Economy, Global issues, Privatization

ADB: Anti-Development Bank

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is holding its 45th annual meeting from May 2 to 5 in Manila. Some 4,000 delegates including finance ministers and central bank governors from ADB’s member-countries; as well as representatives of big business, international financial institutions (IFIs), transnational banks, credit rating agencies, global media, and even so-called civil society are attending the said event. With the theme “inclusive growth through better governance and partnerships”, the event will mark the 15th time that the ADB has held its annual meeting in Manila. Venues have been arranged at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).

The ADB was founded in 1966 and now has 67 members. It’s one of the global financial institutions set up by the industrial powers to fund their programs and projects in backward countries. Together with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other IFIs, the ADB bankrolled numerous restructuring efforts that aim to liberalize, deregulate and privatize the economies of many countries in the Asia Pacific. These reforms have been implemented through huge and burdensome debts. The Philippines is a founding member of the ADB and has been hosting the bank’s main headquarters since its inception.

ADB’s 45th meeting is an opportune time for the Filipino people to register its strongest condemnation of the multilateral bank that has been funding numerous anti-poor economic reforms and destructive projects in the country.

Neoliberal offensive in energy

In the Philippines, ADB’s disastrous impact is most felt in the energy sector through the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (Epira) and the neoliberal reforms implemented in the sector in the past two decades. The ADB started funding the power sector reforms through loans and equity investments to independent power producers (IPPs) as well as guarantees for bonds issued by the National Power Corp. (Napocor). Due to sweetheart deals with the IPPs, Napocor further went deeper in debt, which the ADB used to justify its total privatization.

As Napocor’s largest creditor, the ADB aggressively pressured the national government to fully privatize the state-owned power firm and enact the Epira. In 1994, it funded a study that eventually became the basis of the then Ramos administration’s blueprint for power sector restructuring. This blueprint took the form of an Omnibus Power Bill that was filed in 1996 that aimed to privatize Napocor and restructure the power industry. The Omnibus Power Bill would later become the Epira, a process that was bankrolled by the ADB’s $300-million 1998 Power Sector Restructuring Program (PSRP). To access the loan, the ADB listed 61 specific conditionalities that the government should follow, including designing content and legislation of the Epira.

Even Epira’s actual implementation is being funded by the ADB. Since 2002, the ADB has approved an estimated $1.3 billion in loans to support the various programs and projects under Epira. These include debts to guarantee the bond issuance and improve the creditworthiness of the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (Psalm), which Epira put up to oversee the privatization of Napocor, and establish the wholesale electricity spot market (WESM).

Under Epira, electricity bills have soared amid energy insecurity such as the case in Mindanao. According to one study, the power rates for residential users in Manila and Cebu are the first and third most expensive in Asia, respectively. Even the supposedly “cheap” electricity rates in Mindanao are still much more expensive than the rates in more progressive Asian cities like Hong Kong, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul. Since Epira was implemented, the rates of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) have jumped by 112% while the rates of the Napocor have increased by 95 percent.

Meanwhile, the lack of energy security is the result of government’s abandonment of its mandate to invest in the rehabilitation of existing plants and construction of new ones. Instead of ensuring that there is enough energy supply consistent with a long-term industrialization plan, government used its time and resources to dispose the generation and transmission assets of Napocor as mandated by Epira.

Anti-poor reforms

Aside from the neoliberal restructuring of the power sector, the ADB has also aggressively promoted various privatization and commercialization initiatives including in water utilities, irrigation, dam, and the National Food Authority (NFA), among others. These reforms have resulted in food insecurity and in skyrocketing cost of living.

Privatization is one of the major programs of the ADB in the Philippines, including the public-private partnership (PPP) initiative of the Aquino administration. ADB is the main funder of the Project Development and Monitoring Facility (PDMF), which is government’s revolving fund for feasibility studies for projects under the PPP scheme. The ADB has already committed $21 million for the PDMF.

Furthermore, the ADB also bankrolled a 1993-1994 study that became the basis of the destructive Mining Act of 1995. This program, which liberalized the Philippine mining industry, has paved the way for the further wanton plunder of the country’s mineral resources, the destruction of the environment, and dislocation of communities.

Oppressive debt

Worse, these anti-development and anti-poor programs have been funded by onerous ADB loans. The ADB is now the country’s single largest foreign creditor. As of 2011, the country owes the ADB around $5.84 billion, which is almost 10% of the total foreign debt of the Philippines pegged at $16.71 billion. Among the multilateral creditors, the ADB accounts for more than 50% of the country’s total multilateral debt. All in all, the country has accumulated the fifth largest debt from the ADB, accounting for about 8% of total sovereign lending.

