Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Specter of conflict shadows Philippine vote for Muslim autonomy

From the Nikkei Asian Review (Jan 20, 2019): Specter of conflict shadows Philippine vote for Muslim autonomy

Peace not guaranteed even if Bangasomoro region gains more powers in referendum

The Philippine government recently extended martial law in Mindanao in response to the threat from Islamist insurgents that tried to capture Marawi city in May last year.   © Reuters

A referendum to create a Muslim region with greater autonomy in the conflict-ridden southern Philippine islands comes with no guarantee of peace.

About 2 million voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and two cities will vote on Monday on whether to establish a region with more than 50 exclusive powers, including a Sharia-based justice system and Islamic financing. A separate plebiscite for adjacent towns has been scheduled on Feb. 6.

Top officials of the 30,000 strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front are expected to head the government of the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao after the anticipated "yes" vote. The rebel group now sees a chance for peace after decades of conflict that have claimed around 100,000 lives, displaced millions and left large areas impoverished.

"We are very confident that the yes votes will prevail overwhelmingly," Ghazali Jaafar, the front's vice chairman for political affairs, told the Nikkei Asian Review. "Let us forget our differences. This is a very historic opportunity for all of us to make change."

But a former peace adviser warned the Moro rebels and the national government that complacency could derail peace efforts.

Teresita Quintos-Deles, the presidential adviser who brokered a final peace agreement with the rebels in 2014, said President Rodrigo Duterte should be able to immediately appoint an 80-person transition authority to avoid a power vacuum. This, Deles said, depends on swiftly appointing the region's leader.

"Unfortunately, if you look at the track record of the president signing appointment papers, he takes time, especially if he doesn't know the person," she said.

The law's ratification would dissolve the existing regional government.and the transition authority would be formed to lead Bangsamoro until the 2022 elections. Otherwise, a caretaker government with vague powers will govern the region.

Deles called that prospect "frightening."

Another concern is the rounding up of firearms. Under the peace deal, the rebels were to have decommissioned a third of their weapons once voters have approved the new government.

Splinter groups who have broken away from the Moro rebels could become the biggest spoilers of the peace process. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, for instance, said it will continue its armed struggle and will not take part in the plebiscite. Other militants, with support from foreign extremists, want to turn the island into an Islamic caliphate.

In May 2017, Islamic State-inspired militants tried to establish an East Asia caliphate in Marawi City, leaving the predominantly Muslim city in ruins. More than a thousand people died during the five-month siege before the city was recaptured by government troops.

The Philippine Congress in December backed Duterte's demand to extend martial law by another year in Mindanao -- the third extension since Duterte imposed martial law on the island after the defeat of the militants in Marawi.

Moro's Jaafar said the front will reach out to other groups to persuade them to join the peace process.

"I believe we have to have dialogue with them to convince them to join the Bangsamoro government," Jaafar said.


PNP open to hiring former MILF members

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 20, 2019): PNP open to hiring former MILF members
The Philippine National Police (PNP) is open to hiring former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), particularly after the Bangsamoro Organic Law be ratified in the plebiscite set for January 21 and February 6.

According to PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde, this would hasten the commissioning process.

PNP Chief Director General Oscar Albayalde (Mark Balmores / MANILA BULLETIN)

He also said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will also be hiring former MILF rebels since the military is involved in security matters in Mindanao.

“Remember the whole part of Mindanao is under martial law so it’s the duty of the AFP even the hiring of qualified MILF members to the AFP, not to the PNP,” said Albayalde.

“However, we are also open to applicants provided that they qualify or meet the requirements,” he added.

Being a college graduate is one of the basic qualifications to enter the PNP, aside from height requirements and passing all the examinations.

The idea of MILF joining the police and the military came as a precedent to the 1995 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) wherein some of its fighters were allowed to join the military.

Albayalde said the PNP will be involved partly in the decommissioning process for the MILF but it is more on the maintenance of the peace and order during the procedure.

More than 20,000 policemen are expected to be deployed in areas where the voting will be held.


