The old practice has to stop.

If the Philippines is to effectively play its role in the security alliance with the United States in the Asia-Pacific region, it has to have a more credible military capability to shoulder the burden of ensuring peace and stability in this part of the world.

But, first, Washington has to end its decades-old practice of dumping its old and obsolete military equipment to Manila, under the US State Department’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and Excess Defense Articles (EDA) programs.

The Philippines, after all, was designated in 2003 by then US President George W. Bush as a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally. Manila deserves to be treated well as co-equal strategic partner.

Not all major non-NATO ally (MNNA) countries have a Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States. The Philippines, a former colony of the United States, therefore has a special relationship with it.

Sadly, there has been no special treatment for Washington’s oldest security partner in the region. For more than 70 years, the US has mistreated the country seen as the most pro-American in the world.

Looked down upon and neglected, the Philippines has remained a colony in the eyes of the United States.

The United States has designated nearly 20 countries as major non-NATO allies around the world, including Brazil, which was the latest to be designated by US President Donald Trump in July 2019.

MNNA countries receive special military and financial advantages compared with other countries outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations (NATO) states with which the United States has bilateral relations.

In the Middle East, Washington allocated the largest share of its annual foreign assistance to Israel and Egypt, each country getting more than $1 billion, to buy peace and stability in the world’s most volatile region.

In the East Asia and Pacific region, the story is different. Japan and South Korea pay for the continued presence of thousands of US troops on their soil, sharing the burden to keep America’s dominance in a region where the great power competition is more pronounced.

The US has a web of alliances in this part of the world, drawing a line of defense from Japan and South Korea in the north down to Taiwan, the Philippines and Australia in the south.

Except for the Philippines, all other MNNA countries in this part of the world have a credible defense posture to help the United States defend common interests and shared values, like upholding international laws and the rule of law.

Strategically located at the center of an emerging flashpoint in the region, the Philippines is seen as the weakest link in America’s line of defense as Manila remains focused on its internal security problems.

It has very limited capability to protect its own sovereignty with its antiquated equipment, most of them handed down to the Philippine military by the United States.

From the end of the Second World War in 1945 until today, the United States has been transferring mothballed vessels and aircraft as well as second-hand armored personnel carriers, motor vehicles, rifles and communications equipment.

For instance, the Philippine Navy patrols its vast maritime borders with a World War II-vintage destroyer escort. A pre-Korean War landing ship tank delivers supplies and troops to far-flung outposts in the South China Sea.

The Philippine Air Force supports ground operations, rapidly deploying troops and evacuating battle casualties, with Vietnam War-era UH-1H helicopters.

In March and April, the Philippine Army will send inspection teams to the United States to look at four Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, four Sikorsky UH-60 utility tactical helicopters and five twin-engine turbo-prop Beechcraft C-12 Huron surveillance planes.

The second-hand equipment has shorter shelf life and are more expensive to operate and maintain, and may no longer have spares because the manufacturers have stopped producing them.

Even if the Philippines does not really pay for the second-hand equipment, as they are charged from the annual foreign assistance programs, the US can truly help modernize the local military if brand-new hardware are transferred.

The US State Department’s foreign assistance does not really help smaller, weaker and poorer security partners develop their credible defense capabilities.

The US government is instead helping its local economy by paying for the mothballed equipment and earning a little more from repairs, spares and refurbishments.

In the past, the US even twisted the arm of the Philippines to acquire 10 second-hand Huey helicopters with its own meager fund, after it decided to buy similar, refurbished combat utility helicopters with night-flying capabilities from Singapore.

The government of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was forced to buy the US helicopters in order to obtain an end-user certificate to purchase the Singapore units.

Eventually, only seven “as-is, where-is” helicopters were delivered by the United States because the money paid by the Philippine government was not enough due to inflation.

The practice of using the US assistance fund to acquire second-hand equipment defines the master-colony relationship between the United States and the Philippines since 1946 when it won its independence, the first in Asia.

A proposal to transfer precision-guided bombs to defeat the small but violent Abu Sayyaf Group in the southern Philippines was shot down by some US lawmakers who have very little trust on the local military due to corruption issues.

It would be better if foreign military financing is channeled to brand-new equipment, using the fund allocated by the US State Department to get big discounts for the pricey planes, ships and other equipment.

Since 2014 after the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) when the US forces were allowed access to five local bases, particularly airfields, Washington has started to change its policy on transferring second-hand equipment.

It began to provide brand-new equipment on commercial basis, offering Scan Eagle drones and S-70 Black Hawk helicopters manufactured in Poland, and allowing a South Korean company to sell an amphibious assault vehicle.

The United States now looks at the Philippines as a market for arms, both second-hand and brand-new, sophisticated equipment. But it would be better if Washington ended its practice of dumping second-hand equipment to really help modernize the local military and strengthen the alliance.

The US decision to ease restrictions on brand-new equipment could not be directly related to Duterte’s sudden pivot to China, but was likely dictated by commercial interests as the Philippines is starting to spend billions to upgrade its military equipment.

Big US-based defense contractors are offering helicopters, armored vehicles, artillery pieces, planes and vessels to the Philippines. Last month, representatives from Boeing came to Manila to offer AH-64 Apache helicopters.

 

A veteran defense reporter and former correspondent of the Reuters news agency, Manny Mogato won the Pulitzer in 2018 for Reuters’ reporting on the Philippines’s war on drugs.