Congressmen seek probe of US missile system use in Balikatan war games

DVIDS/ LANCE CPL. ISAIAH CAMPBELL

By Kenneth Christiane L. Basilio

A GROUP of militant lawmakers on Wednesday filed a resolution seeking to investigate the missile system brought by the United States in the country for annual war games, saying it could potentially be carrying nuclear warheads.

“These Balikatan exercises need transparency because we don’t know if these Tomahawk missiles have nuclear warheads, which is against our Constitution,” Party-list Rep. France L. Castro said in a statement in Filipino.

The US brought a mid-range missile system for the Balikatan or shoulder-to-shoulder military exercises with the Philippines that started this week.

“There is a need for transparency on Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement sites as well as the equipment… the US brings into the Philippines as Tomahawk cruise missiles may carry… nuclear warheads,” according to House Resolution No. 1688.

“The deployment of such missile systems not only endangers the lives of Filipinos but also… undermines peace and stability in the region,” political activist Antonio L. Tinio said in the same statement.

China has expressed “grave concern” over the move to bring the missile system into the country.

“The US move exacerbates tensions in the region and increases the risk of misjudgment and miscalculation,” China Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian told a news briefing last week.

The United States is using the annual drills to advance its military interests in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the resolution.

“The Balikatan exercises only exacerbate warmongering and seek provocation against China,” Ms. Castro told BusinessWorld in Filipino in an interview on Wednesday.

Don Mclain Gill, who teaches international relations at De La Salle University in Manila, said the war games improve the interoperability of the Philippine military with its allies.

“With or without China, such drills would have continued,” he told said in a Facebook Messenger chat this week. “However, China’s intensified belligerence in the West Philippine Sea adds more importance to Balikatan given the Philippines ‘ defense-oriented policy.”

Ms. Castro said the House should prioritize the probe.

The Senate and House of Representatives have separately passed several bills that seek to boost Philippine claims in the South China Sea, including one that defines the maritime boundaries of the country.

Also approved was a measure that seeks to encourage investments in the country’s local defense industry.

Political analysts said these measures could help deter Chinese military expansionism in the waterway.

“Lawfare needs a proper perspective,” Joshua Bernard B. Espeña, vice-president at the Manila-based International Development and Security Cooperation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“It is not a silver bullet, but rather one of the many tools,” he added, referring to the use of legal action to cause problems for an opponent.

The government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. is “clearly using international law and international relations as tools to assert our position,” Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a policy analyst and senior research fellow at the Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center, said via Messenger chat.

“He is clearly making an effort to internationalize the West Philippine Sea issue, which means putting the 2016 arbitral ruling at the very center of our position,” he added.

China has ignored the decision by a United Nations-backed court in the Hague voiding its expansive claims in the South China Sea.