Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: May 2023
Wednesday, 31 May 2023 07:40

Creeping American military presence

THEY have returned!

IN 1991, 12 patriots of the Philippine Senate, against the wishes of then President Cory Aquino, booted out the US bases in the Philippines. The 1987 Constitution, which Cory herself sponsored, specifically prohibits foreign military bases in the country. The Military Bases Agreement (MBA) signed in 1947 allowed the US to establish air and naval facilities for 99 years but was amended several times, cutting down the 99 years to the remaining 25 beginning in 1966. With Subic and Clark, the two biggest US military bases outside the continental US, America projected its might, extending its hegemony in the Far East.

Today, another set of patriots has allowed the Americans back in. But here's the catch! With a series of several negotiated intricate documents skirting the constitutional prohibition, starting with the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) signed in 1999 under President Fidel Ramos (West Point '50 graduate), agreements were arrived at under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed by Cory's son President Noynoy, taking effect in 2014 for US forces to send military personnel on a "rotational" arrangement in five Philippine bases (EDCA sites), but with logistics and armaments allowed for pre-positioning. Constitutionally, Subic and Clark can no longer be accessed as US military bases.

President Duterte, projecting an image of being pro-Filipino with an anti-American-pro-China bias, tried to terminate the agreements (VFA and EDCA) to no avail.

Pecuniary considerations

Originally, going back to the 1991 patriot senators, dubbed as the "Magnificent 12," one of the biggest arguments for the abrogation of US bases was not so much as reacquiring "Philippine sovereignty" over these territories by booting out the "capitalist-imperialist" that gave impetus to "bureaucrat-capitalism" — all mantras of the left: but for all intents and purposes, the pecuniary aspect of the US presence.

Under the amended treaty, the US offered $500 million in economic and military aid over five years, increasing this to $900 million in the next five years (1984-1988), broken down into $475 million in economic support, $300 million in foreign military sales credit and $125 million in direct military grants. But the manner of its appropriation by the American government saddled the Philippine government with all sorts of thorny issues resulting in the Philippine drawdown of only half of the $200 million economic funds available under the previous package. Under the new proposed treaty in 1991, the US offered an annual $203 million in compensation — far less than what the Philippine government had sought.

We asked for more US dollars. The Americans said no! So, our patriotic senators suddenly became so aggressively pro-Filipino, claiming that US presence undermined Philippine sovereignty, arguing further that these bases were used as staging points during the Korean and Vietnam wars — perhaps as a negotiating posture, blah, blah, blah! And their love for the country unexpectedly bloomed!

In retrospect, these parleys between former colonials were a study in mendicancy at best and prostitutional negotiations at worst — where we gave away a lot for a pittance. Now, they are back with no guaranteed annual lease. And all aid are "best efforts," except perhaps for those meant for the enhancement of these sites at their behest. This was succinctly articulated later by the Deegong when he pronounced in no uncertain terms: "I'd like to put on notice ... from now on... you want the Visiting Forces Agreement done? You have to pay." The Deegong, a pragmatist, demanded that the Philippines should get something "... like $16 billion that Pakistan had received in counterterrorism assistance from the United States from 2001 to 2017." Former Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the Philippines received only a total of "$3.9 billion from the United States in the same period."

During the Deegong's regime, from 2016-2019, we were given $267.5 million in military financing and equipment with an additional $45 million from 2020-2021. Another $200 million was budgeted for military equipment, aircraft, training, construction and sundries.

EDCA for climate change mitigation

Now, with the present Marcos Jr. regime, US assistance and bilateral cooperation are expected to increase. And more importantly, Marcos was even generous enough to expand EDCA sites, allowing US "rotational troops" to operate in four additional "Philippine military bases." It may be noted that these EDCA sites are Filipino bases, key pillars of the US-Philippine alliance, allowing interoperability between both forces that supports combined training exercises and accelerate the modernization of our military capabilities. But Marcos had made it specifically clear when he talked before the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C.: "These EDCA sites are for climate change mitigation for instances of natural disasters visiting the Philippines like the 100-year typhoon, 'Yolanda'/'Haiyan' in 2013. These sites are to provide quicker relief [and] rescue, and provide a better job at reconstruction and rehabilitation. Except that with the increasing tension in Taiwan Strait, the security and defense aspect became part of our mission. So, the sensitivity of these sites with Philippine and US troops — on a rotational basis — became included in the equation." Or words to that effect.

