When the USA sneezes….

When the USA sneezes, the world catches a bad cold, tectonic plates shift figuratively and tsunamis hurl destructive forces on faraway shores. That is because the United States of America has been the insurmountable world power since Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt met in Yalta in February 1945 when the Second World War was coming to an end. “Pax Americana” ensued; my generation has known no other geopolitical configuration.

After World War II, colonies of ex-European empires emerged as newly-independent nation-states. Soon after, these were labeled “underdeveloped”, then “developing” which seemed more promising. In the 1970’s we were the “Third World”, encouraged to strengthen “South-South ” relations with our kind, and be wary of exploitative “North-South” ties with world powers.

Ten years after Yalta, the USA formed the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in December 1954 and strangely enough it had only two Southeast Asian members, the Philippines and Thailand and one South Asian nation, Pakistan. The rest of the members were France, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia.

Even then, it was obvious that the SEATO was aimed to crush Vietnam’s struggle for independence from France, later from the USA, the world power that attempted to divide the Vietnamese into North and South. The Prime Ministers of India, Indonesia, Burma (Myanmar) Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Pakistan met in Bogor to lay down the principles of Afro-Asian unity; a conference was held in Bandung, Indonesia between 18 to 24 April 1955; twenty-nine States from Africa and Asia attempted to design an alternative universe.

These days, super power USA seems to be afflicted with rhinitis and that is giving us Filipinos chills and shivers because we depend on the USA to defend and protect us. Two years ago, local white insurgents inflamed by a defeated presidential candidate attacked Capitol Hill and almost wrecked the foundation of “Pax Americana”, elections and the smooth transition of political power. At this writing, the main plotter of the attempted coup is still at large, nicking USA’s image as a super power. From across the Pacific Ocean, we hear of gun violence in American high schools, anti-Asian attacks in supermarkets, temples and bars. Super power USA has shortages of microchips, basic medicines and baby food while supermarkets, shopping malls and banks close down. This Filipino is shocked. A super power wannabe spies on, in and over the USA; another threatens its navy, military, regional military alliances and supply lines. Where does that put us? Filipinos are the only people on this planet that love the USA unconditionally.

When our super power ally is indisposed, it is time to take preventive care. We must strengthen “South-South” as well as “North-South” relations. That is probably why the Marcos Jr. administration has decided to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) last February. The Philippines and Myanmar were the last to sign this world’s largest free trade agreement. The RCEP includes all the ten members of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a descendant of the defunct SEATO) as well as “First World” States like Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and People’s China, the emerging super power. The countries represent 30 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, trade volume and population. The Philippine Senate excitedly ratified the RCEP; NEDA Secretary Arsenio Balicasan believes the Philippines will become an ideal investment hub as we expand market access. It seems that we have “comparative advantages” that will allow us to profit from the RCEP: The Philippines is strategically located, its climate is benign in most areas; labor is skilled, highly qualified, educated; building infrastructure is continuous; business practices are liberalized and democracy is alive and well, not endangered like in the USA. President BBM himself is convinced that foreign investments will finally cascade into our economy and importation of agricultural products will tame inflation.

However, Mr. Ernesto Ordoñez (Alyansa Agrikultura) has words of caution: Let us not repeat the mistakes committed when the Philippines joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). Importation of agricultural products (especially unabated smuggling) damages the agricultural sector. Had the Senate rejected the RCEP, decline in our agricultural sector will continue because of government inaction. Mr. Rosendo So (Samahang Agrikultura at Industriya) agrees with Mr. Ordoñez. The mechanisms of good governance must first be firmly in place. Our industries are not yet capable nor competitive. The Senate has included conditionalities which the Executive has to implement for the agricultural sector to get the long-denied aid and badly-needed services. I hope the RCEP works for the Philippines, that will depend only on us, and not on any super power.