Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Friday, July 04, 2008

Beyond the tragedy, the USS Ronald Reagan

EYES SEE By MIRIAM CORONEL FERRER

Senator Rodolfo Biazon was correct to raise the question as to why a warship was being sent to do relief work. His own colleagues castigated him, saying that we need all the assistance we can get. … But political leaders and legislators should not be shortsighted on the policy and long-term implications. They should be concerned with the big picture, beyond the specific tragedy wrought by Typhoon Frank.

One political issue has surfaced in the wake of the most recent disaster that befell the country. It goes beyond pinning culpability for the Princess of the Stars tragedy, the enormous task of recovering the dead and the deadly cargo of endosulfan from the sunken ship, and the rehabilitation of badly affected islands. But it deserves closer examination.

I am talking about the token gesture of US President Bush to send over one of the Navy’s prime aircraft carrier, an offer made convenient by the fact that the Nimitz class, nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan was in nearby Hong Kong.

Balking at criticism that the supercarrier’s entry into Philippine shores might violate the constitutional ban on nuclear weapons, President Arroyo said that the ship will stay outside of Philippine territory. Later, she cited the opinion of two members of the Philippine Constitutional Association that no violation will be committed since the ship is here on a humanitarian mission. The carrier had by then docked in the Sulu Sea, where it launched fixed-wing carriers and helicopters on sorties to deliver goods to Panay.

It is true that, first, nuclear power is not covered in the constitutional ban; and that, second, nuclear-capable weapons per se may be allowed as long as they are not carrying the deadly arsenal. Supreme Court Justice Adolfo Azcuna, one of the main sponsors on the constitutional ban on nuclear weapons during the writing of the 1987 constitution, had painstakingly clarified these points in order to get the support of the many in the Constitutional Commission who did not immediately share the conviction on an anti-nuke provision.

As such, if indeed the nuclear-capable vessel wasn’t carrying nuclear missiles, then there was no constitutional violation. In the past, in the 45 years of the US military bases in the Philippines, the US maintained a policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence of these weapons in the bases or the carriers docked off Subic Naval Base. This time around, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney declared that there were no such weapons on board.

Well and good. But the main problem is and always has been that we have had to rely on the US’s word – or silence -- on the matter. Beyond the constitutional ban, no verification mechanism is in place. The US maintains sovereign jurisdiction on their ships. Unless we have a law that provides for verification measures, we cannot really know for sure.

Interestingly, AFP Chief of Staff Alexander Yano was invited aboard the ship, not in deference to our national sovereignty, but as a visitor who owed the chance to enter one of the enduring symbols of the US’s superpower status to the graces of his host.

***

How can we guarantee compliance with the constitutional ban in future similar occasions, under possibly different circumstances? Congress must take the step of drafting an implementing legislation. This ground- breaking constitutional ban on nuclear weapons was not found in our earlier and many other countries’ constitutions, but it would be useless unless we can enforce it.

Humanitarian assistance is welcome, that’s for sure, but it should not be at the expense of the nuclear weapons-free provision. Also, while we want to see more soldiers engaged in humanitarian work and instruments of destruction used instead for saving lives, we can’t be blind to the dangers in the militarization of humanitarian aid, a global trend where military buildup is increasingly twinned with humanitarian goals, with the end result of more resources going to defense.

Nimitz class aircraft carriers are built at the cost of about $4.5 billion each. They are operated with an annual budget of about $160 million. There are 10 such carriers, 9 of which are named after US presidents starting with Eisenhower down to George H.W. Bush. In this scheme of things, the USAID assistance of $100,000 to typhoon victims is a minute fraction.

We are not saying that the US should give more. What we are questioning here are priorities that continue to define governments and the world today – that is, that much more money is being devoted to arms build-up and defense than to actual humanitarian aid.

Finally, there is a subliminal, discomfiting message being sent when warships are glorified beyond their real purpose. Military objects and symbols are deceptively juxtaposed with humanitarianism. The USS Ronald Reagan’s insignia comes with the words "Peace through strength" because Reagan believed that America won the Cold War by virtue of being strong. Noble-sounding, but how different is it from the old adage and recurring mentality that "Might is right"?

Humanitarianism is founded on the principle of rights and dignity of all, not superiority of any one force.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon was correct to raise the question as to why a warship was being sent to do relief work. His own colleagues castigated him, saying that we need all the assistance we can get. Perhaps the people who lost their homes and farms, and the local governments saddled with relief and rehabilitation needs, are understandably far removed from this bigger political question. But political leaders and legislators should not be shortsighted on the policy and long-term implications. They should be concerned with the big picture, beyond the specific tragedy wrought by Typhoon Frank. ABS CBN ONLINE

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1 Comments:

  • It is sad to think that this person who wrote this article, MIRIAM CORONEL FERRER would be such a fool to call sending an entire Battle Group to aid te Philippines a "Token Gesture."

    Seems to me that these ships were with in 24 to 30 hours away from the Philippines when they were ordered to the Sulu Sea.

    Now what if the Ronal Reagan was not in the area with its Helo's and C2 cargo planes? Who else was close enough to respond? Tell me Miriam. Who else????

    Who in Asia could have had a sea going airport in the Sulu Sea in 30 hours? Tell me???

    Seems that maybe, just maybe this was the best available ships in the area. Seems to me that if there were any OTHER ships in the area from ANY country that could provide a floating airport in the Sulu Sea, WHERE WERE THEY???

    There is one thing that still stands out today in the Philippines and that is this. There are those that are NEVER, repeat NEVER thankful for assistence/aid, etc that is provided by the US.

    The next Typhoon that hits the Philippines, lets see who comes and helps you with a floating airport in the areas that are hardest hit. Maybe another Asian country could help? Don't think so as those that MIGHT have aircraft carriers are inport and don't go to sea that often.

    So the bottom line is this Miriam, the next "tragedy" that hits the Philippines, it might be wise to maybe ask the PEOPLE of the Philippines if they care about the constitution when it comes to assistance and aid from the US.

    By Blogger John, at 7/04/2008 5:23 PM  

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