MANILA - Former Senators Leticia Ramos Shahani and Rene Saguisag are urging the Philippine government to pursue an independent foreign policy and not to depend so much on the United States.
Speaking to ANC’s Headstart, Shahani said Article 2, Section 7 of the 1987 Constitution specifically states that the country must pursue an independent foreign policy, which would touch on issues such as national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and the right to self-determination.
She urged the government to have historical memory and to stop letting foreigners guide foreign policy.
“We should have a historical memory. Having an independent foreign policy is the long-term goal and every step of the way has to be related to that goal. The way we have been acting is as if the 1991 Senate rejection of the US bases agreement was forgotten,” she said.
“We should stop being a neo-colony of the United States. We should stop this period of neocolonialism. We are independent since 1946. Independent of what? I agree…that we are poor and weak. Our Philippine Navy is the weakest in the entire Asean so we are no match for the Chinese. I admit that. I am afraid that they are in Scarborough Shoal. That is very near Pangasinan, my own province, so it is not a foreign policy, it is domestic policy. I get nervous because 22 towns in Pangasinan face the West Philippine Sea.”
Philippine and American officials recently signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which allows American soldiers access to limited military bases in the country. The signing of the agreement was timed ahead of the visit of US President Barack Obama to the Philippines last April 28-29.
A defense official said the Philippine government is eyeing three to five Philippine military camps for use of US forces under the EDCA.
Analysts have said the EDCA sends a signal to China which is claiming ownership of the entire South China Sea.
The EDCA also comes more than 20 years after the Philippine Senate rejected the extension of the RP-US Bases Treaty in 1991. Shahani voted to extend the agreement while Saguisag voted against it.
Saguisag said many politicians had the same arguments in voting to let the Americans stay.
“We cannot ever give up on the only motherland we have. That is why in 1991, some said: ‘It is better than nothing.’ But we said: ‘Nothing is better.’ The way I concluded it is - the work must go on, the cause endure, the hope still lives and the dream for a better Philippines shall never die.”
Saguisag also gave a reminder to the public. "At the end of the day, every country does not have permanent friends, permanent enemies, only permanent interests. They will come to our aid if it is in their interests to do so...That is why we have to stand on our own feet."
The former senator also questioned why copies of the EDCA were not released to officials until it was already signed by both sides.
"I saw the unofficial copy and I don't like that the procedure came first, that there was no consultation...During our time, we were regularly briefed by Secretary Raul Manglapus before and not after the event," he said.
Added Shahani: "If we had an independent foreign policy, there should have been a consultation with a wider group. Para tayong may tinatago (It's like we are hiding something) all the time just to please Obama because he is coming now."
Meantime, Prof. Rommel Banlaoi, a security expert, said dealing with the US always comes with "colonial baggage" since the Americans used to be the country's colonizer.
"Involving the US in our security affairs always affects our domestic sensitivities particularly in sovereignty issues, particularly on national dignity. It is really very difficult to overcome that," he said.
He said the Philippine government is showing "an excessive display of pro-Americanism" which culminated in the signing of the EDCA. He said that an assessment of the Mutual Defense Treaty in 2011 started the process when officials realized "that in order to fill the gap of our defense capabilities, we have to maximize our alliance with the US."
A study conducted by Banlaoi also identified five factors why modernizing the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been difficult despite the launch of the AFP Modernization Program in 1995.
He said one factor is the security outlook of politicians who value internal security rather than external defense.
There is also a debate between "bread and guns" or allocating resources to the military rather than food and other services.
"How can we promote modernization program when we have needs for health and education?" Banlaoi said.
The professor said Filipino officials are also sensitive about militarization and are always moving to de-militarize the country.
Other factors that hinder modernization are the difficult procurement system and concerns about corruption in the military.
Noted Saguisag: "There is a budget but I think it went to the Euro-generals. That is why the joke goes: we are all air and no force in the Air Force."
'US BASES IN AYUNGIN, SCARBOROUGH'
Shahani said one reason why the Philippines has a very weak Navy is because "the Americans never encouraged us to develop our forces in water."
"They encouraged us to buy cars in Detroit. That is part of the neocolonial policy. We forget we are a water people...We were the mariners in this part of the world before they came," she said.
She said there is danger in adopting an extreme love or extreme hate relationship with America.
She said it is also important to maintain ties with the US.
"I want to be friends with America. It is a big country. I owe a lot to America because I have an American education," she said.
"We should avoid this extreme love-hate relationship with America and we should make up our minds in this country so we have an agreement with America. We should not tie ourselves too strongly and too much. We should be able to loosen those ties when the time comes. But because we are now weak, you ask me, yes, in a way I am glad that the Americans are here but that should have been negotiated more carefully with a wider area of consultation. I am not saying I should have been consulted. I am not interested but there should have been a wider base of consultation and not all of this hidden because it smacks of neocolonialism as if wanting again to please the Americans because Barack Obama is coming."
Saguisag said he is against allowing the Americans to use Philippine military bases especially since the AFP already lacks facilities.
Instead, he said Americans should be allowed to build bases in Ayungin Shoal and Scarborough Shoal, both of which are being claimed by China as their territory.
"Yes, let them in but let them build in Ayungin and Scarborough. To send the proper message to those concerned," he said.