Due to automatic debt servicing, a huge portion of the national budget is being siphoned off by debt servicing, leaving almost nothing for social services. For 2012, for instance, the Aquino administration is ready to spend P738.6 billion for debt servicing, including interest payments and principal amortization. This is much bigger than the P575.8 billion that government is willing to spend for education, social security, health services, housing, land reform, and other social services.

To smokescreen the harsh effects of the neoliberal reforms that it has been sponsoring and the lack of resources for social services due to debt servicing, the ADB – together with the World Bank – is also funding the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program of the Aquino administration. Under the CCT, government provides direct cash assistance of as much as P1,400 to selected poor families on the condition that pregnant mothers will have their regular checkup and school age children will regularly go to class. But aside from being highly temporary and limited, the CCT also further deepens the indebtedness of the Philippines. The ADB is funding the CCT to the tune of $400 million in loans while the World Bank is also lending $405 million for the program.

Strong protest

ADB’s theme of inclusive growth for its meeting this year reflects the main theme of the host government’s Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011-2016. Under the PDP, inclusive growth is supposed to be achieved by expanding the domestic economy by 7-8%, which will generate jobs and livelihood and alleviate poverty. But Aquino’s inclusive growth means the implementation of the same policies and programs of liberalization, deregulation and privatization that the ADB – together with the IMF, World Bank and other global imperialist institutions – has long been imposing on the country.

We should not let the ADB meeting pass without registering our strong opposition to its decades of intervention in Philippine policy making and to the many programs that it has bankrolled through odious debts that perpetuate the backwardness of our economy and the poverty of our people. (end)

Global issues, Military & war

“2+2” equals more secret US bases in PH

The 2+2 meeting in Washington could lead to the establishment of more covert US “military bases” in the country such as the bases being maintained by the JSOTF-P (Photo from

The 28th Balikatan exercises ended with the “usual thank yous”, said an Inquirer report. “As the curtain closes down on this year’s Balikatan, I would like to express my gratitude to the American soldiers… who gave their invaluable time to share their experiences…” General Jessie Dellosa, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said during the closing ceremony.

First of its kind

But the curtain never truly closes for the US troops in the Philippines. Because while the Balikatan has already been concluded, the supposedly visiting American soldiers will not leave. About 600 of them – perhaps even more – will continue to stay in the country as part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P), established under the 1999 PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

And when the so-called 2+2 meeting on April 30 is over, we could be seeing more US troops – maybe thousands – deployed, on so-called “rotational” basis, on our shores soon. The 2+2 meeting, which will be held in Washington, is described as “the first of its kind” in Philippine-US relations. To underscore its significance for the country, the Department of National Defense (DND) said that the US has had similar meetings only with Japan and South Korea, America’s most reliable allies in East Asia.

And while the meeting that will be attended by DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Sec. Albert del Rosario, US Defense Sec. Leon Panetta and State Sec. Hillary Clinton will also discuss economic and political cooperation, what everyone is anticipating are details of how Manila and Washington will strengthen military relations.

Chinese assertiveness

The military aspect of the upcoming talks has generated increased public interest due to the ongoing Scarborough Shoal standoff between the Philippines and China. Filipino and American officials, abetted by the local mainstream media, have used the perceived Chinese bullying to highlight the supposed potential benefits for the Philippines of deepened military relations with the US.

China’s assertive stance in its dispute with the country over the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands is being used to justify increased US military presence and intervention in the Philippines and in the region. While this serves US’s agenda in Asia Pacific, it also raises further risks to peace and development in the region and to the national sovereignty of the Philippines. (Read more on this here)

Sustaining global presence

Meanwhile, one of the expected results of the 2+2 meeting is the conduct of more frequent and bigger joint military exercises and the deployment of more US troops here like those under the JSOFT-P. This is consistent with the latest defense strategy of the Obama administration. As I have written in a previous post:

Updating existing military alliances and forging new ones, however, have to be pursued in the midst of the harsh economic realities facing the US. Amid its raging public debt crisis that has been caused in part by costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration released this month its latest defense strategy document Sustaining US global leadership: Priorities for 21st century defense. The document was the result of “an assessment of US defense strategy in the light of the changing geopolitical environment and changing fiscal circumstances”.

