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Dangerous waters

2013_aug14_editorialWHAT is the administrations game plan as it heads into talks with the Americans to hammer out a new agreement that will allow more US troops to rotate through Philippine military bases? The immediate goal, Foreign Affairs officials say, is to bring about an increase in the American presence here amid Chinas growing aggressiveness in staking its claim to portions of the South China Sea that rightly belong to us. Our region needs to know that we are steadfastly for peace, but that we stand ready to tap every resource, to call on every alliance, to do what is necessary, to defend what is ours, to secure our nation and to keep our people safe, said Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario. The larger American presence in the Philippines, Del Rosario added, would serve as an added deterrent against foreign intrusions into the countrys territorial waters while the ill-equipped Armed Forces tries to modernize. What has not been adequately proved, however, is whether the larger number of American soldiers here will in fact serve as a deterrent, or if it will be seen by China as a provocative act that will further fuel tensions between Manila and Beijing. The Palace is disturbingly dismissive to the possibility of an adverse Chinese reaction to the US troop buildup, with the Presidents abrasive spokesman declaring that this would be their problem, not ours. The sound byte might seem cleveruntil a full-blown crisis develops. Assuming a scenario in which Chinese vessels continue to steam in and out of the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, what will the American troops rotating through the Philippines actually do? Will Washington issue a threat to use military force to protect Philippine territory? Will they scramble their jets and engage the Chinese on our behalf? The suggestion is ludicrous. One of the negotiators for the Philippine side, Defense Undersecretary Pio Batino, says the Philippines might be able to use temporarily deployed US military equipment for maritime security, maritime domain awareness and humanitarian assistance. As we do not see the Americans entrusting multi-million-dollar fighter jets to Filipino pilots, we would like to know, specifically, what kind of equipment this administration is hoping to borrow in our defense. Or do they expect American pilots to fly reconnaissance missions over the disputed territories? The administrations double talk favors vagueness when the demand for transparency requires specificity. The decision to increase the number of foreign troops on our soil is a serious piece of business that demands a clear vision of what we are trying to achieve, and a national consensus that this is indeed the way we should go. Full transparency means the public must not only be informed about the potential gains, but also about the real risks involved. When navigating dangerous waters, prudence and deliberation seem infinitely more advisable than the haste and arrogance that this administration has shown thus far.
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