US President Barrack Obama is set to visit the Philippines on April 28-29 to affirm the supposed “special relations” between the two countries. A media friend commented that Obama would very likely be given a “rock star welcome”, being the first US president to visit in 11 years. The visit puts the spotlight on US-PH relations in a time when the Philippines confronts a regional maritime dispute and when the US seeks to establish itself as a Pacific power to arrest its economic decline. It is important to look beyond the pomp and glamour that accompanies state visits. It is important to take note of the context of America’s efforts to rebalance towards Asia as a means of advancing its own economic and security agenda. Before gushing over the soaring rhetoric about “friendship” and “mutual benefit”, it is important to know what the Obama administration really stands for in terms of its economic and military policies.
- Obama has authorized internet spying on a level unheard of until NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden came out. The US National Security Agency gathered all forms of computer data, from phone calls to emails, across the globe, and violated the people’s right to privacy. The Obama administration also had no problem conducting surveillance on its own allies, as European leaders eventually found out. Civil liberties have taken a backseat to Obama’s drive to secure US dominance in the world.
- More than 2,400 have died in the 5 years of Obama’s drone warfare. Three days into his term, Obama authorized his first drone strike in Pakistan against alleged terrorists, killing at least 9 civilians in the process. In a span of 5 years, the Obama administration has launched more than 390 drone strikes. The Bush regime launched 51 in four years. Drone strikes violate international law and the sovereignty of countries targeted with the strikes. Yet as with the NSA global internet surveillance dragnet, US “national security” trumps human rights and international law any day, civilian casualties be damned. A week after Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, a missile strike hit a tribal region in Yemen, killing at least 21 children and 12 women. The upcoming Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation (AEDC) opens up the possibility of the US prepositioning its drones in the Philippines, making our country a party to the illegal drone strikes the US conducts overseas.
- Obama has escalated US intervention worldwide by ramping up deployment of US Special Forces all over the world and engaging in covert wars and power projection. Under the Bush regime, US Special Forces operated in some 60 countries. Under the Obama regime, US Special Forces are deployed in 134 countries worldwide, a 123% increase from the Bush years. The US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines of the US SOC has been stationed in Mindanao since 2002, 12 years after the US initiated its “war on terror”. They have been stationed in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga under a rotational deployment scheme. Interestingly, the AEDC’s original title was Agreement on Increased Rotational Deployment and Enhanced Defense Cooperation. The “Increased Rotational Deployment” was eventually dropped from the title of the agreement.
- The US government under Obama still has not paid a single cent for the damage one of its warships caused in Tubbataha Reef as well as the previous toxic waste dumps in former bases in Clark and Subic. On January 17, 2013, a US minesweeper, the USS Guardian, ran aground in a protected marine area known as the Tubbataha Reef, an area declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. No officer of the ship has been made accountable under PH laws. No payment has been made for more than 2,000 square meters damaged by the ship. It is the same story more than 20 years earlier when the US government refused to pay for the clean-up of their former military bases in Clark and Subic, saying that the clean-up of the toxic wastes was not part of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement.
- The US owes China some $1.28 trillion. Meanwhile, Chinese investments in the US are growing, even doubling in 2013. So that thing about the US going to war with China over some islands in the West Philippine Sea, it’s not likely going to happen. As Sen. Miriam Santiago pointed out in a recent radio interview, it is childish to think that if we are somehow attacked by China, the US will automatically retaliate. The US will base its response on what it deems is beneficial to its own interests and not the interests of its allies, the senator said.
- More whistleblowers have been prosecuted under Obama than in all of the 20th century. Obama has cracked down on whistleblower such as NSA analyst Edward Snowden, former Army Cpl. Bradley (Chelsea) Manning, and Jullian Assange of Wikileaks. The Obama administration has used the Espionage Act twice as many times as all previous US administrations combined. Whistleblowers who leak information concerning government abuses are considered “aiding the enemy”.
- The Obama administration is desperately pushing for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement as a means for the US to overcome its own economic crisis. It seeks to tear down any remaining barriers to investments and gives transnational corporations the power to sue governments and undermine their sovereignty. US activists have decried the pact as “NAFTA on steroids”. The push for the TPPA comes at a time when the Philippines is kicking off efforts to change its constitution and remove any restrictions to foreign investments and ownership. The Charter change move now taking place in Congress has been hailed by the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce as a good first step towards the Philippines eventually joining of the TPPA.