WHEN the Aquino administration proposed to give access to the country's military bases to the American forces, stories regarding the revival of the old naval base at Subic Bay spread like wildfire.

The Department of National Defense, however, clarified that there wouln’t be new bases for the Americans. Of course there should not be—the constitution specifically banned foreign military bases in our country.

Instead, the government will just make our military facilities more accessible to them. There is no need for the old naval bases when they can have ours.

Americans abandoned the Subic Naval Base two decades ago. Yet their presence is still strongly felt with the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951.

Under the treaty, the United States and Philippines agree to come to each other’s aid and defend themselves from a potential aggressor or any external armed attack, including attacks on island territories in the Pacific Ocean.

Last year, on April 2012, then US state secretary Hillary Clinton reaffirmed the commitments and obligations of USA stated in the treaty. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario stated this in his press release in May 2012 amid the two-month maritime stand-off with the Chinese vessels in the Panatag Shoal, a rich marine habitat with access to oil and natural gas reserves within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

In the breakdown of events, which the government attributed to this treaty, we can read between the lines:

Last April, USS Fitzgerald was deployed to South Korea during the tensions caused by the nuclear saber-rattling of North Korea. Just like the five-day war exercises that took place near Panatag Shoal between US and Philippines, the ship joined the same naval exercises between US and South Korea.

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Buwan ng wika 2001, natatangi

Now USS Fitzgerald, the pride of the American military, is in the ports of Subic Bay and participated in the annual war games and training exercises with the Philippine forces.

This proposal to provide access came with America’s strategy to “pivot” to Asia, which includes plans to shift majority of US warships to the Pacific before the end of the decade.

The government further plans to allocate P75 billion for military modernization in the next years.

The Aquino administration may expect us to applaud its efforts to finally address the external-defense woes of the Philippines. But as they say, timing is everything.

And of course, the news was bound to reach China.

Reports quoted Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, saying that countries “to try to reinforce their poorly grounded claims (in the West Philippine Sea) through the help of external foes [will find the attempt] a miscalculation not worth the effort.”

Not only was the mutual defense treaty confirmed, but recent projects of the military with US allies have suddenly been directed strategically near Panatag Shoal and American warships are arriving at our shores. Military access, in pretence of military improvements through partnership, is offered to the Americans.

But then, the government insists that it is only “coincidental” that Subic Bay is near the disputed territories, including the Spratlys.

The government will probably insist that the timing of the arrival of US warships and soldiers with the growing dispute and tensions with China on territorial issues is just mere coincidence too.

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Isa para sa lahat

President Aquino said during the 115th anniversary of Philippine independence from Spain, that the country will continue to “build consensus with all parties to promote calm and understanding [but] also increase the capabilities of our Armed Forces.”

The dilemma of course for government is how to promote understanding leading to a peaceful settlement of the territorial dispute. How can both countries accord with regulations governing maritime disputes in the international assembly with apparently provocative acts being initiated by both sides.

Of course, because of Chinese bullying off Zambales and in the Spratlys, our security and territorial integrity are under threat. But the Philippines should deal with the problem without compromising unduly the constitutional ban on foreign military bases and maintaining its commitment to international peace and amity.

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