasted in 2004 that she “inherited” United States military aid of “$1.9 million only” but that “our military support is now $400 million and still counting.” She crowed, “We are No. 1 in East Asia and No. 4 in the whole world.”

The State Department’s Human Rights Report notes that security forces under Mrs. Macapagal Arroyo’s rule were responsible for “arbitrary, unlawful, and extrajudicial killings, disappearances, physical and psychological abuses,” and that the Philippine National Police force was “the worst abuser of human rights.”

She is now under house arrest. And her Ampatuan allies on Mindanao are in jail for their roles in the brazen 2009 election massacre of 57 people, including about 30 journalists — digging pits with a government backhoe and gunning victims down point-blank. When the bodies were found, the backhoe was still running, spewing dirt from shallow graves. Corazon Aquino’s son, Noynoy, is now president, and Mr. Marcos’s old defense minister is the Senate president, prosecuting corruption in Mrs. Macapagal Arroyo’s government, whose military reaped the rewards of Mr. Bush’s “global war on terror.”

Raytheon’s smart bombs were sold under a confidential treaty and Mr. Aquino says that American troops “are here as advisers.” But hands are being wrung: when drones start dropping by, who will need a military base — or even a constitution? As psychiatrists say, repetition is the site of trauma. And in the Philippines recursion is our curse. Mount Pinatubo is still trembling.

Gina Apostol is the author of “The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata” and “Gun Dealers’ Daughter,” and an English teacher in Massachusetts.


  1. Elena W. Lemi (@ewl1856)

    Are you trusting with what US said? My personnal opinion is whatever they say/said does not help us. You better be an open minded person than to agree with whatever our gov’t or China wants us to believe.
    GMA should be tried of treason. Not only her! But those who signed the RA has to be answerable to us, the rightful owner whatever island or rock.

    are you

  2. GabbyD

    ” now these “visitors,” these guests, are quibbling and refusing to back us up over sea matters. what kind of guests are these, medyo bastos, di ba? ”

    i think i understand the heart of your arguments against the US. correct me if i am wrong:

    US philippines relationship is supposedly friendship. we help each other, even when there is no benefit to do so.

    from your view, we backed the US (in the past) even in the cases where it was against our own self-interest. so now, they should do the same?

    is this correct? to be clear: when did we back the US significantly that cost us alot, and on net, hurt the philippines? what incident(s) are u refering to?

  3. as they say in political diplomacy, “there are no Permanent friends and permanent enemies, ONLY permanent self-interest”. Let’s not have a myopic view that because of the “US special relations” the Big Brotherly feeling between Americans and Filipino is mutual
    despite the historical, cultural and economic affinities. The US security policy considers us only a vassal state and not protectorate colony.

    • GabbyD


      so you dont agree with Saludo right? coz he is for military independence from the US. your position is the opposite — the US should fight for PHL interests, right?

      • on the contrary, i agree with saludo. i am for military independence. i only expected help from u.s. forces bec they’re around, whether we like it or not, and they’ve kept us militarily dependent.

        • GabbyD

          so, they kept us militarily dependent because they didnt supply as with as much weapons as they should? is this what you mean by military dependence?

          • I think PH became militarily dependent by choice. Secforaf del Rosario was correct in pointing out candidly that PH only has itself to blame for its dilapidated AFP.

  4. Elena Lemi

    Now we know the true color of US. They will not raise even a finger for us not unless they gain. This has to be put to mind to all Filipinos.
    If there is going to have a war, they will step in right away.Why? They make money out of it.

  5. “now we know. all america cares about is keeping those sea lanes open.”—angela

    Exactly. That’s why America can’t be neutral in any military skirmish/es between the Philippines and China in any part of our West Philippine Sea.

    Kapag pinaputukan ang ating military ng China dito sa loob ng West Philippine Sea ay parang sinakop at inangkin na rin nila ang boung sea lane ng South China Sea. Hinding-hindi papayag sa ganitong situation ang America na maapektuhan ang freedom of navigation ng sea lane na ito na masyadong mahalaga sa national interests ng America. That’s why, in a military confrontation between our military and China’s military in the West Philippine Sea, ay siguradong tutulong at kakampi sa atin ang America.

    • thanks, bert :) in effect, it’s really china’s move, no? whether to take things to the next level, or status quo lang, filipino and chinese vessels “sharing” the area. in effect, napasok na tayo at hindi natin mapaalis. bakit okay ‘yan sa amerika?

