Naval exercises are not in our best interest

HAWKISH United States (US) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wasted no time calling Foreign Secretary Teodoro “Tweeterboy” Locsin Jr. soon after President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte banned the Philippines from joining naval exercises with other countries in the South China Sea (SCS).

Digong’s decision must have come as a shock to the United States, but who can assail the logic of it? He wants no part in further raising tensions in the SCS, which the US appears to be ratcheting up by its nonstop bashing of China.

“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Pompeo said.

Whose empire then? The US’?

Incidentally, did Locsin take advantage of Pompeo’s call to raise the Sabah issue? I would be surprised if he did. But if he did, what did Pompeo say?

It will be recalled that Locsin recently castigated the US Embassy here for including in a tweet a reference to “Sabah, Malaysia.”

“Sabah is not in Malaysia if you want to have anything to do with the Philippines. You better edit that announcement if you know what’s good for you,” he boldly said.

The US Embassy never edited it.

Too, has Locsin summoned the Malaysian ambassador as he had promised?

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Going back to Digong’s banning of naval exercises…

“President Rodrigo Duterte has a standing order to us, to me, that we should not involve ourselves in naval exercises in the South China Sea except our national waters, the 12-mile distance from our shores,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

“If one country’s action is considered as belligerent, another tension will normally rise, so I hope that all the parties in this exercise will have, will work on their actions there, to exercise prudence and carefulness so that there will be no miscalculations that could further increase the tension,” he added.

As expected, several “Amboy” senators (Panfilo Lacson, Richard Gordon, Ralph Recto, Juan Edgardo Angara and Francis Pangilinan) chimed in on Digong’s decision, saying in essence that it is not in the best interest of the country.

Understandable. As senators, it is part of their job to support or criticize decisions of the President, particularly on foreign affairs issues.

Their views should debunk what the senators above-cited and the so-called maritime expert, not a naval exercises expert, lawyer Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines assert.

“The action of the President to stop the Philippine Navy in participating with other nations (US, Australia and Japan) in naval exercises is under criticism by the usual Amboys.

In my opinion, it is foolish for us to participate due to these reasons:

1. A naval exercise of this magnitude is a preparation to fight a naval war in a coordinated manner, in the high seas.

2. Our Constitution prohibits us in settling our problems with other nations by going to war.

3. Our Navy and the AFP were not designed to fight a war of this nature as it would require too much of our resources to acquire ships for this purpose.

4. The only war that we can fight is an asymmetric war. The cost is what we can bear, but there are 110 million of us.

5. It is an embarrassment if we participate in this kind of exercise. Our capability is so inferior such that we are just ‘saling pusa.’

6. If the concern is our claim in the SCS, our former Justice Carpio said there are other ways than war to settle our problem. If so, let us talk rather than kill each other.

7. We have too many problems in our hands. Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), drugs, piracy, smuggling, all forms of insurgency, corruption, hunger, injustice, schools for our children, health, traffic etc., etc.

8. The main problem in the South China Sea is hegemony, in the guise of freedom of navigation, between the Western powers and China.

9. We are such an insignificant country. That is not our problem. Let us wait how the great powers settle their problems first rather than embroil ourselves in it. Let us not be the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) of any country lest we become the battle ground.

Our President is smart. He plays the middle ground. I hope he reads the minds of Carpio, Batungbacal, Locsin and knows where they belong. I think they belong to the ‘little brown brothers’ of America club.”

“Let me relate to you my own experience with these bilateral or multilateral exercises.

Firstly, voice communication. We are not proficient enough to speak English as the common language of the exercises and we have many ‘say again please’ from all sides.

Secondly, our equipment is so outmoded that we are not able to execute the more complex exercises.

Thirdly, our logistics support was not even there. We have to go to the palengke so our marketing sailors can buy as much as we can prudently stow safely on board. The other navies can do replenishment at sea, including refueling. We end up eating sardines every day after a few days out.

It was and still is the practice of exchanging officers with other navies. We had an American junior officer on board and he could not take our food and lost so much weight that when he disembarked, he looked like he must have gone on a rigorous dieting regimen. On the other hand, our own junior officer on board the foreign ship got off visibly well nourished, gained weight and with some PX goods in his sea bag.

Finally, the exercises are the usual practice of a blue water navy operating under different objectives. When you sum up the results, as we always do in the critique after the exercise, there are really no notable achievements except for the usual exchange of ‘well done,’ which nobody sincerely believed.

We are better off training with coast guard authorities in search and rescue, anti-illegal fishing (i.e., blast fishing, purse signing, cyanide poisoning, etc.), illegal immigration, anti-terrorism, anti-pollution, etc.

We are a small country and we have many islands and coastal waters to guard and protect. Let us not even envision having a blue water navy, we cannot afford it and what good will it benefit the country.

Besides, any posturing by our military about a big navy will only invite undue attention. When Japan was confining its military to that of ‘self-defense,’ the neighbors, China, the Koreas and others were not aggressively against it. But when the posturing evolved outside of the self-defense mishmash, these countries began taking precautions.

We are probably better off with a thousand ‘kumpits,’ each equipped with appropriate minimum armaments like surface-to-surface missiles and some various caliber guns as our effective defense shield.”

* * *

From an internet friend:

Did you know the painter Vincent van Gogh had a very large family?

There’s his dizzy aunt, Verti Gogh

The brother who ate prunes, Gotta Gogh

His magician uncle, Wherediddy Gogh

His Mexican cousin, A Mee Gogh

The Mexican cousin’s American half-brother, Gring Gogh

The fruit-loving cousin, Man Gogh

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