Has the US forsaken the Philippines?

USS John C. Stennis. REUTERS/Cho Jung-ho/Yonhap

By JoeAm

The question was asked of me on Facebook:

WHY has the US forsaken the Philippines?

Forsaken means “abandoned or deserted”. My answer was that I didn’t think ‘forsaken’ was the right word, but the question is worth looking into.

To do this, I’ll challenge you to try to see events through American eyes, even if you have never been to the US and no matter what your opinion of Americans might be.

Second, I would ask that you take for a fact that the Philippines is an independent and sovereign state, and is entirely accountable for events that transpire in the Philippines, and for her engagements and reputation overseas. This was established on July 5, 1946:

On July 5, 1946, representatives of the United States of America and of the Republic of the Philippines signed a Treaty of General Relations between the two governments. The treaty provided for the recognition of the independence of the Republic of the Philippines as of July 4, 1946, and the relinquishment of American sovereignty over the Philippine Islands. [Wikipedia]

Beyond that clear statement of Philippine independence and sovereignty, however, every engagement between the two nations gets affected by what I will call the Law of Self Interest that determines how each party acts in any situation involving both. Many Filipinos express frustration that the US does not act in Filipino interests. And I ask, why would we expect the US to place Filipino interests over American interests?

The Law of Self Interest: Any state will place her own interests above those of any other state because that is her lawful and patriotic national obligation to her citizens.

The US government exists to protect and serve Americans, not Filipinos. And the same is true for the Philippines. The Philippines exists to protect and serve Filipinos, not Americans.

If we go back over history, we can think about three events that represent a clear crossing of US and Filipino interests:

  • When the US supported President Marcos, then airlifted him to Hawaii
  • When the Philippines evicted the US from bases in the Philippines
  • Today, as China occupies Philippine seas

Many are critical of America’s enduring support for Marcos and the US giving him safe haven in Hawaii. It looks like the US was the one pulling strings. That’s not entirely accurate.

America and the Philippines had shared interests at the time: keeping democracy (such as it was) in the Philippines and suppressing the spread of communism. Both governments were deeply engaged in the effort to stop the Philippine communist insurgency.

And, yes, the US flew Marcos out of the Philippines on February 25, 1986, after American Senator Paul Laxalt advised Marcos to “cut and cut cleanly”. But this was done with the permission for safe passage granted by Juan Ponce Enrile, a leader in the opposition. The US did not “save” Marcos over the protests of the Filipino opposition, but with their agreement. [Wikipedia]

If you want to look at the period through informed American eyes, read the entire commentary from the immensely experienced and knowledgeable Richard Holbrooke as he wrote about it in the Washington Post on March 2, 1986.

He gives us insights that we can use today. He shows clearly that America is never totally predictable or consistent because she is a democracy. Her policies vary as power politics in Washington DC vary, and as one administration gives way to the next. A political balance is usually achieved after a lot of argument, and the two main parties are almost always at odds. But in this instance, as Holbrooke explains, they were united:

As the end neared, there was a consensus within the [American] administration, across ideological lines, that Marcos could no longer govern effectively. This consensus checked the usual inter-agency bickering.

Marcos’ fall came quickly, before the American right could regroup around an alternative to Marcos, or a catastrophe in Manila could produce second-guessing in Washington and the usual finger-pointing recriminations.

Marcos self-destructed on American television, while Corazon Aquino, after a slow start, captured the imagination of the American public. 

The shared US/Filipino core interest, keeping democracy in place, was expressed by Holbrooke as follows:

The U.S., for a change, can share in the celebration. Finally, this country rode in tandem with an ally through its disintegration and came out on the side of the people and their wishes — rather than trapped by history in a suicide pact with a leader who no longer had popular support. 

Of course, the central drama was played out in Manila, and it was the Philippine people themselves who brought Marcos down. But it was actions and statements by top American officials that turned the tide finally and irrevocably against Marcos.

Some critics have charged that the Reagan Administration moved too slowly, especially in the early stages, in making clear where it stood; these critics argue now that we were lucky that things didn’t turn out badly, given official ambivalence over Marcos. There is probably some truth to this view, but after a policy success of these dimensions, such considerations seem trivial.

The shared core interest of stopping communism, was expressed by Holbrooke as follows:

The church is a commanding force in this very Catholic country. In recent years, church leaders expressed open contempt for Marcos, and some priests even flirted with the communist guerrilla movement.

