Navigating the troubled waters of the West Philippine Sea

Who would stop China’s aggression in the region?

According to Foreign Policy, the Philippines’ case over China is an existential question over when is a rock, not a rock?

For many Filipinos, the question framed in their mind is this: Will America take a side in the territorial dispute?

The question is resharpened after Manila, and Washington signed a new 10 year defense agreement called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

According to the government, the benefit for the Philippines are the following:

  • Interoperability
  • Capacity building towards AFP modernization
  • Strengthening AFP for external defense
  • Maritime Security
  • Maritime Domain Awareness
  • Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR)

The government doesn’t see this as a new treaty. A treaty requiring approval from the Senate, and an agreement such as this, merely being executive in nature. Malacanang says this new agreement is simply an implementation of the Mutual Defense Treaty.

For America— increase boots on the ground in their pivot to Asia; increased soft power as more American troops are in town to provide humanitarian assistance; the strengthening of ties in the region, and ultimately, America cares about that International Shipping lane called the South China Sea.

Natashya Gutierez writes, “No categorical commitment from US on China dispute“. She goes to quote United States President Obama who said in a join Press Conference with President Aquino, “We don’t even take a specific position on the disputes between nations. But, as a matter of international law and international norms, we don’t think that coercion and intimidation is the way to manage these disputes”.

Hours later, RG Cruz quotes Barack Obama that the U.S. will defend the Philippines. “Through our treaty alliance “the United States has an ironclad commitment to defend you, your security and your independence,” Cruz quoted President Obama. The U.S. President said these words during a toast in a State Diner held in his honor at Malacanan Palace.

It is universally agreed that China will grow. It is an emerging success story in the region even as today it grapples with some economic turbulence.

Whether there is a commitment from Washington to defend Manila or not is an entirely separate issue. What these challenges with China show us two things:

a) The Philippines’ defense is primarily our problem; though nice to have America on our side, and we should take what is given. Learn, train, and occasionally ask for help when we need to, but ultimately, we need to start building our Armed Forces from nothing. We don’t even have fighter squadrons, and as Yolanda taught us, barely the resources (but lots of will) to help our countrymen, for example. So the country needs to claw our way out of that pit of nothing.

b) There is a need to counter-balance China in the region, and ultimately it is in our national interest that the Philippines will need to step up in an increasing diplomatic, economic, and military leadership role in the region.

That, ladies and gentlemen, should be the ultimate goal.

This doesn’t happen over night. Nation building doesn’t happen over night. Arguably, our nation’s growth, and the many changes in the Philippines since Aquino took the helm has advanced us to the point that we can dream again; that our democracy is out of the recovery room, and ready to heal.

This is where we are now. Healing.

Sure there are complications. Corruption is little diminished, but still potent. Our country’s infrastructure from the Airport down to our communication lines are arguably some of the world’s weakest. You need only to step into the MRT or LRT each day to see how things could be better; much less ride through potholes and traffic. The line between liberal thinking, and conservative thinking is growing each day, but ultimately, in spite of having a rather liberal Supreme Court, conservatism is still king.

Ultimately, no one with a keen mind will surely expect Aquino to eradicate poverty in our time, or to fix decades of weakness in a single presidency. That’s just insane to think, or to expect. Not only does it show a tiny world view, it underlines a narrow view of who we are, where we are, and ultimately where we ought to go as a nation. These weakness in the Philippines will not be fixed in a single presidency, much less two. It would take good men and women in both the public and private sphere to advance our country forward.

Similarly, to expect America to send the George Washington Carrier Strike Group to the West Philippine Sea, and say to China: “Get out” is likewise a narrow, and provincial view. The civilized, and neighborly way is to go through international arbitration— which is what good nations do to resolve their differences. And our nation has done that. America supports it. And ultimately should we succeed in this legal framework, that benefits our neighbors as well. That’s what real leaders do.

President Aquino is correct: that our dispute with China over a bunch of rocks does not define our entire relationship with China. We remain to have economic ties to that nation, and continue to do so. America has a similar understanding: there maybe friction in the relationship— just like everyday there could be friction with our personal neighbors, but that ultimately does not define the relationship. America has deeper economic ties to China.

Foreign Policy quoted Ely Ratner. He is deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security Think Tank. He said:

“What kind of great power will China be? Are they willing to play by the rules of the game or overthrow the system? As much as there ever is, this is a clear-cut test of their willingness to bind themselves to rules that may end up not being in their favor.”

That said, there is no shame is asking for help— and EDCA is one of many framework for cooperation with America. We should take it. The rest, well? That’s up to us. It is in our national interest that the Philippines will need to step up in an increasing diplomatic, economic, and military leadership role in the region.

Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.