Today, the United States President Barack Obama will meet with President Benigno Aquino III in Manila for the US state visit to the Philippines, a part of President Obama’s tour in the East Asian region. These visits to Korea, Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines are a part of the ongoing commitment of the US to increase its diplomatic, economic and security ties in the Asia-Pacific as indicated in its “Pivot to Asia” or “Rebalancing” strategy.
We register serious concerns about this strategy. The “Pivot to Asia” is nothing but a refocusing of US military presence to East Asia and the Pacific, such as the increased deployment of its troops and the negotiation of an expanded US military presence in its ally nations in the region, in order to “contain” China. In fact, just recently, the Philippine negotiating panel for the US-PH Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) recently submitted to President Aquino III the draft EDCA provisions for review, expected to be signed during Obama’s visit. We believe that acceding to expanded rotational presence of American troops in the country will only worsen the region’s peace and security situation, especially in light of the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea conflict. Likewise, this pivot also entails increased US involvement and thus expanded militarization in Mindanao, which may sabotage the fragile peace in Bangsamoro.
We, therefore, call on the Aquino government not to engage itself with the superpower dynamics of the US and China. The Philippines needs an independent foreign policy that does not depend on nor confront either side, rather one that sides only with the best interest of the people and of lasting peace. Concretely, the Philippine government should explore and prioritize multilateral platforms, where parties are on equal footing to discuss and negotiate collective security and peace agreements. On the Philippines-China bilateral track, both governments should instead explore opportunities for cooperation and joint development of the disputed seas and its natural resources.
The expansion of military troops in the region will not help realize lasting peace for our people. If the US is truly an ally of peace, it should learn from its experiences on conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of the Middle East: that military interference of external powers has never facilitated and, in fact, most of the time, if not always, exacerbated regional or domestic peace-building processes.
Inclusive, transparent and accountable dialogue, not militarization, is the path towards solving the security impasse in and achieving lasting peace in the Asia Pacific region.