- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Nov. 18 visit to Washington highlights the revival of an old alliance and none too soon. Filipinos and Americans face the same threats from radical Islamic terrorism and from an increasingly belligerent China.

Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo also comes to Washington with her countrymen having shed much of the ambivalence that has characterized their recent attitudes toward the United States. While in 1990 the government of then-President Corazon Aquino offered only tepid support for the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein, in 2001 Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo quickly and firmly condemned the September 11 attacks and declared the Philippine's support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Former President Joseph Estrada spent nearly a year arguing with his Senate to pass the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement that allowed U.S. and Philippine forces to resume military exercises, following the 1992 U.S. exit from its last Philippine bases. But in 2001, without fanfare or fuss, Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo agreed to a U.S. request for access to Philippines bases for logistic support of the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Philippine public opinion polls show overwhelming support for their president's stand.

There are two basic reasons for Manila's decision to reactivate an alliance that has served both countries since 1951. The first flows from Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo's conviction that a strong relationship with the U.S. best serves the Philippine people. A graduate of Georgetown University in the late 1960s, she had the opportunity to see American democracy up close and unvarnished. And no doubt, being the daughter of the late Philippine President Diosdados Macapagal helped shape her views on leadership and her nation's priorities. As a candidate for vice president in 1998, Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo supported better U.S.-Philippine military ties, and has continued to do so as president, following the January resignation of her corruption-mired predecessor, Joseph Estrada.

A second reason is that the Philippines is now a front-line state in both the war on terrorism and in deterring Chinese aggression. The massive tragedy that befell Americans on September 11, has over the last decade been mirrored in the Philippines by hundreds of smaller but just as vicious attacks by radical Islamic groups. The terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group, which has slain or held hostage hundreds of Filipinos, is closely linked to Osama bin Laden. In the late 1980s, bin Laden himself is believed to have visited the Philippines, and his brother-in-law was in the Philippines building networks of radicals in the early 1990s. In 1995, bin Laden associate Ramzi Yousef tried to organize attacks on multiple airlines from the Philippines and was later captured and jailed for his role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993. And most recently some of terrorists involved in the September 11 attack received flight training in the Philippines.

Manila has been almost alone in its efforts to call attention to China's increasing belligerence in the South China Sea. In 1995, China occupied Mischief Reef, which is about 150 miles from the Philippines but about 800 miles from China, as part of a long-term effort by Beijing to establish control over the strategic South China Sea. Since then, to rebuff repeated Chinese territorial incursions, Manila has to make do with a poorly equipped Navy and Air Force. Manila has also tried vigorously to lead its Southeast Asian neighbors to seek peaceful solutions with China over conflicting South China Sea claims, as it has tried to forge greater regional cooperation against terrorism.

On both fronts terrorism and China's challenge Washington and Manila now find they need each other. Washington needs Manila to defeat its domestic allies of Osama bin Laden as it denies sanctuary for bin Laden himself to launch future attacks. To support its war on terrorism and to deter possible future Chinese aggression such as against Taiwan the U.S. requires greater access to Philippine bases. The latest Department of Defense Quadrennial Review calls for the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marines to increase their presence in the "Western Pacific." Philippine help could be instrumental in making this happen.

Under Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, the Philippines is now increasing cooperation toward these ends. Already close cooperation in counterterrorist intelligence-sharing is increasing. Many U.S. aircraft have already used the Philippines' three major air bases on their way to Central Asia. In mid-October the U.S. sent a group of counter-insurgency experts to work with their Philippine counterparts in Mindanao, to both understand and better counter groups like the Abu Sayyaf.

And earlier this year a joint U.S.-Philippine team assessed Manila's broad military modernization needs. While the results have not been made public, it is clear that the Philippine Armed Forces urgently require advanced training and new military equipment. Providing the Philippines with more training assistance and some excess air and naval defense equipment to increase its self-defense capabilities is an investment in regional deterrence. Increased and regular U.S. military access to Philippine air and naval bases can also serve to deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan which is in the interest of all Asian democracies.

During World War II, the Korea War and in Vietnam, U.S. and Philippine forces fought together. And now once again, as the Philippines rises to join the United States and other democracies in a new struggle against terrorist and totalitarian tyranny, Washington should help its ally to do its part.

Richard Fisher is a senior fellow with the Jamestown Foundation.


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