      • freedom of navigation, that’s the keywords, angela. kung baga, namamasyal lang ang chinese vessels sa ating karagatan, at baka pinanonood lang ang mga magagandang isda natin at mga corals na nandoon sa Panatag shoal, who knows.

        kung ako ang may hawak sa military natin, uutusan kong kong girian at hamunin ng barilan ang ating bagong navy ship ang mga chinese ships ng sa ganun malaman natin kung ano ang gagawin ng Markano kapag nagkabarilan, :), hehehe.

      • Angela, according to UNCLOS, waters around Scarborough is under PH EEZ. EEZ means the PH doesn’t excercise exclusive sovereign jurisdiction but only exclusive exploitation rights. This means the Chinese and everyone can navigate there, but they can’t poach on resources since these are exclusively PH.

        China’s claim, however, is that these waters are not just their EEZ but their sovereign waters; therefore freedom to navigate there depends on China’s prerogatives.

        So, when US says it wants freedom of navigation in SCS, it is indirectly upholding PH claims.

        Also, PH wants these resolved thru multilateral institutions and tribunals, but PRC says no way since this is a bilateral matter.

        So, when US says it wants multilateral, collaborative and diplomatic resolution; it is basically adopting US stance.

        Of course US will maintain neutrality in terms of who owns the shoal. Doing so would validate fears in PRC that US is using PH to contain China’s rise, etc.

        Of course US will maintain strategic ambiguity in terms of MDT. Even on Taiwan, they are ambigous. But I think the PRC knows that they would respond and help PH in terms of armed attack by PRC ships on PH boats. They just have to, since they want to assure Asia that they are a reliable ally (to Korea, Japan, Thailand and the Aussies) and partner (to Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore and even Myanmar).

        I don’t think US abandoned PH.

        However, US could have given a lot more military hardwarre to PH. PH should clearly ask for more! These are short-term strategies. Long-term is to develop AFP.

  6. If the Philippines and Vietnam can speak together and unequivocally that a particular incident is caused by China attempting to expand the South China Sea disputes beyond what is reasonable according to international law, that will bring a new dynamic to the battle of foreign relations and the battle of hearts and minds.– Huy Duong, Vietnamese scholar

  7. I disagree that the US busted the Philippines. I think their position is more nuanced: They upheld their adherence to multilateral resolution of the dispute, and to the UNCLOS, and to the MDT, which I think are just the minimum support PH needs. In fact, I think that them maintaining a neutral stance on sovereignty issues benefits PH more, as I have said in this post (sorry for plugging): http://thenutbox.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/clintonhandsoffdeclaration/

    I do think, however, that our negotiators could have done more in pressing for greater US military aid. Sure they doubled what they give PH, but it’s still peanuts compared to how much countries like Pakistan are getting.

    At the end of the day, AFP modernization should be the long-term strategy.

    • thanks J, and plug away ;) clearly it’s a tightwire act for america. and clearly, it has been to america’s advantage to be swapang with military aid — israel was always my peg, but now even pakistan too? — and yes it’s the fault of our leaders, settling for peanuts, i think bec. the attitude was, oks lang kung third-world ang miitary natin, andyan naman ang america, di tayo pababayaan. so now america’s playing both sides of the fence, sorry na lang tayo, our credibility is at an all time low.

      • I’ve yet to again re-check this, but last time I checked even Thailand gets more. And they never even agreed to basing rights for the US even during the height of Vietnam War. My suspicion is, the US would give in to us if we only asserted more. Based on my dealings with ordinary Americans, in fairness to them, they have a high sense of fairness; and I heard (from many retired diplomats) that the US respects allies who are assertive (like Thailand or South Korea).

        A retired ambassador has an idea how we could frame the PH-US talks on military aid, and let me quote him:

        PH: Will you retaliate instantly in case China blows us out of the water in Scarborough Shoal and other areas owned by us in the West Philippine Sea?

        US: Well, we have the MDT…

        PH: That is not the answer we are looking for. We know that the MDT does not provide for instant retaliation on your part. There is the constitutional processes provision in the Treaty which means you have to go to your Congress and that could take forever…

        US: We can tell the Chinese to back off…

        PH: Ok, we hear you… If you please, we will now take your leave. Thank you for hosting this meeting.