Currently, the US is committed to pouring in $82 million for more than a dozen infrastructure projects for the four additional EDCA sites that BBM agreed to; plus, ongoing projects on the five original EDCA sites. These are all of course aligned also with the modernization program of our Philippine armed forces. Balabac Island in Palawan will have a small airport serving the community with a 3-kilometer runway, which could accommodate all types of aircraft — even the US advanced tactical fighter jets, F-35, and F-22 and even the B-2 bombers. None of these are in our fleet. (B2 Bombers are currently parked at Amberly air base in Australia. Deployment of these aircraft is part also of a similar Enhanced Air Cooperation Initiative of the US and Australia, which includes "rotational" deployment of US aircraft of all types in Australia for training exercises with the RAAF.)

The expansion of the already existing naval stations in Palawan is ongoing to accommodate frigates and destroyer-sized ships, and a vessel support facility in Bataraza in southernmost Palawan; so are the air facilities and runways being improved at Ebuen Air Base in Mactan, Cebu and Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. An ammunition warehouse, aviation fuel storage and a "command and control building has been constructed. This could double as a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief warehouse, barracks for personnel and other facilities for the disaster-prone islands." (Franco Baroña, The Manila Times, May 26, 2023.)

It may be noted too that of the nine EDCA bases, the two in Palawan face the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea or SCS) and the three in the northernmost part of Luzon face Taiwan and the Bashi Channel. And these are the Philippine military bases where US forces are currently planned for "rotational deployment." And the Philippine government with America are pouring in millions for defense enhancement facing China.

But mind you, these sites are for climate disaster mitigation! The Americans are suddenly generous. Why?

In a communique this month when President BBM met with President Biden, America reiterated that an attack in the West Philippines Sea (WPS) would activate the mutual defense commitments of both countries.

To be continued next week

Published in LML Polettiques
Saturday, 13 May 2023 09:43

Wargaming Donald Trump

Last of 3 parts

IN retrospect, Trump was an enigma when he descended that golden Trump Towers escalator throwing his hat into the ring in 2015. He was already a public figure, a businessman, projecting an image as a brilliant dealmaker and a self-made billionaire. He was to leverage this for a shot at the presidency. And if he failed, nonetheless, it would enhance his brand. Either way, it was a win-win for the Donald. None had any inkling on how he would impact the political scene, least of all the GOP bigwigs who tolerated him as a lightweight political carpetbagger. How wrong they all were!

His entrance into the political stage was timely. American hegemony was at its zenith. But to the Cassandras and naysayers who had been prophesying it all along — the crest before the trough. But what was America really like when Trump burst into the scene?

Bush-Obama and the rise of China

The Obama years were coming to a close. Reelected in 2012, America's first Black president who came in with a bang may be bowing out with a whimper. In the international arena, Obama's good vibes, popularly known as the "Obama Bump," particularly among allies in Europe, were waning in the wake of Bush's unpopular entanglements in the Middle East. Americans were no longer enthusiastic about international engagements, growing wary of its government's capability of handling global problems — terrorism threats, for one.

To those internationalists that advocate a rules-based order, the role the US took on as the world's self-proclaimed policeman with its tolerance was a tight fit; stoking up the fires of democracy and freedom which are linked to continued growth in global trading. It may have pretensions to be the guardian of its morals but as the world's largest economy, the projection of its military might in the global arena ensures that world markets are open, expansion is not curtailed, to the benefit of all — and eventually, of course, to America. But at Obama's exit, more than half of Americans believe that the sacrosanct free trade and global economy may be a bad thing for Americans as it lowers their wages and costs them their jobs.

America's confidence in itself, taking upon its shoulders the world's burdens becomes thankless over time. The many conflicts and wars it went through, from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq to Afghanistan; various invasions, Bay of Pigs, Grenada, Panama; and a host of other pretexts, interventions and involvement in low-intensity conflicts in Syria, Somalia, Yemen etc. — resulted in different outcomes, victory and defeat. Except that there is no longer any clear dichotomy as to who the winners and losers are. All these are taking their toll on America.

In a book by Yan Xuetong, "Leadership, and the Rise of Great Powers" (Princeton University Press) he posits that since the end of the Cold War in late 1991 the world became unipolar with America ascendant. But during the post-Clinton years, the Bush and Obama administrations failed to introduce basic reforms that would allow America to maintain its superpower status for the long term. America was in stasis. The Iraq war damaged America's standing internationally. Domestically, Obama failed to enact reforms after the 2008 financial crisis. Meantime China in the last three decades has been embracing economic pragmatism and enacted free-market reforms raising its stature on the international stage. A bipolar world was emerging with China now on the cusp of challenging the hegemony of America, while the US has been on a slow path to political decline.