Now the church — especially if it can work peacefully with the army — can serve as the government’s most powerful ally against the New People’s Army, the communist guerrilla movement. The threat is serious. American intelligence agencies have warned that the NPA guerrillas could take over the country in three to five years.

Reading this entire article will help you see the American interests at work at the time with all their arrogance, confusion, democratic bickering, and even good luck.

The American obsession over communism was palpable at the time. But as capitalism entered both the Soviet Union and China in its slow, persistent, greedy way, communism in the Philippines became a domestic affair. And it began to fade of its own destructiveness and impotence. Today, the communist slogans are there, the political righteousness, the street protests, and the provincial extortions and destruction . . . but the US has largely moved on to a more urgent enemy, global terrorism. Opposition to the NPA rebellion is mainly a Philippine affair these days, presumably with some American intelligence support.

If we move to the Philippine eviction of American bases in 1990, we have a clear statement of who controls Philippine affairs. The Philippines does, as it should be. Was the decision right, or wrong? We need not argue that. But we can say for sure that it defined the limits of American military engagement. It effectively said that the Philippines, as a democratic state that had debated the matter vigorously, did not want American guns, bombs, planes, and troops here.

That attitude persisted for two decades. It was accompanied by a reluctance of presidents prior to Noynoy Aquino to invest in defense, leaving the military starved to the bare bones (an Air Force with no planes, an Army without equipment, a Navy without ships). Furthermore, the bases eviction left America UNABLE (regardless of willingness) to stand in with a proxy defense.

President Aquino began a rebuilding of the Philippine military. Along side of that, he brought the US back by crafting the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which will give the US limited base installations in eight locations in the Philippines. And he began building closer alliances with neighboring states facing China’s aggressive expansion.

But that was then.

Today, we have a different American government and a different Philippine government. The US is constrained by what the Philippine government wants or does not want. The US has no legal right to meddle in Philippine politics or insert herself into territorial matters that are strictly the purview of the Philippines. The US has a legal right to help the Philippines defend herself, if the respective presidents agree as to how and when application of the US/Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty comes into play. (That Treaty does not mandate automatic mutual engagement.)

The US has the legal right to make sure international seas and skies across the South China and West Philippine Seas remain open to free passage.

Reflect back on the overriding strategic interests that drove the Philippine American engagements in the Marcos years: promote democracy and stop the spread of communism. The two nations were in agreement.

Today, those mixed (or crossing) interests might be expressed as follows:

  • Philippines: establish peaceful relations with China, stop domestic rebellion, and stop global terrorism and Muslim unrest in the Philippines.
  • United States: maintain open seas and skies, promote democracy, and stop the spread of global terrorism.

They are not totally aligned with respect to China, or the promotion of democracy (today the Philippine ‘State’ is diminishing the authorities and independence of democratic institutions), and Philippine support for EDCA bases appears begrudging under Duterte.

The US is in an awkward position. She must respect Philippine choices even if she disagrees with them.

The dilemma was expressed clearly during a recent comment by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis when he was asked if the US would respond militarily if the Philippines were attacked by China. He equivocated. He did not say yes and he did not say no.

He said:

When we have discussions on these matters, the reason why public figures do not want to give specific answers is that these are complex issues…To simply turn it into a military and non-military response is short-changing the issue. . . . This is what diplomacy is all about, taking contrary perspectives and finding common ground . . .”

So the matter is clear. There are contrary perspectives.

I would imagine there is some serious debate going on among four parties: US military leaders, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) leaders, and the Duterte government. I suspect that in the back rooms of the Duterte government, Chinese officials are whispering advice that probably sounds a lot like orders.

These matters come into focus if we look at Scarborough Shoal, a strategically placed ring of rocks that, if developed and militarized, would give China a lock on the South China and West Philippine Seas. It would also seal off Subic and be within missile range of Manila.

Scarborough, under President Aquino, (according to a source I deem reliable) had been jointly agreed to by Philippine and American authorities as a “Red Line”. China would not be permitted to develop the shoal, even if it led to armed confrontation. The US would defend Philippine vessels and troops if they were attacked while enforcing Philippine territorial rights.

Now, under a different Philippine government, the Philippines may have backed out of that ‘Red Line” agreement. Or maybe it is just being argued. I have no idea what is going on in the back rooms today. But I believe that is the kind of “diplomatic issue” that Secretary Mattis was referring to. The US and Philippines may have ‘contrary perspectives’ today on Scarborough. And other matters, too.