New People’s Army member surrenders in Bukidnon

From the Philippine Star (Jan 22, 2019): New People’s Army member surrenders in Bukidnon

A female member of the New People’s Army (NPA) surrendered in Impasugong, Bukidnon over the weekend.

First Lt. Kenneth Cabbigat, acting civil military operations officer of the 8th Infantry Division, identified the surrenderee as an alias Jamaica, 27.

Cabigat said Jamaica, president of the Barrio Medical Group of the NPA’s North Central Regional Mindanao Command, turned over a caliber .30 rifle and ammunition to Lt. Col. Ronald Illana, 8th Infantry Battalion commander.

Jamaica said she decided to surrender for the benefit of her three children even as she called on her comrades to return to the fold of the law.   


Abu Sayyaf behead villager in Sulu

From the Philippine Star (Jan 21, 2019): Abu Sayyaf behead villager in Sulu

Suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits allegedly shot and beheaded a villager they suspected of giving information that led to the arrest of one of their cohorts in Indanan, Sulu on Thursday.

Police said the still unidentified victim was killed in Barangay Kajadtian shortly after Sabor Hayudini, alias Sugo, was arrested. 

The Sulu police said the suspects dumped the decapitated body of the victim a few meters away from the house of Hayudini.

A rifle, a pistol, two fragmentation grenades and a sachet of shabu were reportedly recovered from Hayudini.

Police said Hayudini was arrested based on a warrant issued by a court in Zamboanga Sibugay.


REBEL CHIEF VOTES FOR THE FIRST TIME -- MILF vows to continue ‘struggle’ if Bangsamoro Organic Law is rejected

From the Manila Times (Jan 22, 2019): REBEL CHIEF VOTES FOR THE FIRST TIME -- MILF vows to continue ‘struggle’ if Bangsamoro Organic Law is rejected

Murad Ebrahim, leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), cast a ballot for the first time on Monday, hoping that the rest of Muslim Mindanao voted with him to establish a truly autonomous region for the Bangsamoro.

MOBBED A voter accused of casting multiple votes during the Bangsamoro Organic Law plebiscite is attacked at a voting precinct in Cotabato City. AFP PHOTO

Ebrahim cast his vote at the Simuay Junction Central Elementary School in Darapanan in Maguindanao’s Sultan Kudarat town, a stronghold of the rebel group. Supporters took turns shaking his hands as they greeted the MILF chairman, who arrived with a group of bodyguards.

“As a revolutionary, we are prepared for whatever scenario, as long as the democratic processes is conducted in good manner, without intimidation, without cheating, we are determined to accept whatever is the result [of the plebiscite],” the 71-year old rebel leader said.

“Now if the BOL will not be ratified, we will continue to struggle until the [peace] agreement is implemented. It is the duty of the government to implement the agreement. We are only a partner, but the main responsibility is with the government, they have to implement the agreement,” Ebrahim said.

Leaders of Cotabato City, Isabela City in Basilan province, and Sulu and North Cotabato provinces are strongly opposed to becoming part of the new Bangsamoro region and campaigned for a “no” vote.

The plebiscite is a result of the March 2014 interim peace deal between the MILF and Manila.

The rebel group vowed to surrender a third of its huge weapons stockpiles if the organic law was ratified.

Rebel forces have tripled if not doubled, and now boast of armaments, including anti-aircraft machine guns, B40 anti-tank rockets, mortars and assorted high-powered rifles, as well as an army of civilian supporters, many of them counting on the prospects of better life with the new Bangsamoro region under MILF rule.

The new region will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) created following a peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Ebrahim’s group originally was part of the MNLF under Nur Misuari, but broke away in the late 1970s, and fought the democratic government for the establishment of a separate Muslim homeland.

Misuari eventually signed a peace agreement with Manila in September 1996 and after the accord agreement was signed, he became the governor of the ARMM. Despite the peace accord, there was a widespread disillusionment with the weak autonomy they were granted.

Under the peace agreement with the MILF, Manila would have to provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the south and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.

