Some Filipinos worry that the Philippines might be dragged into a potential conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan because of the American military presence in northern Luzon under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

They are concerned the US might use the local military bases as a springboard to launch offensive military operations in the Taiwan Straits and elsewhere in the region.

The concerns had basis. When the US had two large overseas military bases in Subic and Clark, these were used in the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.

Even when the US went to war in Kuwait in the early 1990s, Clark Air Base had a minor role in the conflict.

In the second Persian Gulf War in the early 2000s, the US no longer had military bases in the Philippines but it continued to use locations, like Basco in Batanes, as refueling sites for planes returning to Okinawa from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

They are more worried about the potential effects of a conflict in the region because the US planes, ships and troops in naval and air bases in Cagayan could become virtual magnets of attack in case a shooting war erupts around Taiwan Straits.

If a conflict indeed breaks out in the Taiwan Straits in the near future, the Philippines will be certainly dragged into the war with or without the US presence in these EDCA sites.

The country’s decades-old alliance with the United States under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) would be the most plausible reason for a Philippine role in the conflict.

Under the treaty, both sides are to help each other in case an attack happens on either side. Forget about the political process of entering into a conflict. When the shooting starts, there will be little time for debates in both legislatures.

But there are those who would argue, the conflict would be in Taiwan and not in the United States nor in the Philippines, so why would the MDT be triggered?

The treaty was clear it could be invoked if there was an attack on either US or Philippine military forces — a ship or a plane — or any public vessel anywhere in the South China Sea.

The Biden administration has expanded the coverage of the MDT, making it more clear when the alliance can come in.

Previous US administrations were vague on the MDT. It used to be that the alliance can be invoked when an attack happens in the metropolitan areas of either the Philippines and the United States.

The metropolitan areas are clearly within the territory of each country. An attack outside, like in the disputed areas in the South China Sea, will not be considered part of the metropolitan area.

But the geopolitical situation changed over the years. The security threats from China loom larger. Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits have also increasingly raised tensions in the region.

Again, with or without the MDT, the Philippines can still be affected by a potential conflict in Taiwan. The country’s proximity to Taiwan is enough reason for concern.

In case of an amphibious assault on Taiwan or an air strike on the self-ruled island, Chinese planes and vessels would pass through the narrow Bashi Channel, north of Batanes.

The Philippines and Taiwan share an overlapping 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and any naval and aerial blockade imposed by China could affect the country.

When China went to conduct a three-day military drills around Taiwan as a response to a meeting between the Taiwanese leader and the third highest official in the United States, Japan reacted by scrambling jets when a Chinese carrier was positioned east of Taiwan.

Japan was closely monitoring the drills. It said it had monitored more than 200 landings at the Chinese carrier, which is about 140 to 150 miles from Okinawa.

In case a conflict breaks out, Japan is worried China might close the maritime and airspace in its southern borders, affecting its trade routes.

But the distance between Taiwan and southern Japan could be much farther and wider than between Batanes and Taiwan.

In short, a conflict in Taiwan would definitely affect the Philippines.

In addition, there are about 150,000 to 200,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan that could be displaced in case of a conflict.

The humanitarian disaster caused by the potential conflict could likely spill over to the Philippines and other countries in the region.

The disruption in trade will be huge considering that Taiwan is a major source for semiconductor equipment and parts, including chips used for computers, mobile phones and even cars.

If a war is inevitable, it will have disastrous consequences in the Philippines with or without the US presence under MDT and EDCA.

But it could be much more destructive because of the US military presence.

The Philippines should hope that only the locations where there’s US military presence would be attacked, but in a war, there could be a lot of accidents as bombs and missiles could stray into other areas.

The Philippines cannot choose to be neutral in a conflict. It has an obligation under the MDT.

The US military presence is both a curse and blessings to the Philippines.

What it can do is prepare for the worst thing that can happen and get help as much as possible from the United States to develop the local military’s minimum credible defense capability.

The Philippines should also work for economic gains from the US, like the renewal of its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) access for more than 3,500 export goods to US markets.

The US can modernize local bases and generate jobs and livelihood for communities around EDCA locations.

The Philippines should look for a more positive outlook in allowing US forces to temporarily deploy troops, planes, and ships on rotation basis as well as preposition its equipment, spares, and logistics in local bases.

A conflict in Taiwan may or may not happen in the near future. The saber rattling from both sides will continue but, in the end, both the US and China may not go to war because it can have catastrophic consequences to the world.

The world has seen what Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine did to fuel and food supplies. A conflict between the world’s two largest economies would be a total disaster.