Consequently, the latest US defense strategy calls for developing “innovative, low-cost and small-footprint approaches” to achieve US security objectives, relying on bilateral and multilateral training exercises, rotational deployments and advisory capabilities. This will allow US forces to “conduct a sustainable pace of presence operations abroad” and at the same time let it commit to a large-scale operation in one region while still having the capability to impose “unacceptable costs” on an aggressor in a second region.

New types of bases

To house the additional troops, the 2+2 meeting could lead to the establishment of more covert US “military bases” in the country such as Forward Operating Sites (FOSs) and Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs). These types of bases are much smaller than traditional US foreign military bases.

The US Overseas Basing Commission, the official body tasked to review US military basing in other countries, describes FOSs as “expandable ‘warm facilities’ maintained with a limited US military support presence and possibly prepositioned equipment; it supports rotational rather than permanently stationed forces and be a focus for bilateral and regional training.” CSLs, on the other hand, are “facilities with little or no permanent US presence. Instead they will be maintained with periodic service, contractor, or host-nation support. CSLs will provide contingency access and be a focal point for security cooperation activities.” For US strategic planners, the expansion of FOSs and CSLs in key locations worldwide “adds to operational flexibility, preserves a presence abroad, and serves to strengthen alliance relationships.”

Essential for US operations

In the Philippines, the headquarters of the JSOTF-P inside Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City where it has based since 2002 is considered an example of an FOS or sometimes referred to as forward operating base (FOB) in some US military papers. Read, for instance, a 2004 monograph on Army special operations forces, which used Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF-P) in Mindanao as a case study. The OEF-P was pushed by then President George W. Bush supposedly to combat the Abu Sayyaf and covers Mindanao as its area of operation (AO).

As narrated in the monograph, the Joint Task Force (JTF)-510 – JSOTF-P’s predecessor – “set up an FOB on the southern tip of the Mindanao Island near Zamboanga City”, specifically the Edwin Andrews Air Base (EAAB) because “basing was essential for OEF-P”. It also described the role of an FOB in US military operations: “The FOB at EAAB was the logistical hub within the AO for all operations. All US forces flowed in the FOB before conducting operations… From Okinawa, all assets and personnel flew into the JTF’s AO via the FOB at EABB on Mindanao. FOB EAAB served as a transloading point, logistical hub for the forces on Mindanao and Basilan, and housed air assets.”

Covert bases

The location of these bases is not willingly disclosed to the public by authorities in an effort not to attract too much attention to the presence of US troops as well as to undercut criticisms against US military basing in the Philippines which is a violation of the Constitution. Even so, US military documents such as the monograph cited earlier would confirm the existence of US bases in the Philippines.

Another such document is the 2005 report of the US Overseas Basing Commission, which disclosed that: “A series of CSLs are being developed in India, Thailand, Philippines, and Australia that will be able to provide logistics arrangements for support throughout the region. Many of these will simply be fueling arrangements and perhaps some pre-positioned stocks.” The Philippine government, however, has not confirmed the existence of these CSLs, much less disclose their locations.

But in an August 2009 affidavit, former Philippine Navy Lt. Sr. Grade Nancy Gadian revealed that since 2002, the US has established “permanent and continuous presence” in southern Mindanao as she identified possible CSLs in Zamboanga City, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. The table below summarizes her testimony describing the location and features of US presence/basing in Mindanao.

It was also Gadian who exposed the anomalous use of P46 million in Balikatan funds by high ranking AFP officials. She was the officer in charge of the Civil Military Operations (CMO) Fusion Cell for Balikatan 2007. In 2001, Gadian was one of the planners of the Balikatan 2002 (held in Pampanga) and of Balikatan 2002-1 (held in Mindanao).

Violates sovereignty

Aside from those identified by Gadian, another possible CSL is located inside Camp Ranao in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur which was unknown to the public until the reported death of Gregan Cardeño, an interpreter hired by the Americans for an elite unit of US Special Forces called the Liaison Coordination Elements (LCE). Cardeño died on Feb. 2, 2010 under dubious circumstances, telling relatives before his death that his job “was hard and not what he expected”. Less than two months later, Capt. Javier Ignacio of the Philippine Army – a friend of the Cardeños helping to shed light on his death – was shot dead by still  unidentified gun men.

Certainly, there are many other military facilities set up and being used by US troops in the Philippines, including in Luzon and Visayas, which the public does not know. But their number could further increase as Philippine-US military relations further deepen in the coming years. This blatantly violates Philippine sovereignty and an infringement of the Constitution which does not allow the basing of foreign troops in the country.