Grenade attack, voting delays
A grenade attack, harassments and intimidation marred the Bangsamoro plebiscite, however.

The grenade exploded outside the house of a judge in Cotabato City in Maguindanao province, and another was lobbed, but did not go off, on the roof.

Reports claimed the judge was a known critic of the BOL, but police said the attack that occurred ahead of the referendum might also be connected to his work.
Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde said the motive for the grenade attack was “something personal.”

A third grenade in front of a polling precinct was detonated by soldiers in Cotabato City, whose mayor, Cynthia Sayadi, had led residents in opposing the city’s inclusion to the proposed Bangsamoro region to be run by the MILF. No individual or group claimed responsibility.

In Isabela City, a pregnant woman sought police help after a man grabbed her ballot and tore it to pieces inside a polling precinct. She said the man was angered by her rejection of the BOL. The still unidentified man escaped after the incident.

In Marawi City, rains and cold winds did not hinder the people from trooping to the polling precincts, with some arriving as early as 6:30 a.m.
Sr. Supt. Madzgani Mukaram, chief of Lanao del Sur Police Provincial Office, told The Manila Times there was no untoward incident in the conduct of the Bangsamoro plebiscite here.

In Kapatagan, the last town of Lanao del Sur towards Maguindanao province, Mayor Raida Maglangit told The Manila Times voters queued and left as soon as they cast their votes, to allow others to vote smoothly. “It is, indeed, very peaceful and orderly,” she said.

In Cotabato City, Mayor Sayadi told reporters some teachers who were supposed to function as election inspectors did not show up.

At least five dozen teachers did not report for election duty after receiving cell phone messages threatening them with harm if they went to work.

Voters formed long queues in front of Cotabato City Central Pilot Elementary School and Sero Central School where around 8,000 people had to wait hours before casting their vote on the BOL because the teachers did not immediately show up.

Several men, believed to be illegal or so-called “flying” voters, were mauled outside a polling area in Cotabato after being caught by vigilant residents trying to cast their votes.

Turnout low in Lanao Sur, Sulu, Basilan
Still, the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Monday declared the plebiscite “peaceful.”

Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said no major security issue occurred in the polling precincts, from the time the plebiscite started at 8 a.m.

Col. Gerry Besana, spokesman of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, likewise said the plebiscite was generally peaceful in the areas covered by the proposed autonomous region of the Bangsamoro. All polling precincts closed at exactly 3 p.m., Besana said.

Among the hitches were delays in voting, lack of transportation and delay in the arrival of voting paraphernalia.

Besana also admitted that turnout in the provinces of Sulu, Lanao del Sur and Basilan was low.

“Some persons also participated to help in mobilizing the voters since the common problem was the civilians having no transportation at all going to their respective polling precincts,” he said.

The Commission on Elections said registered voters in the plebiscite covering the ARMM territory stood at 1,980,441. There were 71,124 voters in Isabela City and 113,751 in Cotabato City.

 Another referendum is set on February 6 for Lanao del Sur with 352,494 registered voters and North Cotabato with 286,867 voters.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr. of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance, said that in three towns in Sulu — Luuk, Tongkil, and Panglima Estino — 100 percent, or more than 41,000 voters, turned out by 11 a.m. and voted “yes.”

The governor of Sulu, Abdusakur Tan 2nd, had petitioned the Supreme Court to declare the BOL unconstitutional, arguing that the 1987 Constitution authorized only one organic law for Muslim Mindanao, or the one that established the ARMM.


Time to Make Good on the U.S.-Philippine Alliance

Posted to War on the Rocks (Jan 21, 2019): Time to Make Good on the U.S.-Philippine Alliance (By Gregory Poling and Eric Sayers)

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Elliott Fabrizio
A storm is brewing in America’s oldest security alliance in the Indo-Pacific and the administration needs to act quickly to head it off. On December 20, Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana called for a review of the provisions of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between Washington and Manila. A week later, he confirmed that Philippine government lawyers had been tasked to study ways to “maintain it, strengthen it, or scrap it.” The primary reason for this review is what Lorenzana called America’s “ambivalence” about whether the treaty applies in the South China Sea, where Philippine troops and facilities are under threat from an increasingly assertive China. In a Jan. 8 interview, Lorenzana reiterated that if America won’t clarify the treaty’s scope, then scrapping it altogether is “an option.” That would be a severe blow to U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific and a largely self-inflicted wound by Washington.