Enter the Donald

In the midst of these, we have the Donald coming into the picture with a compelling message. Bring America back to America and make America Great Again (MAGA). Although this is not original, it resonated and struck a chord particularly among a certain segment of Americans that Hillary Clinton so aptly described — the "basket of deplorables" (BOD). Ignorant of international ramifications, the Donald caused America to turn inward taking the path of economic nationalism. Trump proceeded to pull out of international commitments, severed ties and distanced the US from old allies pursuing his America First policy; fragmenting the old international order and ceding the ground to a rising power. Big mistake! Even under new leadership, it will almost be impossible to alter course and reconnect with the allies as Trump tore to shred America's credibility.

Post Trump

As elicited from several books that came out during and immediately after his presidency, Trump was a profoundly unsophisticated un-nuanced linear thinker that people, pundits, friends and enemies can read through, transparent in his appetites in a weird sort of way. First, he is a creature of mass media, a reality TV star and, I quote from the book, "The Making of Donald Trump": "Donald Trump has spent decades in the public spotlight and has masterfully created a public image that is quite different from the man behind it." We mostly see a fictionalized version of himself, but sometimes the man behind the image appears through the cracks as one lacking in knowledge, refusing to see facts as objective truths; and therefore, prone to telling lies — numerous lies. The Washington Post came up with a study that "President Trump has made at least 30,529 false claims in 1,455 days, which is about 21 lies a day as president."

Stolen election

These lies continued, culminating in his infamous claim of having won the 2021 elections against Joe Biden. His repeated assertion of widespread fraud before the elections and declaring himself the winner even before all the votes were counted gained currency mostly among the MAGA-BOD. All 50 states certified the results in Biden's favor and court after court threw out Trump's claims. With the formality of Congress certifying Biden's win on Jan 6, 2021, the MAGA-BOD, sufficiently motivated by Trump stormed the capitol. Trump's last stand ended in a bloody riot, leaving in its wake dead people and almost the death of America's ideals of democracy.

President Joe Biden is the president of the United States of America. But America was as much disunited then as never before since their civil war. Trump in ignominy was impeached the second time, the only American president to have been thus dishonored.

A warning

Authored anonymously, this book was based on a New York Times op-ed titled "I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration." Its main thesis is that Trump is uniquely unfit for the US presidency. He has no compunction pushing the limits of decency and decorum, refuses to listen to his experienced officials and gives in to his worst impulses. Over the four years these people who were within the penumbra of power, the adults in the room, failed to rein in these urges. The case of pulling US forces out of Syria, mentioned in Part 1 of this series, is one such illustration of the president's dangerously erratic behavior. He institutes policies on the fly using Twitter as his medium for one-way communication with his administration and allies.

And amid a dangerously volatile world, this man could again be allowed by America to be president?


Published in LML Polettiques
Saturday, 13 May 2023 09:06

In his own words (and world)

Second of 3 parts

IT was auspicious when Trump assumed office in January 2017. The economy was in good shape, tracking 2.3 percent GDP growth for his first year. Unemployment was at a 50-year low adding 14.8 million jobs over 74 months — the longest growth since 2010 and 160 million Americans were working. He decided he was going to be different from past presidents — particularly the Democrat Obama. And bring back America to Americans, one that resonated, attracting some mainstream GOP to his MAGA. His agenda was clearly the conservative path Republicans were enamored with; travel bans on refugees were issued although unconstitutional, causing the firing of AG Sally Yates who refused to defend the bans; his missile strike on Syria, telegraphing to the world, he had balls, followed up with dropping the non-nuclear "mother of all bombs" (MOAB) on IS targets in Afghanistan. These all occurred within four months in office. The Donald was riding high! And this euphoria extended beyond 2018 toward the end of 2019.

Trump's conservative victories

The Conservative GOPs hailed the Donald's policy initiatives as their major triumphs on the domestic and international arena. The corporate tax cuts he promised as a candidate warmed the cockles of the heart of the rich, and restrictions on immigration, especially those coming from Mexico ("...I will build a wall, and Mexico will pay for it!"). He castrated the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), eliminating major environmental protocols; the coal ash rule regulating disposal of toxic coal waste, lifted oil/natural gas bans, among others. The Obama environmental agenda prioritizing reduction of carbon emissions though the use of renewable energy conserving the environment for future generations were rescinded. "Climate change is a hoax ... global warming was created by and for the Chinese..." And he promptly withdrew from the Paris climate accords. And the environment be damned!


