Don’t count on arms support from US, Enrile warns Duterte
MANILA, Philippines — Don’t count on the United States to give arms support to the Philippines, even in its current maritime dispute with China, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile warned President Rodrigo Duterte in his taped briefing that aired Monday night.
Enrile based his warning on dealings with the US government in the 1970s as defense chief of then-President Ferdinand Marcos.
“In truth, in my experience as secretary of national defense in the time of President Marcos, we could not rely on America in an issue like this,” he said in Filipino.
He related how the Philippines, during the height of the Vietnam War, asked the US for 2,500 M-16 rifles to be used for the government’s anti-insurgency campaign. He noted that at that time the rifles used by the Philippine military were M1 Garands and carbines, the standard firearms during World War II.
According to him, he and Marcos went to Clark Air Base one day at around noon to meet with “Admiral Gaylord of the 7th Fleet which was based Hawaii.”
As there was no Gaylord who was commander of the US 7th Fleet, Enrile was probably referring to Admiral Noel Gayler, who was chief of the US Pacific Command from 1972 to 1976. Gayler was at Clark Air Base on Feb. 12, 1973, to welcome the first batch of released American prisoners of war coming from Vietnam.
Enrile recalled being told that the Philippines was “low priority” because the US needed the arms for the Vietnam War.
“In short, we were not able to get anything,” Enrile said in Filipino.
So he said they were forced to turn to suppliers in Singapore and Taiwan instead.
“It would be better if we buy our own arms,” Enrile recalled telling Marcos. “Let them pay us rent for their military bases.”
Enrile’s revelation comes as a surprise as it was widely believed that the Marcos administration enjoyed US backing, as evidenced by the state visit of Marcos to the US in 1982 during the administration of President Ronald Reagan and the state visits of several US presidents starting with Richard Nixon in 1969.
Also, after Marcos was ousted by the Edsa People Power Revolution in February 1986, it was a US Air Force aircraft that took the late strongman and his family to Guam on his way to exile in Hawaii.
Enrile issued the warning as administration critics were pushing for the president to uphold the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague favoring the Philippines’ claim over the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte has repeatedly insisted that pressing the claim on China might lead to a military conflict. But some of his critics said that would not happen as the US was obligated under the Mutual Defense Treaty to defend the Philippines.
The treaty states, however, that the Philippines must not be the aggressor, which means US would only come to the rescue if it would be attacked.
Enrile believes that the Philippines should not rely on that treaty at the moment as the US had a lot on its plate — such as the Israel-Palestine conflict and its own conflict with Russia.
“In truth, Mr. President, I’m saying this not because I’m anti-American. I’m not anti-American. I have many friends among Americans and I have a granddaughter who’s an American,” he said. “Now, there’s a difference between American citizens and their government. Their government always bases its moves in its relations with other countries on the national interest.”
The former Senate president was at the briefing at the invitation of Duterte, specifically to discuss the West Philippine Sea issue, especially on events related to the 2012 Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal standoff, which ended up with the US intervening between China and the Philippines.
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