Lorenzana and the defense establishment in Manila are unlikely to demand actual amendments to the MDT. Doing so, even if the negotiations were successful, would require ratification by the U.S. and Philippine senates, which seems unlikely in the current political climates in both capitals. What they seem to want is a public clarification of U.S. policy regarding the application of the treaty to the South China Sea, hopefully accompanied by new guidelines to modernize and operationalize the treaty for the current threat environment. Given Washington’s interests in countering Beijing’s illegal claims and militarization of the South China Sea and the continued utility of the U.S.-Philippine alliance, Manila’s concerns should be seen as entirely reasonable and Washington should move quickly to resolve them.

American Uncertainty

Articles IV and V of the MDT obligate both parties to “act to meet the common dangers” of “an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.” But there is no longer any real threat of invasion of the metropolitan Philippines. The only external threat to the country is to its holdings and citizens in the South China Sea. If the treaty doesn’t apply there, then Filipinos might understandably view it as an anachronism. As a result, Philippine officials have sought clarity for decades on whether the United States considers the islands and reefs they occupy in the South China Sea to fall within the scope of this commitment.

The issue became more urgent in 2012 when China seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines despite a botched U.S. attempt to negotiate a mutual withdrawal of vessels. In early 2014, President Barack Obama reaffirmed that the Senkaku Islands administered by Japan in the East China Sea were covered by Article V of the U.S.-Japan treaty, which has nearly-identical language to the U.S.-Philippine pact. But during a visit to Manila as part of the same trip, he refused to give a similar clarification for the Philippines. Instead he insisted that the U.S. commitment to the alliance was “ironclad” — an emotive phrase that purposely dodged the question. The term “ironclad” has since become a mantra repeated by every U.S. official asked about treaty application for the last five years, most recently by Amb. Sung Kim on Dec. 19, to the chagrin of many Filipinos.

Whether the nine Philippine-held features in the Spratly Islands fall under the scope of the treaty’s Article V is unclear. For one thing, they were occupied by the Philippines after the treaty was ratified and the United States takes no position on their ultimate sovereignty. The relative strength of Philippine claims to the islands compared to those of others like China or Vietnam is unclear, and the question can only be legally decided by direct negotiation or arbitration. As with other regional territorial disputes like those over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands or the Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo/Takeshima), the United States steers clear of murky historical questions and insists only that the disputes be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law. There is also an open question about whether the reference in the U.S.-Philippine treaty to “island territories under its jurisdiction” sets a higher bar than the U.S.-Japan treaty, which uses the language “territories under the administration of Japan.”

Scarborough Shoal, which is not part of the Spratlys, is a special case. U.S. officials concluded during the 1930s that it was legally acquired by the United States from Spain in the 1900 Treaty of Washington. It was then transferred to the newly independent Philippines in 1946, which Washington continued to recognize into the 1980s when it used the area as a bombing range with Manila’s permission. But during the last 30 years, successive U.S. administrations have ignored or forgotten this historical position and instead adopted the same neutrality toward Scarborough as toward the Spratlys, believing it grants U.S. policy more flexibility.

But quibbling over whether the islands and reefs themselves are covered by the treaty is unnecessary. Article IV of the Mutual Defense Treaty specifies that “an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties” would trigger a common response. Article V specifies that this includes not only attacks on the metropolitan territory or islands of the parties, but also “its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.” In 1998, Defense Secretary William Cohen affirmed that the United States “considers the South China Sea to be part of the Pacific Area” and therefore any attack on Philippine “armed forces, public vessels or aircraft” there would be covered by Article V. Ambassador to the Philippines Thomas Hubbard reiterated this in a letter to the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs in 1999. Unfortunately, that was the last time any U.S. official publicly took a stance on the issue. And that silence has been deafening in the wake of developments in the South China Sea and the explicit commitments made to Japan.