Consequently, more atrocities involving American soldiers such as the case of Cardeño could arise. Just recently, another Filipino died – fisherman Ahbam Juhurin – in what was a supposedly “sea mishap” involving US troops conducting “routine maritime activity” in Basilan. While some may argue that this latest incident was just an accident, Juhurin’s death still raises a fundamental question – why do we allow US troops to base in our country and patrol our seas, lands, and air? (end)

Global issues, Military & war

Obama’s dreaded drone war arrives in PH

The use of lethal military technology from the US violates Philippine sovereignty and puts Filipinos in great danger (Photo from

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has denied that it used US-satellite guided missiles or smart bombs in an operation against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu last month. It was in reaction to an Associated Press (AP) report claiming that US smart bombs were used in the February 2 air raid that allegedly killed an ASG commander and two top Southeast Asian terrorists along with 12 others. AP claimed that its report was confirmed by four senior Philippine security officials.

Earlier, another article in the Asia Times Online said that the Sulu operation used unmanned aerial assault craft or drones provided by the US. (See illustration below) The article claimed that it was the first known use of US drones in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) counter-terrorism operations. No less than President Benigno Aquino III admitted that US drones are circling over the country but supposedly only for reconnaissance. The AP report also said that US drones were used but only provided thermal imaging of the aftermath of the air attack. But the clandestine nature of drone missions leaves us nothing to rely on but the assurance by the rabidly pro-US Aquino. And his assurance does not answer the basic question – if US drones can fly over the country secretly from locations we do not know, what prevents them from launching attacks on Philippine soil?

Illustration from

The official account of the air raid on the ASG lair claims that the military used “smart pilots” and not smart bombs. A PAF commander based in Zamboanga City appealed to skeptics to “please credit our Air Force”. OV-10s, the aircraft used in the attack, are too old to handle guided missiles, he said, while admitting that the pilots were trained by US forces.

Thus, whether drones, guided missiles, or simply smart pilots were the key, what is clear is that the US played a crucial role in the Sulu operation. However, the use of drones and smart bombs, which are not totally unfounded allegations, steps up US military intervention in the Philippines, raising anew serious concerns on national sovereignty and possible escalation of US atrocities against innocent Filipino civilians.

Unmanned aerial vehicles

Many do not buy the official PAF account of the Sulu air strike. One of them is a former PAF pilot, Captain Joenel Pogoy. Pogoy, detained for two years after exposing corruption in the air force, maintains that it is unbelievable that OV-10s were used in carrying out the attack in Sulu. Without possible enemy fire, the minimum altitude of an OV-10 should not be below 500 feet above ground level (AGL), Pogoy explained. But if there is an expected enemy attack, it should fly at least 1,000 AGL. He added that OV-10s should fly higher during night operation because of terrain height variation. Pogoy seriously doubts that OV-10s – even if manned by smart pilots as claimed by PAF – could achieve pinpoint accuracy in a mission conducted at 3 AM in a Sulu jungle. The only logical explanation is that drones were used, Pogoy said.

That the PAF could have employed drones from the US in the Sulu operation, which reportedly killed Umbra Jumdail or “Doc Abu” (an ASG commander), Singaporean Muhamda Ali (a member of Jemaah Islamiyah or JI), and Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir (a top JI leader and one of Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorists) is not farfetched. The US has long been using drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the region, including the Philippines. In fact, a number of US drones has reportedly crashed or shot down in Mindanao including in Zamboanga (2002), Sulu (2006 and 2007), and Maguindanao (2008).

The current US drone program, under the auspices of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), started immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Previously used for simple intelligence gathering, the drones were armed and used for assassination of targeted individual terrorist leaders, even including those outside official war zones, thus further inflaming the fundamental question of US intervention and sovereignty issues. It was first used in February 2002 in the former mujaheeden base Zhawar Kili in Afghanistan against a “tall man” that CIA operatives thought was Osama bin Laden. It turned out that the target was an impoverished Afghan scavenging for scrap metal, according to journalists who probed the incident. He was killed with two others that the CIA, despite the later admission that the tall man was not bin Laden, insisted were “legitimate” targets. (Read brief history of US drone program here)

Under the Obama administration, it has been noted that the use of drones in America’s counterterrorism campaign has greatly intensified. President Barack Obama has not only publicly recognized US drone strikes but has even defended them saying that a “pinpoint strike” is “less intrusive” of other countries’ sovereignty than other military ways to target al Qaeda. (Watch video below).