Then the pandemic struck. The world was distressed, and its most prosperous economy presided over by Trump was severely tested. The Donald began to reveal his darker side, labeling the coronavirus as the "Chinese virus, because it comes from China" ("I Alone Can Fix It" by Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker, Penguin Press, 2021). This was feeding into a xenophobia that would have been best left dormant but now awakened unnerving both sides: on one hand, Chinese people's general misperception that America hates everything about them and communism; and on the other, the fringe MAGA-BOD's narrative that indeed this was a Chinese conspiracy.

Covid-9 wreaked havoc on America, but the president may have been in a denial exacerbating the pandemic's already lethal swath across the land. Monday morning quarterbacking pinpointed at Trump's slow appreciation of the threat early on with his "response ... shaped by political calculation, not science. In the battle between politics and science, politics carried the day." (Leonnig and Rucker)

Lies for facts

This was evidenced by that iconic press conference in April 2020 when Trump, who never had the patience for important technical briefings by aides or worse let his ignorance bully its way through, latched on to incomplete findings on the effects of light and humidity on how the virus spreads. The virus' behavior was much more complicated than simply reacting to sunlight and that bleach would kill the virus in five minutes. Trump was wont to hide the extensive gaps in his knowledge by making up his own facts. Taking this out of context, he took control of the press conference embarrassing his experts to no end and proceeded with a bizarre rambling monologue.

"So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous ... ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that that hasn't been checked, but you're going to test it ...supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way ... It sounds interesting. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside..." (Leonnig and Rucker)

On national TV, that soliloquy came to symbolize Trump's chaotic handling of the pandemic, the inability to comprehend the magnitude of his responsibility and a puerile grasp of the majesty of the presidency. Covid-19 eventually killed a million Americans. Toward the end of his term, the economy was in a rapid decline, unemployment surged, and his presidency deepened America's political divide.

Racial undertones and violence

Racial violence, long latent, started to awaken dangerously with the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville earlier in his presidency, with the marchers composed of the alt-right, neo-fascist, neo-Nazi's, antisemites, anti-Islamic and far-right militias, etc. opposed by a smaller group of counter protesters. Trump established his racial proclivities early on signaling where his sympathy lay, although condemning this "... display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides ... [with] very fine people on both sides," implying moral equivalence between the white supremacist and the counter-protesters.

Race and gender issues began to dominate the political conversation in a deeply divided America gaining new attention amid the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements. The former burst into universal awareness highlighting discrimination, racial inequality, and the plight of the black people. Vivid images assaulted American consciousness gaining traction through social media with racially motivated violence and police brutality cases involving the killings of Black Americans. These grab national and international headlines culminating in the murder of George Floyd by white Minneapolis officers captured on TV/video. By the last year of Trump's watch, 67 percent of adult Americans had expressed support for the movement declining significantly in later months. But by this time, Trumps rating was on free fall.

Beginning of the downfall

Trump's replacement of the "steady state" advisers — that loose collection of officials like Tillerson and Mathis who were the "adults in the room" trying desperately to maintain the type of order and restraint necessary to run the country smoothly — created a vacuum, leaving him with a coterie of sycophants feeding on each other's egos; intimidated by his personality, but sharing common delusions where facts are alien to the truth. Trump's ratings that never crossed 50 percent approval in his four years hovered on the lower third, leaving him with the support of his MAGA-BOD. His impeachment although acquitted in February 2020, his penultimate year as president may have augured his eclipse.

Writing on the wall

In the middle of the presidential campaign, the president, according to the authors of "I Alone Can Fix It," may have become delusional, his paranoia undermining his political fortunes. This dysfunctional president, preempting a democratic process, tweeted that this coming 2020 November presidential election would be the "most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history. And Joe Biden was "the worst candidate in history." If Biden beat Trump, it could only mean one thing: the election had been rigged. And on election day, his alter-ego, "Rudy Giuliani, who had been drinking heavily all evening, told him to ignore the official tallies and simply declare himself the winner." (Leonnig and Rucker)

Trump declared victory before all the votes had been counted. His efforts to retain the presidency led to a final showdown on Jan. 6, 2021.


Published in LML Polettiques