The View from Manila

Secretary Lorenzana has been a champion of the alliance and a moderating influence on the anti-American prejudices of President Rodrigo Duterte. That he is so exasperated and uncertain about Washington’s willingness to follow through on its treaty commitment should be deeply concerning and seen as reflective of widespread anxieties in the traditionally pro-American Philippine defense establishment. U.S. policymakers and experts might be tempted to believe that the Philippines has too much to lose to move forward with the review, much less abrogate the treaty. But from Manila’s perspective, gambling now that a treaty review will elicit a straight answer from Washington regarding the South China Sea is a smarter bet than gambling later on whether the United States will come through if China resorts to force.

During the last decade of American waffling on its treaty commitment, the threats to Philippine assets in the South China Sea have increased considerably. Beijing has built and militarized seven artificial islands in the disputed Spratlys. It has used these to extend its air, naval, coast guard, and paramilitary presence throughout the South China Sea, harassing Filipino fishermen, aircraft, and resupply missions to Philippine-held islets and reefs, including the marine detachment on the Sierra Madre, a Philippine Navy vessel purposely run aground at Second Thomas Shoal two decades ago.

If Philippine vessels and planes continue to operate and assert their rights in disputed waters, then eventually there will be a violent incident involving Chinese forces, whether intentional or not. Beijing has exponentially increased the number of assets deployed in contested waters and continues to operate them in a dangerous manner against its neighbors, which makes the status quo inherently unstable. Lorenzana knows this as well as anyone. Before that day comes, he needs to know that the United States will be there to deter China from escalating the situation and, if necessary, to intervene directly to defend Philippine personnel and platforms. Just as importantly, he needs to convince skeptics in the administration, especially President Duterte, of that fact so that they will endorse a policy of continued reliance on the United States and defiance of China’s claims.

But if the pro-alliance voices in Manila are wrong and the United States isn’t willing to respond to an attack on Filipino soldiers or vessels in the South China Sea, Philippine officials need to know that too. It would confirm what Duterte and other skeptics have long believed: that since the Americans won’t fight in the South China Sea, the Philippines’ only long-term options are accommodation of China or defeat. In that case, Philippine officials might conclude that maintaining the MDT gains them little benefit while scrapping it might at least convince Beijing of Manila’s “independent foreign policy” and lead to some concessions in negotiations.

And walking away from the treaty wouldn’t necessarily cost the Philippines its broader security relationship with the United States, at least once the initial damaged feelings wore off. Most U.S.-Philippine military-to-military cooperation doesn’t rely on the MDT and is similar to U.S. security engagement with non-allies in the region like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and increasingly, Vietnam. This includes joint training, capacity building, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counterterror cooperation, and air and maritime patrol. The breadth of security cooperation with Manila is admittedly greater than with most other Southeast Asian partners, except perhaps Singapore, but it is not fundamentally different. Even the direct presence of a significant number of U.S. forces in the southern Philippines to assist with intelligence gathering, training, and other counterterror cooperation is not dependent on the alliance relationship. That presence is governed by the U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement, which was ratified by the Philippine Congress in 1999 and would continue in the absence of the MDT.

The one thing that would disappear if the MDT were scrapped would be the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed by Manila and Washington in 2014. Under that agreement, the United States is permitted to construct facilities, preposition defense equipment, and rotationally deploy troops and platforms in five agreed-upon Philippine military bases. Unlike the Visiting Forces Agreement, EDCA was not ratified by the Philippine Senate. It was concluded as an executive agreement and the Supreme Court of the Philippines upheld its constitutionality based on Article II of the MDT, which specifies that both parties “by self-help and mutual aid will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.” The text of EDCA makes clear that its primary purposes are to allow the United States to assist the Philippines with maritime security in the South China Sea, disaster relief, and modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Like the MDT, much of its value rests on whether the United States is willing to come to the aid of Philippine armed forces in the South China Sea.