Was the use of US drones to eliminate al Qaeda-linked terrorists basing in Sulu “less intrusive” of Philippine sovereignty? Not for countries like Pakistan, which is demanding that US drones be removed from their country; and Iran, which captured a US drone flying over their airspace calling it an invasion and dangerous act.

Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, deploys a missile-bearing drone about once every four days while former President George Bush, who initiated the discredited US global war on terror, deploys a drone only once every 47 days, according to one estimate. The US today is also said to be spending more than nine times on drones than when the CIA first used attack drones under the war on terror in 2002.

“isn’t perfect, never is”

Worse, the use of remote-controlled aircraft does not only seriously impinge on other countries’ national sovereignty. Their increased use under Obama has also resulted in a significant number of civilians killed. Pakistan is a case in point. According to data culled by non-profit think tank New America Foundation, there were only 42 US drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004 to 2008. When Obama took over in 2009, the number went up to 53, and more than doubled to 118 in 2010. Last year, there were 70 reported US drone strikes in Pakistan, and 11 so far this year (as of March 13, 2012). The New America said that based on their account, some 17% or almost two out of every 10 people killed by US drones were neither leaders nor members of al Qaeda, Taliban, or any terrorist group. From 2004 to 2012, it has monitored 290 reported drone strikes that killed as much as 2,764 people, of which almost 470 were civilians. One example is the case of a 12-year old Pakistani boy who was killed in a drone attack on Oct. 31, 2011 as exposed by UK-based lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, a campaigner against the use of drones. The child victim had volunteered to help Smith by taking photos of people killed by US drones. In Yemen, an Al Jazeera report said that drone attacks have become more frequent than in Pakistan, killing up to 500 people many of whom were civilians.

The same danger is true with so-called smart bombs, which are not as smart as claimed. For instance, during the February 2001 air attacks on Iraq launched by the US and Britain, Pentagon admitted that most of the smart bombs missed their targets. A separate account said that the bombs missed their targets by as much as 100 meters. US defense officials gave the bombs an accuracy of “about a B minus or a C plus”. In the Kosovo War, it turned out that the accuracy of the smart bombs used by British forces was only 40 percent. In another incident, US smart bombs “accidentally” hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo War. Former Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral Craig Quigley described air strikes using smart bombs this way: “It isn’t perfect. It never is…” Unfortunately for the population where these bombs are being dropped, even the slightest miscalculation could prove massively fatal.

Projecting US power

Drones, together with special operations troops, are expected to play an increasingly more prominent role in US global defense strategy. Facing its worst economic crisis since the 1930s Great Depression, the US has been forced to cut back on its defense spending to address its burgeoning debt and budget deficit. Consequently, it has been looking for more cost-effective ways – in the economic as well as political sense – to continually project US military might globally.

In its budget request for fiscal year 2013, the US Defense department is calling for a 30% increase in its fleet of armed drones in the coming years, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Quoting Defense officials, the WSJ said that from the current 61 drone combat patrols around the clock, with up to four drones in each patrol, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta intends to “operate 65 combat air patrols constantly with the ability to temporarily surge to 85 combat air patrols.” US defense officials are also planning to deploy more special operations teams at a growing number of “lily pads” or forward operating bases (FOBs). The US plans to increase special forces by 10%, from 63,750 this year to 70,000 by 2015. (See illustration below)

Illustration from

The increased use of secretive combat drones and special forces will be felt in the Philippines and the rest of the Asia Pacific, which the US has given a more prominent role in its current defense strategy that has special attention on China. (Read document here and analysis here) Negotiations are ongoing between Philippine and US defense and foreign affairs officials to expand US military presence here including the deployment of more special forces, holding more and bigger military exercises, and stationing of US Navy ships. Meanwhile, the largest Balikatan war games yet have been scheduled from April 16 to 27, involving 4,500 personnel from the US Pacific Command. And of course, the admission by Aquino that deadly US drones have been regularly flying over Philippine airspace from undisclosed destinations. Aside from the Philippines, Australia has also already committed to host up to 2,500 US Marines in Darwin in Northern Australia as well as possibly allowing the basing of long-range US drones on Cocos Islands, atolls in the Indian Ocean off northwest Australia.

The idea of people in supposedly sovereign countries being killed at a touch of a button by unaccountable and anonymous CIA operatives from some remote area pushes the cold-bloodedness of US intervention to unprecedented heights.