The US can defend international waters. But . . . when it comes to Philippine seas and rights . . . the US is powerless to do what the sovereign Philippines is unwilling to do herself.

The US has not forsaken the Philippines.


67 Responses to “Has the US forsaken the Philippines?”
  1. karlgarcia says:

    No Our president has forsaken his allies at his own peril, unfortunately if he goes down, we go down with him,

  2. karlgarcia says:

    Like me, who most often eat his words, Heydarian can eat his words now,


  3. Gemino H. Abad says:

    Quite clear and cogent, Joe! THANKS. Unfortunately for us, Du30 like Trump simply doesn’t know what a country’s President is and does as his people’s servant-leader. He seems rather brainless, all ego and bluster and intimidation: a violent narcissist.

    • edgar lores says:

      Begs the question: “Has the Philippines forsaken the US?”

      And the answer is Duterte, Cayetano, and part of the inner circle have tried to — mostly for individual rather than national gain. But the military, the people, and tradition won’t let them.

      Tradition consists of political culture, military culture, philosophical culture, entertainment culture, technological culture.

      o Political culture refers to our form of government.
      o Military culture refers to training and weaponry.
      o Philosophical culture refers to our religions, our values, and books.
      o Entertainment culture refers to movies, tv shows, and comics.
      o Technological culture refers to our gadgets.

      Given the chance, Filipinos will migrate to American without a second thought. I doubt if anyone has thought of migrating to China permanently — to live and not to work.

    • Yes, I am sure psychologists would certify both as incompetent to head a nation’s government due to their own personal interests supplanting the well-being of the people. I’m amazed that people, in general, are so poor at reading others. I mean, if either of those two guys had been across the desk seeking a job from me when I was in the business arena, they would have had short interviews and no job.

  4. Aida Mapoy says:

    God bless America and our beloved Philippines.

  5. neilmacbuk says:

    Ho JoeAm.. Just a short response re Noynoy Aquino’s so-called strong stance against China and the Scarborough Shoal affair. Very recently, a Manila Times journalist exposed the truth regarding the President’s brave and provocative defence using a couple of laughably obsolete,old and rusty Naval craft. Under the guise of “pulling them out of the danger of a typhoon within pilipino AOR”, Aquino cowardly abandoned the shelter of the Shoal by lying about the reason. He committed treason without any redress.

    • Thanks for sharing your opinion, Neil. The Manila Times does not have a reputation for fairness or accuracy. Indeed, it is often hostile toward President Aquino. Aquino’s Navy was left with the boats gifted to him by Arroyo. She turned over to him a dilapidated Army with no equipment, a Navy with no boats, and an Air Force with no planes. So I know your literary rusty boat language is just trolling. Also, I know for a fact that the circumstances of Scarborough remain classified so you have no way of knowing what actually transpired there.

    • chemrock says:

      I think you are Rigoberto Tiglao in disguise, no?

      • Thought so, too. Who else reads Manila Times these days but him and Tatad? Oh, I forgot the Arroyos.

        He believes that PNoy should be criminally charged for the Panatag Shoal debacle and had written numerous articles pushing for a Senate investigation. So far, no takers and we all know why.

    • chemrock says:

      Long after they have been shamed out of office, we still see remnants of old hacks from the regimes of Marcos, Arroyo, and Estrada persistently hogging the limelight to revise history and condemn the two recent presidents that did well for the country – the mother and son tandem.

      In contrast, Pnoy’s team has removed themselves from the limelight to let the new team to do their thing. Well, once in a while they rightly step in to rebut some accusations. That’s all. Mar Roxas has taken a big chunk of insults and false claims of misdeeds, but he has remained being a private citizen.

      It’s easy to see what kind of people has dignity and doing the right things.

  6. NHerrera says:

    A rendering by an American who lives in the Philippines with his family and who has demonstrated his love for the Philippines through his TSH Blog and comments. Not that I do not find the article persuasive in arguing the article’s headline. Nice, thanks.

    As to the Duterte back room “whisperings,” this may include someone whose name coincides with my favourite board game. He he.

  7. chemrock says:

    Good piece Joe, you lay out the arguments well.

    Filipinos who ask that question are people who want to have their cake and eat it as well.

    What most Filipinos don’t know is that after the US had taken over the Philippines from the Spanish, Capitol Hill was’nt really keen on hanging to it. The US was’nt doing the imperialist thing the other western countries were doing. In the earlier years, US actually wanted to turn over the country back to Filipinos. But both smart local elites and the US knew the moment the US departs, another western power will step in to fill the vaccumn. At that time, the likely contender were the Germans. In the later years, as Joe pointed out, it was the threat of communism that made the US stay in the country.