        US: No, wait. We have been friends for a long time. Surely, we can find a mutually acceptable solution to this…

        PH: We need your categorical commitment on this one first before we talk about other things. If you can’t do that, we’ll look for other ways to help ourselves. And if we may be direct, you have been taking us for a ride for over a century now.

        US: How about we give you $3 billion a year with no strings attached for starters? We have just come to realize that, after all, Pakistan, for instance, which has not exactly been our friends has been getting so much, much more, from us. And we have never even had military bases or a single soldier stationed in that country.

        PH: Now, you are talking. We want a small flotilla of warships, not like the old second-hand stripped coast guard cutter that you made us pay for. Oh, and we want a squadron of F16s. In exchange, we will help you attain your desired “expanded” presence in Southeast Asia by allowing you to have what you call a “light footprint” on our sovereign territory which we both know is a mere euphemism for basing your troops in our country… on a “rotational” basis is what you call it, right? We take it we will also revise the MDT to allow for instant retaliation in case either one of us is attacked by foreign forces. We should also amend the odious provisions of the VFA.

        US: You drive a hard bargain. What if we stopped giving you aid?

        PH: We will survive. A little over $100 million a year ain’t that much. We can easily cover that and more by clamping down on smugglers alone.

        US: Removed our huge investments in your country?

        PH: That’s up to your businessmen. They wouldn’t be in our country in the first place if they weren’t making any profit. But if they want to spite us by cutting off their noses, that’s their problem. We can always invite other foreign investors to take their place. We have a much better investment climate under President Aquino now, you know.

        US: What if we boycotted all your exports to the US?

        PH: We’ll look for markets elsewhere naturally… China maybe. It will be tough, but we will manage somehow.

        US: What if we didn’t give your people visas to go to the US?

        PH: That would be fine too. First, your visa fee is too high. Second, with the racial discrimination being experienced by our people in the US in recent times, we doubt they will want to go to the US anymore. They can go elsewhere.

        US: What if we told other countries not to accept Filipino immigrants or tourists?

        PH: Your call. Let’s see how they react.

        US: What if we deported Filipinos without official papers now living here?

        PH: Again, your call. We will be ready to receive them. You know, of course, the implications of such a move on human rights, about which you keep reminding us and the world at large.

        US: What if we froze the assets in the US of your crooked government officials, politicians and businessmen?

        PH: You’d be helping our Anti-Money Laundering Council a lot… Do we get our $3 billion or not? Review of the MDT and the VFA?

        US: Ok, but please take it easy on our ambassador there. He really is a nice fellow, you know.

        PH: Thanks. See you later this month when Presidents Aquino and Obama sign a new “maximized” agreement between us.

        US: Ok. By the way, we have admonished Marion Barry and that Assistant Attorney General in Guam to stop discriminating against Filipinos.


  8. Elena Lemi

    I would appreciate our gov’t more if that happens. True, the US gave as nothing in return. In Taiwan, their military hardwares are A1 courtesy of US.

  9. oh my! music to my ears, haha. thanks for the link…. “the u.s. would give in to us if we only asserted more.” talaga naman. we really have a problem standing up for ourselves vis a vis america. more than a hundred years of conditioning, and they have us exactly where they want us.

  10. Hi MB, theres an interesting comment on The Diplomat re- Philippine-US cooperation. Let me quote it:

    “Philippines is not an orphan. That 2+2 with the reporters was just a facade. Obviously Hillary was or her way to China that night and does not want to rile the Chinese before she comes so they release the same things and was well guarded. The following day was different between the defense secretaries. US already had lined up an agenda to make sure they are able to blunt the Chinese even to the next decade when a couple of Chinese carriers are operational already, assuming they have figured out how to launch a bomb loaded J-15 without ski jumps. Even the Italian defense staff was there to make deals with the US and the Philippines. Just watch the next few months how these whole thing will evolve. The Italians, Spaniards, Koreans, Japanese and even the Australians will make a pitch to make sure Philippines will have credible defensive structure even with Chinese carriers. I think China will find out how many friends Philippines has especially once China gets exposed in the ITLOS hearings.”

  11. manuelbuencamino


    We have a finite budget so there’s a trade-off to building up our defenses. Should we prioritize military spending to get out from under America’s thumb?

    I think what we should worry about is if China and the US decide to become allies and share this part of the world.