The use of lethal military technology from the US and the increased presence of their troops in the Philippines seriously violate our sovereignty as a country while further inflaming our internal conflict and unnecessarily escalating our tension with China. The Aquino administration, behind the pretext of improving our national security and protecting the country’s territorial integrity, is putting the Filipino people in a great and unimaginable danger. #

Global issues, Military & war

US agenda in Asia and the risks that Aquino is courting

Officials say the Philippines needs more US troops to counter China's "bullying", but is it really for the national interest? (Photo from

Manila and Washington have both denied that the bilateral strategic dialogue between their senior diplomats and defense officials last week intends to bring back permanent American military bases in the Philippines. The talks, they said, is just meant to explore increased US military presence in the country such as conducting more joint exercises and rotating more American troops.

Officials said that the threat posed by China to both countries justifies the direction that the dialogue aims to pursue. The US State Department declared that protecting the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is an interest shared by the Philippines and the US. Its Defense Department said that they want to discuss how America’s enhanced posture in Asia can be useful to the Philippines. Meanwhile, for our Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), “we need to have a good neighbor on the block” so that the country can no longer be bullied by China.

What’s driving America’s renewed interest in Asia? Is it really for the national interest to play an eager part in the US agenda in the region?  Or is the Aquino administration courting undue risks by hosting heightened US military presence and upping the ante in the country’s territorial dispute with China?

Economic crisis drives US pivot to Asia

The expanded military cooperation with the Philippines forms part of Washington’s “pivot” to Asia, as State Secretary Hillary Clinton called the shift in US focus from Afghanistan and Iraq to Asia, where “the future of politics will be decided”. This pivot is being driven by the ever worsening crisis of global capitalism of which the US is the center. In an essay entitled America’s Pacific Century in November last year, Clinton wrote that Asia will yield the biggest returns in US investments at a time when the country is facing a severe economic crisis. Clinton described Asia as central to US economic and strategic interests with its vast markets and investment areas crucial to its own economic recovery.

Under the Obama administration, the US has been steadily laying the groundwork for a reinvigorated American economic clout in Asia. In last year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Hawaii, President Barack Obama was able to secure wide support for the US-sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal to enhance US free trade and investment with the region. The agreement, which the Philippines will soon join, is expected to be finalized this year. Its increasing economic interests in Asia thus necessitate the refocusing of US military projection in the region.

Expanded military ties

The Philippines, along with Japan, South Korea, Australia and Thailand, have long maintained treaty alliances with the US. But the ascent of China as an economic behemoth has posed new challenges for American interests in the region. China is being depicted as having the greatest potential to compete militarily with the US and a threat to the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which for the first time is being considered as a matter of US national interest. Thus, as Clinton wrote, there is a need not only to sustain but to “update” US’s existing alliances which will serve as the fulcrum of its pivot to Asia. This entails the expansion of existing military cooperation and forging new ties for defense and security.

When finalized, the deal with the Philippines will follow improved US military arrangements with other long-time allies like Australia and Singapore. The pact with Australia allows the US to station up to 2,500 Marines in a military base in Darwin while the deal with Singapore will let it station combat Navy ships for forward deployment. The US has been building up as well its military relations with Vietnam through joint naval exercises, and in August last year, the former Cold War foes forged their first formal military deal. It is also aggressively pursuing new bilateral ties including even with Burma, which Clinton visited last December – the first trip by a US Secretary of State in more than half a century.

US priorities for 21st century defense

Updating existing military alliances and forging new ones, however, have to be pursued in the midst of the harsh economic realities facing the US. Amid its raging public debt crisis that has been caused in part by costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration released this month its latest defense strategy document Sustaining US global leadership: Priorities for 21st century defense. The document was the result of “an assessment of US defense strategy in the light of the changing geopolitical environment and changing fiscal circumstances”.

Consequently, the latest US defense strategy calls for developing “innovative, low-cost and small-footprint approaches” to achieve US security objectives, relying on bilateral and multilateral training exercises, rotational deployments and advisory capabilities. This will allow US forces to “conduct a sustainable pace of presence operations abroad” and at the same time let it commit to a large-scale operation in one region while still having the capability to impose “unacceptable costs” on an aggressor in a second region. But given its reduced resources, the US needs to make thoughtful choices on the location and frequency of these operations. As mentioned, Asia is high on Obama’s list of security priorities. Apparently referring to the South China Sea, the defense strategy reaffirmed US commitment to “assure access to and use of global commons by maintaining relevant and interoperable military capabilities”.

