An apocalyptic scenario
By Manuel Almario
Philippine Daily Inquirer
9:13 pm | Friday, August 9th, 2013
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In a haunting passage on the prospect of nuclear war engulfing the Philippines because of a wrong-headed foreign policy, the great nationalist Sen. Claro M. Recto, declared:
“Let not Macaulay’s traveler from New Zealand, exploring the spectral ruins of Manila in the course of his post-atomic peregrinations, and cautiously testing the radioactive waters of the Pasig, from the broken arches of the Quezon Bridge, have cause to ponder that in those shattered tenements and poisoned fields and rivers once lived a nation unique in the annals of mankind, free men who put their liberties on the auction block, a sacrificial race with a mysterious urge to suicide, who, being weak and weaponless, took upon themselves the quarrels of the strong, and having been warned of their abandonment, still persisted in their lonely course, and whose brutalized and monstrously deformed survivors, scrambling with stunted limbs in the infected debris of their liberated cities, had forgotten even the echo of the memory of the strange illusion for which their race had fought and perished.” (“A Mendicant Foreign Policy,” commencement speech at the University of the Philippines, 1951)
Recto issued this dire warning in urging the removal of the US military bases in our country, which he described as a “magnet” for nuclear missiles should a war erupt between the United States and the Soviet Union, which were then engaged in a Cold War that threatened to break out in an atomic Armageddon. It was not until 1991 that our Senate, in a rare surge of nationalism, agreed with Recto’s proposition and terminated the Philippines-US Bases Agreement dating back to 1947. The bases were converted into revenue- and employment-generating economic zones.
Today, under the guise of a “Visiting Forces” Agreement, American boots are once more on the ground in the Philippines, but no longer confined to Subic or Clark Field. They now have access to all parts of our archipelago from Batanes to Sulu, and are engaged in unending military exercises with our own underequipped and underpaid soldiers. For all practical purposes, our entire country has become a military base of the United States, albeit with rotating personnel and equipment.
One is led to wonder why, with the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 2001, there should be a need to once more convert our country into an American garrison. Surely, and as our government constantly assures us, it is still fully competent to meet the challenge of a few thousand New People’s Army guerrillas and Moro rebels. Inviting the mightiest military power to help our troops crush rebels who are severely outgunned and clearly outnumbered is like driving an Abrams battle tank over an anthill.
Until the “Pivot.” The United States, fresh from its triumphant wars and regime changes in the Middle East, leaving dead bodies and cities in ruins, has started to pivot 60 percent of its military to the Pacific, purportedly to keep the sea lanes free for international trade, travel and shipping.
Significantly, the previously dormant conflicting territorial claims over islets, shoals and rocks in the West Philippine/South China Sea have flared into a war of words and a standoff of maritime vessels between the Philippines and China. In the East China Sea, a naval and air confrontation has burst between China and Japan over two uninhabited islands, called Senkaku by the Japanese and Diaoyu by the Chinese.
Both the Philippines and Japan are allied to the United States. They each have formal mutual defense treaties with the American Goliath. Aware that they are no match to the rising Asian giant, they are relying on the still globally dominant US military to back them in case of a breakout of war by accident or design.
Both China and the United States are nuclear powers. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China, a newcomer in nuclear armament, raised the number of its nuclear warheads from 240 to 250 in 2012, while the United States has 7,700 atomic warheads, and Russia has 8,500 nuclear warheads. They all have missiles capable of delivering the warheads to each other’s cities and military installations.
China and Russia are also allies. They recently conducted their own joint military, naval and air exercises in the East China Sea, while the United States and Japan were also holding their own exercises. As part of the pivot, the United States has deployed Marines to Australia.
In the words of Winston Churchill, there is a “gathering storm,” this time not over Europe, but over Asia and the Pacific. Should war break out, there is no guarantee that it will not morph into a nuclear war involving all the big powers, including the small ones like the Philippines and Australia.
A creepy development is that Japan is once more reviving its militarist spirit. Its newly elected prime minister, Shinzo Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party, has proposed amending the Japanese Constitution to remove the provision prohibiting Japan from developing its armed forces except for defense.
If this happens, and Japan is able to build a military capable of offensive action, who will guarantee that its imperial ambitions that led to the invasion of China, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations during World War II, will not resurrect? The Japanese would not even apologize for making our women their sex slaves during the war, or for their massacre of civilians during the “Liberation of Manila.” It is unsettling that our government reportedly intends to give the Japanese armed forces access to Subic and Clark.
Certainly, the Philippines should stand pat on its sovereign rights. Taking the dispute to the United Nations for arbitration is the right move. China is put on the defensive before world opinion by our resort to the rule of international law. But prudence dictates that we should refrain from entering pell-mell into the quarrels of the giants lest we be crushed when they collide. President Aquino showed deep concern for the safety of his people in not mentioning the territorial dispute with China in his fourth State of the Nation Address so as not to unnecessarily agitate further the restless waters of the Pacific.
When the nuclear warheads start flying, the apocalyptic vision of Senator Recto of nuclear bombs radiating death and destruction on our country may materialize. But by that time the war hawks may also have perished, or if they live in foreign lands, may luckily survive, perhaps weeping copiously over the folly of their war whoops.
Manuel F. Almario (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a veteran journalist, semi-retired, and is spokesperson of the Movement for Truth in History, Rizal’s MOTH.