Panatag Shoal: from fishing ground to solid military ground

 

We all have heard of Panatag Shoal or most commonly known as Scarborough Shoal at the height of the South China Sea (SCS) territorial dispute when China unequivocally closed off the shoal from Filipino fishermen in 2012.

The shoal off the coast of Zambales lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and as such fishermen from this coastal region consider the shoal their fishing ground since time immemorial.

The shoal became even determinedly for the Filipinos when the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled the granting of 200 nautical miles (approximately 370 km) EEZ for island nations, which in reality exceeds the distance compared to where Panatag Shoal is which is only 119 nautical miles (approximately 220 km) west of Zambales.

With the ascendancy , however, of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency, and especially after he made a state visit to China’s President Xi Jinping in October 2016, the strained relationship between the two countries got better and the Filipino fishermen were allowed access to the rich fishing ground again.

We were hoping that this kind of access to the fishing ground was granted for good and for humanitarian reason especially that Duterte did not and has not in any way agreed or concurred with the international arbitral tribunal ruling favoring the Philippines in its maritime case against China.

Suffice to say that Duterte, like the leadership of China, ignored the arbitral ruling and, in fact, supported China’s continued island building and militarization of the area even as it was being built at our own backyard already.

Seemingly doing China a favor Duterte made it known that he wanted China’s patronage in return to jump-start the development of the country, thus, the pouring in of cash from China today.

But what is disheartening now, if not alarming, is that China has decided to convert Panatag Shoal, yes, the rich fishing ground belonging to the Philippines, into a solid military ground, just like the others, where it plans to build environmental monitoring stations, whatever that means.

If this is not a classic case of ‘giving them a hand and they will take an arm’ or ‘giving them an inch and they will take a mile’, I don’t know what is.

But what is worse is that the military build-up, for how else would one describe it, can be found at our turf!

I had been supportive of Duterte and even in his stand that if the most powerful country in the world was not able to stop China from militarizing the SCS, who are we to halt them?

I hope Duterte this time realizes that our generosity, if not our naivete, is being taken advantaged to the hilt by his more calculating, wily and farsighted Chinese counterpart.

What is disturbing and frightening is that when push comes to shove between two powerful contending nations having a stake in this part of the globe, the Philippines is right there included in the cross-hair of China’s enemy.

There is definitely no if and buts about it.

Benham Rise issue – Part III

 

I have no choice but to designate this article as Part III since I have already written about Benham Rise twice some years back which you can read at this links:

https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/philippines-pin-hopes-on-benham-rise/

https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/thank-god-for-benham-rise-part-ii/

Never had I anticipated writing about it again until I heard the recent alarming and disturbing news that a Chinese survey ship was spotted at the Benham Rise location.

“We are concerned about the presence of a Chinese ship in Benham Rise, which has been recognized by the United Nations as part of the Philippines,” said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella in a statement on Friday, March 10.

“The Department of National Defense has already notified the Department of Foreign Affairs regarding this matter as we continue to assert our sovereignty over our territory,” he added.

Of course we should, forcefully and explicitly!

The Benham Rise area definitely does not have any stupid Chinese historical claim of any sort like they had been asserting they have at the West Philippine Sea just because it is part of the larger body of water bearing the name South China Sea (SCS).

On the pretext that China was “looking for a place to put submarine”, as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said was the info he got, the most likely reason would be that they have chosen the area for their oceanographic research because they just want to confirm if indeed the unimaginable wealth and extent in mineral resources and gas deposits found underneath Benham Rise truly exist.

I cannot blame President Rodrigo Duterte for pussyfooting with the Chinese in the West Philippine Sea issue, where even the country’s territorial integrity has been breached with China’s nine- dash line claim.

If the most powerful country and the acclaimed top ‘policeman’ in the world- the US, and the UN, through its agency the UNCLOS, were not able to stop China from expanding and militarizing the SCS, who are we to prevent China’s hegemony of the contested areas?

But what I am just saying here is that we had been hearing Duterte declaring time and again that he will die defending the country and the Filipino people from the enemies that will try to destroy them.

Well this is it!

There has not been and there will never be a greater challenge such as this one in Duterte’s presidency that needs more of his grit, determination and resolve to stand up for his country and people.

Duterte could not afford anymore to be complacent the way he has been pleased and gratified at the financial and technical help China has promised to give for many infrastructure projects for the country.