Economic sanction

News of expanded PH-US military cooperation earned strong condemnation from Global Times, one of the mouthpieces of the Chinese government. In its editorial Make Philippines pay for balancing act, the broadsheet denounced the Philippines for inviting more US troops and increased presence by using the territorial dispute in the South China Sea. It called for well “well-measured sanctions” against the Philippines and “make it ponder the choice of losing a friend such as China and being a vain partner of the US”. Global Times proposed that China “consider cooling down its business ties with the Philippines”.

While not an official policy statement of the Chinese government, what the Global Times editorial said is not an empty threat. It underscored one of the risks that come with Aquino’s excessively pro-US foreign policy. The export-oriented Philippine economy has seen the demand for its products abroad decline amid the raging global crisis, substantially slowing down gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Philippine exports have contracted by 5.6% from January to November 2011 with exports to the US, which is at the center of the crisis, falling by 6.2 percent. On the contrary, amid the contraction in exports to the US, exports to China remained robust, growing by almost 9.9% during the same period.

False sense of security

More importantly, increased US presence presents a continuing risk to the country’s national sovereignty and its people. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which Filipino and American officials said will remain the basis of expanded military cooperation, has allowed the virtual permanent basing here of as many as 600 US soldiers that for legal experts and some legislators is an infringement of the 1987 Constitution. Several cases of human rights violations and other abuses involving American troops have been reported including the highly controversial Subic rape case.

And worse, while the Philippines is willing to face these risks, Aquino is clinging to a false sense of security by inviting more American soldiers and more US military ships in the country. Last year, the US embassy in Manila clarified that the US “does not take side in regional territorial disputes” in reaction to a Malacañang statement saying that Washington will surely honor its commitment with the Philippines and come to the aid of the country in case a military conflict erupts in the South China Sea. Instead, the US will simply arm the Philippines by selling it “affordable military hardware” so that it can “defend itself”. Ironically, the possibility of an actual military conflict with China is being stoked by aggressive projection of US military might in the region in connivance with the Aquino administration, putting the country and our people at risk.

In the end, the question is not which party to side with, but how the Philippines can best protect its territorial integrity. It is not in our interest to play a willing part in US military maneuverings in the region. If there is a perception that China is bullying us, the solution is not to run for help to a bigger bully. Diplomacy within the framework of mutually beneficial relations with our neighbors in the region should be our utmost weapon. Clearly, the best foreign policy is one that is anchored on the assertion of national sovereignty and not one that relies on a Big Brother to protect the country’s interests. #

Global issues

Imperialist war for oil in Libya and the MENA region

Imperialist intervention in the name of oil has caused unspeakable harm to civilian lives and property

(This article was first published by the Philippine Online Chronicles)

The conflict in Libya has taken on a new dimension with the so-called “no-fly zone” resolution of the United Nations (UN) Security Council. The said body’s Resolution 1973 has given members the green light to “take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack” by Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and “to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights” over the beleaguered country.

Immediately, France has deployed fighter jets over Libya and bombed a number of pro-Qaddafi tanks as French President Nicolas Sarkozy declare that “we are intervening to allow the Libyan people to themselves choose their destiny” and “to protect the civilian population from the murderous folly” of the Qaddafi regime. American and British ships followed, firing cruise missiles at Qaddafi’s radar systems, communications centers, and surface-to-air missile sites as US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron echo the statement by Sarkozy.

Behind the pretext of preventing more civilian casualties, the ultimate political objective of the military intervention in Libya is to unseat Qaddafi at all costs. As British Foreign Affairs Secretary William Hague has proclaimed, “Gadhafi must go”. France has earlier declared that it recognizes the rebel Libyan National Council as the “sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people”. The National Council has been set up by the rebels as the political body that will oversee the transition period in a post-Qaddafi Libya.

MENA’s oil riches

But the control of oil has always been the overarching context in the long and bloody history of imperialist intervention in the Middle East and North Africa or the MENA region where majority of the planet’s oil resources can be found. The industrial world consumes much of the planet’s oil resources – the US alone accounts for almost 23 percent of global oil consumption while the European Union (EU) comprises almost 17 percent. But they do not have enough oil in their own territories to satisfy the ever growing needs of their factories, militaries, and populations. Proved US oil reserves are just about over 1 percent of the world total and the EU, just less than 0.4 percent. Imperialism knows very well that who controls the world’s oil resources rules the world.