    Today, we hear of Philippines being a kleptocracy, a vassal state of China, or a truly sovereign state, depends on who you talk to.

    Here’s a new word, you hear it first in TSOH. Philippines today is a SUZERAINTY. It is a state that is allowed sovereign independence in its internal affairs, but bows to a foreign dominant power.

    Cory Aquino was given the privilege to speak to joint Congress and Senate session, her son accorded the same privilege to speak to the Japanese Diet. Will Duterte get a chance to speak to CCP in a national people’s congress?

    • NHerrera says:

      SUZERAINTY. It seems to me Trump demonstrated SUZERAINTY relative to the smaller economic and foreign power, Russia, in that Helsinki Meeting. The question still begging to be answered with greater plausibility is what the hold of Putin on Trump is.

      • NHerrera says:

        Now Trump says he misspoke in Helsinki. Seriously, how does one deal with a guy like that. (Sorry, for veering away from the blog’s topic.)

    • edgar lores says:

      Filipinos who ask the question are betraying their neediness, their lostness, their immaturity.

      It is a vestige of colonial mentality.

      On the other side of the equation, you have Duterte, Pimentel, Cayetano, and gang showing exactly the same mentality in seeking to be adopted by China.

      A quest for a father figure. An inability to grow up, to be self-reliant, and to accept responsibility for self.

    • Yes, good question. I don’t think they will have him, knowing he is basically bizarre and unreliable, not to mention, insulting. Thanks for the new definition, suzerainty.

  8. Andres 2018. says:

    Philippines – Wants to own the disputed WPS/SCS

    China – Wants to own the disputed WPS/SCS

    United States – Wants the disputed WPS/SCS to be considered as international waters.

    United States and Philippines have different objectives with regards to WPS/SCS, thats why, Philippines will never have the support of United States against China. In short, WPS/SCS battle against China is for the Philippines to fight alone.

    • chemrock says:

      And that is why for a small fry like Phils to stand up to a big bully, must garner the support of as many people as possible — Asean, US, Europe, Japan and India. Instead your president goes around to cut off all bridges. Only the Japanese is retained, for the simple reason of the financial offers they promised. Japan too would have been putang’ed away if he did’nt see the cash dangling infront of him.

      China, just like you, would have loved to fight Phils alone, but of course.

    • If the Philippines, in enforcing her rights, is attacked by Chinese ships, the Philippines should not have to fight alone. But to get to that point, the Philippines has to demonstrate it is a respectful and reliable ally of its Mutual Defense Treaty partner. Thank you for dropping off your opinion, however.

  9. karlgarcia says:

    If Duterte will run again if the watered down compromise Cha cha is approved by the people, if he wins then God is not stupid, we are.

    In a post-Duterte world we must try to undo the mistake of selling military bases by making use of what is left and by doing some land aquisitions.
    Abolish BCDA.
    We need bases for internal and external security abd we need allies with permanent win-win interests.

    • karlgarcia says:

      Lots of things to undo, but I hope none of the stopping a semi complete project or those found with hanky panky.
      Why not complete it?
      Before senate investigations
      ensure that COA, ombudsman, etc has more bite than bark thru budget support, more personnel and more jails and prisons, more judges, courts on wherels etc.

      For community service.
      The petty crime perps must not be jailed together with other perps they must do community service like estero cleaning, school rebuilding,etc


  10. karlgarcia says:

    Chemrock, you are not a prophet of doom, just gloom in our little society of horror.


    • chemrock says:

      Thanks for the vote of confidence, at the time when it’s hard on who to believe.

      It’s just my perception of things. Some people have much lower aversion to risk its understandable where they stand.

      The bond yield is now at it’s 30 years high and inventory is $70T. And it looks like the Fed is not going to do anything about this as it continues to suck up market liquidity to the tune of $40B monthly. Something has to give, and very likely the Fed will let the equities market tank so that capital will flow into the bond market.

      • karlgarcia says:

        Oh boy, on a side note pls explain shorting and why is it legal?

        • chemrock says:

          I believe you are referring to the equities market.

          Prices in a stock exchange move up and down in a price discovery process. Shorting the market is but part of such a process. It plays a part in readjusting prices to the fundamentals of a company. In a free market there should be as little legislative constraints to the free movement of prices as much as possible. Short selling is simply an investing strategy, nothing illegal about it.