China may have bamboozled us in the SCS and there was nothing that we can do. In that part of the globe what is China’s is China’s and what is ours is still China’s

Duterte and those that will follow him should be reminded that at Benham Rise what legally belongs to the Philippines is for the Filipinos and for the generations of Filipinos to come and not to China or any other exploitative country that intends to not only hold us by the balls, but stick it to us as well.

 

Presidential emergency powers needed to speed up infra projects

 

President Rodrigo Duterte with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua

President Rodrigo Duterte with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua

There never has been such a propitious time to embark on a challenging and costly infrastructure projects that will benefit the country and its people, most specifically in solving the traffic crisis in the country, than it is today.

We should all realize that the country’s population is getting bigger by the year and we can also say that the economy is getting better, but the downside of all these is that the cities’ main thoroughfares are clogging up with private and public transport vehicles, not to mention the continued existence of the ubiquitous jeepneys, and these pathetic sights all over the country are making the people, from students to employees, more stressful and less productive.

Understandably, there have been government projects geared towards improving the flow and plight of people but, sadly, it always ended up in failures because of incompetence, corruption and the scandalous one of all, politics.

I say it is propitious time now because not only do we have an incorruptible leader who wants to see the country move forward, but we also have China that believes in President Rodrigo Duterte’s hard-nosed style of governance and whom it could trust to put into good use the billions of dollars of loan that the giant country is helping us with for the various infrastructure projects needed.

But for these projects to be expeditiously realized Congress must grant Duterte emergency powers, which the latter actually requested in his SONA last July 2016, to solve the traffic dilemma the country is experiencing today.

No less than Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua expressed support for the granting of emergency powers to Duterte, saying, “There is as very strong sense of urgency. As you know, infrastructure projects cannot be done overnight. They usually take years to finish, and given the fact that the presidential term is only six years, so we must hurry. We have to get it done within the presidential term. We are quite afraid of taking up projects that go beyond the presidential term because that would mean a lot of challenges and uncertainties.”

“I hope President Duterte can get his emergency power as soon as possible. Without the emergency power, I think the big infrastructure projects — the process is going to be very slow, particularly with regard to the rehabilitation or the land issue, so we might be stuck there,” he added.

What the Chinese ambassador actually meant are the facilitation of the right-of-way disputes and other hindrances that may be contentious and detrimental to the proposed projects.

In the process we could not discount questions coming from skeptics asking whether or not the Chinese-funded infrastructure projects in the country is a reward for Duterte not making a big fuss over China’s island building and militarization of the South China Sea (SCS), despite a favorable decision by an international tribunal negating China’s nine-dash-line claim.

Well, you tell me, what else could be done with China, now established in the area?  Who are we to be confrontational with China when the most powerful country in the world could not even prevent China from expanding in the SCS?

Beggars cannot be choosy and if having China for a neighbor is the fastest way to develop the country, then so be it. Better this way than to find ourselves in their cross-hair.

Talking about charting our own destiny!

Duterte’s pivot to China

 

President Rodrigo Duterte and China President Xi Jinping

President Rodrigo Duterte and China President Xi Jinping

Much has been said about President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to China but nothing more confounding than when he blurted out the following at a meeting of Filipino and Chinese businessmen, this after he met China President Xi Jinping: “I announce my separation from the United States, both in military but economics also.”

Many foreign countries went agog hearing this considering how close and tight our ties has been with the US.

It does not mean that Filipinos here and abroad didn’t feel dismayed and stunned at the same time.

But knowing Duterte who shoots his mouth faster than his brain could process the repercussion of his statements, I knew there was going to follow some elucidating explanation, and indeed there was.

Perhaps after much soul searching, Duterte realized that what he really wanted to say to China, and for the world to understand too, is that he simply wanted “a separation of foreign policy” and not “a severance of ties”, which for all intents and purposes is giving up complete diplomatic relations.

“It is not severance of ties. You say severance of ties, you cut the diplomatic relations. I cannot do that,” Duterte admitted.

With Duterte as president, we Filipinos have learned to adapt having tongue in cheek for every major statement he makes.

But having said that still we do not doubt Duterte’s good intention in deciding to make a historic pivot to China, as much as it bewilders the whole world, because present circumstances in the region, specifically in the South China Sea (SCS), warrants that he, as the country’s leader, has to solve the problem we are having with China in our territorial and jurisdictional dispute with them.