Thus, from orchestrating coup d’état to unseat Iran’s Prime Minister in 1953 to outright war of aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq to install puppet regimes under the guise of post-9/11 war on terror, the US, Britain, and company have repeatedly intruded in the region to keep control of its oil. Countries in the MENA region together account for more than 39 percent of oil traded internationally and 35 percent of global production, according to the US Congressional Research Service (CRS). More importantly, the MENA region holds almost 59 percent of the world’s proved oil reserves.

Libya is the second largest oil producer and exporter in North Africa behind Algeria. At 1.8 million barrels per day (MBD), Libya’s production is 2.1% of world production, while its exports of 1.5 MBD account for 2.9 percent of global exports. More than 90 percent of Libyan oil exports are shipped to Europe where more than 40 percent go to Italy, more than 20 percent to Germany, more than 7 percent to France, and smaller shipments to Spain and Greece. But its oil resources are greatly under-utilized considering that Libya has some 47 billion barrels of proved oil reserves – the largest in North Africa and 3.5 times the size of Algeria’s oil reserves. Libya’s oil reserves are also the sixth biggest in the whole MENA region behind Middle Eastern giants Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the ninth largest in the world. Moreover, only a quarter of Libya’s surface territory has been explored so far, making industry experts believe that new discoveries will dwarf the size of its current proved oil reserves.

Oil TNCs in Libya

It is not as though the West does not have access to Libyan oil. Even after Qaddafi has nationalized the oil industry, some transnational corporations (TNCs) continued their exploitation of oil in Libya through production sharing arrangements with the National Oil Corporation (NOC), a set up that Qaddafi had to enter into because of these TNCs’ monopoly over production and exploration technology, not to mention their overwhelming control over marketing networks worldwide.

At present, the biggest and most active foreign oil company in Libya is Italy’s ENI through its affiliate Agip North Africa BV that has been operating in the country since 1960 and produces about 16 percent of Libyan oil output. American oil companies Conoco Phillips, Amerada Hess, and Marathon, meanwhile, have a joint venture deal with the NOC to form the Waha Oil Co. This company controls four oil fields in Libya, including the Gialo oil field which contains the largest know onshore reserves in the country with 4 billion barrels. After the lifting in 2004 of the economic sanctions imposed by the US against Libya for allegations of terrorist activities, more foreign oil companies have entered the country including Royal Dutch Shell and American TNCs Chevron Texaco and Occidental Petroleum. Even the overseas retailing and marketing arm of Libyan petroleum products – the Tamoil – has been taken over by the Americans through a 65 percent stake by US-based investment group Colony Capital. All in all, more than 50 international oil companies are reportedly operating in Libya today where the government plans to expand oilfield investment to $10 billion by 2014 to increase potential production.

Consolidating control

So what can be the plausible explanation behind the imperialist powers’ adamant campaign to topple the Qaddafi regime? Note that Qaddafi has been from the onset an unreliable or unpredictable leader as far as the imperialists are concerned. The concessions he has given to the West notwithstanding, Qaddafi for the most part of his 42-year rule has been at odds with Western powers, i.e. he challenged the oil cartel by nationalizing Libya’s oil in the 1970s, sided with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, supported liberation movements, etc.

The wave of uprisings – which apparently is being fuelled by the economic crisis (MENA historically has the highest unemployment rate among all regions in the world) and calls for political reforms – that challenge mostly decades-old regimes in MENA is being hijacked by the US, Britain, and France to install a more reliable regime in Libya to consolidate Western control not only in the said country but in the entire oil-rich region. The imperialist powers have already lost two of their most trusted allies with the ouster of the 23-year old Ben Ali regime in Tunisia and the 30-year old Mubarak regime in Egypt.

They have thus decided to take a more decisive and direct role in managing the unrest, not to protect the civilians as they claimed – there are no no-fly zones in Yemen and Bahrain, two long-time strategic US allies where the dictators have been violently repressing anti-government protests including killing 50 protesters in a Yemeni university – but to ensure that Western interest in the region’s oil resources will not be undermined. As explained by a retired US military official who helped impose a no-fly zone in Iraq, the Americans pick their fights “based on where resources are and where it most affects” them.

Imperialist intervention in the name of oil has caused unspeakable harm to civilian lives and property. The US war of aggression in Iraq has so far claimed more than 92,000 civilian lives (according to US Army documents leaked by the WikiLeaks), orphaned 35 percent of Iraqi children, and created 4.7 million Iraqi refugees. The world should not allow the US and other Western powers to make Libya another Iraq. The sovereign right of the Libyan people to resolve their internal conflict must be respected. (end)