Avoiding Catastrophe

China’s pursuit of its illegal claims and its militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea threatens long-standing U.S. interests in the freedom of the seas and the stability of the Indo-Pacific. Successfully defending those interests requires that China’s neighbors, especially the Philippines, continue to believe in U.S. staying power and remain willing to contest Beijing’s demand for vast rights in contested waters.

The political argument against clarifying that the MDT applies in the South China Sea is that doing so might invite Philippine adventurism which could in turn drag the United States into an unnecessary conflict with China. But with China’s militarization of the Spratlys and the flood of Chinese vessels to the region, the costs of continued ambiguity from the United States far outweigh any purported benefits. There will be another violent incident between Chinese and Philippine vessels sooner or later, and it won’t require any adventurism on the part of Manila; it will just require the Philippines to continue sailing in its own waters. Greater clarity on the U.S. willingness to defend its ally would serve as a strong deterrent against China escalating such an incident.

The only thing continued U.S. ambiguity does is make it more likely that Manila will permanently shelve its claims in deference to Beijing, dooming any U.S. hope of successfully defending a free and open South China Sea in the process. The Trump administration needs to recognize this danger, understand that Manila’s concerns are not unreasonable, and move carefully but quickly to preserve and ultimately strengthen the alliance.

First, U.S. Defense and State Department officials should communicate privately to counterparts in Manila that Washington remains committed to the Cohen/Hubbard interpretation of Article V. But they should also insist that a public affirmation of that commitment be accompanied by reassurances from Manila to help strengthen the credibility of alliance, particularly regarding EDCA implementation.

Without a rotational presence in the Philippines, the nearest land-based U.S. forces that could respond to an incident in the South China Sea would be more than 1,000 miles away. With three operational Chinese air and naval bases in the Spratlys, that makes the credibility of any current U.S. commitment highly questionable. Unfortunately, Manila has been holding up implementation of the agreement for nearly three years. Only one base has seen any construction — a disaster relief warehouse and a command and control center — with the same planned at one and possibly two other locations. President Duterte has made clear that he doesn’t want U.S. prepositioning of defense equipment at any of the locations and rotational deployments seem unlikely for the foreseeable future. That must change.

Second, if an agreement can be reached to exchange EDCA implementation for a public clarification of the treaty commitment, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should do so at the first opportunity. This could be during either Congressional budget testimony this spring in Washington or, even better, a trip to Manila. That clarification would need to be carefully calibrated. It should reaffirm the Cohen/Hubbard policy that an attack on Philippine armed forces, planes, or vessels in the South China Sea are covered by Article V. It need not say that the Philippine-claimed islets in the Spratlys are covered but should affirm that the United States opposes any attempts to unilaterally change the status of occupation at the nine features currently administered by Manila. It should also explicitly state that Washington does not recognize Chinese jurisdiction over Scarborough Shoal and would act in concert with Manila to oppose any Chinese construction on the feature.

And third, the U.S. government should take the opportunity to inform Manila of an enhanced security assistance package to help build the capacity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and propose talks to formulate new guidelines for Philippine-U.S. defense cooperation modeled to better operationalize the alliance, much as the 2015 revised guidelines have done for the U.S.-Japan alliance.

It would be easy to dismiss the concerns of Secretary Lorenzana as empty rhetoric. We believe bold action to preserve the U.S.-Philippine alliance is not only an imminent requirement but one that will serve the larger objectives of the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy. While assuaging Manila’s concerns, Washington could better position itself in Southeast Asia and strengthen U.S. South China Sea policy. But it would also begin to modernize an alliance that has suffered from too much complacency on both sides and which has fallen behind the times as a result. The alternative, a diminution and possible severing of the alliance, would cost the United States at least as much as it would the Philippines.

[Gregory B. Poling is director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and a fellow with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Eric Sayers is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). He previously worked as a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee and as a Special Assistant to the Commander at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.]