          That said, there is a distinction between a normal short selling and a naked short selling.

          Normal short selling works by a an investor short selling the stocks, but after he has made arrangement to borrow same stocks, mostly through brokers. That way, the market is assured he has stocks to deliver in the future date. Aggregate scripts are thus controlled, so there cannot be a situation of overselling on the scripts. It is however, difficult to audit this.

          Naked short selling is where investors short the market without having the confirmed capability to deliver because he has no access to scripts. This cause a situation where there are more sales than scripts available. In such cases, the investor is severely punished when he is forced to buy in, often at exhorbitant prices.

          Naked short selling is mostly banned, but normal short selling is not. Countries have differing regulations on short selling. Most prefer to have the stock exchange step in and ban short selling for short periods during bearish market. Sometimes a ban is placed only on designated companies, during times when these counters are under selling attack for some reasons.

          Short selling has a role to play in adding liquidity to the market place and in price discovery. But the danger today is in algorithym trading which tends to exacerbate a bearish market. In my opinion, an outright ban stiffles a free market. That is why legislators tend to shy from making any definite book rules, preferring the market regulators to make balanced judgements at the appropriate times.

        • chemrock says:

          Sorry, missed out on this.

          There are often instances of manipulators pushing prices up. So in this instance, short selling helps to prevent such manipulations.
          excellent tool for hedging purposes.
          Shorting is also a way some investors use to hedge their portfolios.

          Share options offer a way to play a similar game with short selling. Buy a put option in the share or stock index. So if shorting is to be banned, should we not also ban options trading. And deny the market an

    • Micha says:


      Business cycle is a feature of capitalism. Up and down. Expand, contract.

      Recessions in the US happen quite very often but without specific time intervals. It could be as frequent as every 1 or 2 years. Some occur every 4 or 5 years.

      There’s an 11 year period between the recession of 1990 (oil price shock) and the dot com bubble of 2001, the longest interval so far.

      We are now into the 9th year of recovery from the time of the last great recession (2007). That’s the reason why almost everybody is predicting that the down cycle is just around the corner. Some even said it should have happened last year already.

      There were combinations of factors why recessions happen but none, zero, is attributed to the so-called debt of the US government. NONE.

      The solvency of the US government is without question.

      Chempo’s assertion that the next US recession will be driven by the extremely huge unsustainable government debt which he likens to a rube goldberg machine is completely baseless and false.

  11. karlgarcia says:


    I found an old article about the American Infustries moving to China, now they are all in the middle of a trade war.

  12. madlanglupa says:

    Somewhat related to this topic:


    The problem with this, asides from the possibility of causing diplomatic complications, my other worry is friendly fire, blue-on-blue, because anti-tank RPGs are strongly identified with insurgents and bandits.

  13. karlgarcia says:

    If Duterte can not implement this, I hope someone can.

    Furthering Community Building: PROSPECTS AND CHALLENGES FOR THE ADMM-PLUS *
    Raymund Jose G. Quilop **
    The ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM)-Plus serves as a venue for the defense ministers of ASEAN to interact with the defense ministers of ASEAN’s eight dialogue partners (Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the US), thereby serving as a mechanism for security dialogue among the ministers. Defense ministers exchange views on regional and international defense and security issues. Beyond being a dialogue mechanism, the ADMM-Plus has become a platform for promoting practical cooperation among the defense ministries involved, particularly with the establishment of several Experts Working Groups (EWGs) on issues of common non-traditional security concerns. Deepening cooperation among the current members has also become a key thrust of the ADMM-Plus. But alongside these prospects for the ADMM-Plus, several challenges are worth noting. These include the possibility of overlap between the ADMM-Plus and a mechanism established earlier, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ability of the ADMM-Plus to manage strategic competition among regional powers (i.e., US and China) and the feasibility of venturing into cooperation in the domain of traditional security issues. This article primarily delves into the concept, purpose and dynamics of the ADMM-Plus and discusses the author’s views on the prospects and challenges of the latest ASEAN-led mechanism in the region.

  14. madlanglupa says:

    OT: Norinco copy of SVD rifle fails.

  15. admin says:

    I have no problem with the Chinese or Koreans and Japanese around. They are good neighbors. You look around at what China has done to poor countries in Africa. Compare that with what the U.S has done un Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and now in Venezuela. You are not the worlds police, why are you meddlling everywhere. That is the one scary to truly thinking Filipinos

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