The international court may have ruled in favor of the Philippines, but does it mean that the problem the Filipino fishermen are having have been resolved already – that they can go back fishing in our own inherent exclusive economic zones when China do not respect the ruling, much less recognize the ruling body?

Of course not and we cannot depend on anybody else, and not even the US, to take the cudgels for us but our own selves.

Duterte’s pivot to China is not about ideological aligning but rather a move that will determine how the country should chart its own future considering that China has expanded and is now situated in our own backyard, so to say.

Lest the world forgets, Duterte is doing this pivot, much to the chagrin of the US, because if the latter was not able to prevent the expansionism of China in the SCS, while they could have years before, who else is going to help us improve our lot and protect us if not our own selves.

Duterte’s move is about making more friends, especially those whom you can’t simply shoo away because of its economic and military power.

Think about it.

 

Plan to cut off ties with US in favor of China may put country in peril

 

President Rodrigo Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte

Together with China, President Rodrigo Duterte also want to have ties with Russia, which in effect marginalizes the US in his new foreign policy realignment.

This, Duterte has announced over and over again in his speeches after his seemingly endless vituperation against the US.

Except for tourism and an alternative source for police and military weapons, which Duterte recently implied he will be buying from, there is no other reason that would make it imperative why it would be Russia that we would be aligning with.

Like China, Russia is just another devil that we don’t know much about if, indeed, that is how serious Duterte wants to re-structure his new major foreign policy approach.

Thus, since I don’t know much what to expect from Russia that would be beneficial to the interest of the country and the Filipinos, I have opted not to comment on it for now. Suffice to say that I could not fathom Duterte’s mind as to why he has to drop the US in favor of Russia when the latter has never been an iota of an ally comparable to our alliance with the US.

What I am saying is that I have more reason to be talking about China since this giant of a nation has already extended its military tentacles all over the South China Sea (SCS) to the extent that we can say that it is now practically in our own backyard, to the consternation of the Filipino people.

What is even worse is that our fishermen are losing their livelihoods simply because of the Chinese tentacles powerfully driving the folks from their fishing grounds.

Yes, the Chinese occupation in the SCS has virtually made them our neighbors and no amount of international law will delegitimize their claim that they historically own almost all of the SCS and what is beneath it.

It is bad enough that China has extended and expanded its military might near our shores and the shores of other countries in the region, but do we have to make the situation worse by cutting the country’s military ties with the US?

One question that we would be asking ourselves is: Could the China build-up of islands for military use in the SCS have happened if the country had not booted out the Americans from their military bases before?

In retrospect the politicians then thought that they were doing the country a favor by closing the bases and driving out the Americans because they thought we can fight our own battles both internally and externally.

With corrupt politicians, how could the country ever fight its own battles, whether internally or externally?

But look what is happening now with China flexing its military muscle in our part of the world?

Good that we have Duterte who is trying to mend fences with the communists and the Moro rebels and seems to be succeeding, but does he have to put the country in peril by drastically doing away with the country’s long alliance with the US and fully embracing the devil that we don’t really know that much which is China?

And think about this. Only a few days ago two Chinese and a Russian drug mules were caught carrying around 27 kilos of cocaine at Manila’s international airport. Are these really the countries Duterte wants to be dealing with in trade and other relations in place of the US considering his serious and bloody war on drugs?

We know for a fact that China is the biggest source of illegal drug being brought into the country. The whole world also knows for a fact that drugs proliferate in Russia.

If Duterte has problems with the US and the EU, would his choice of cutting ties with these countries in favor of China and Russia not a classic example of us jumping from the frying pan to the fire?

Just asking.

 

 

Time to rally behind Duterte

 

President Rodrigo Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte

At no other time, since Cory Aquino’s presidency, are we seeing once again the need for trust, confidence and total support of the Filipino people for a president.

Never had this country experienced electing a president with overwhelming votes against his opponents and in so short a time of his presidency has done so much for so many.

And to think that we chose a man coming from far flung Mindanao, which is about time for one coming from that place, but most importantly one who is a darn good lawyer who made a name with his fearless, unconventional and unorthodox manner in making untamed Davao City into a safe and livable place which has become the envy of most cities in the country.

But what makes President Rodrigo Duterte head and shoulders above the rest of past leaders is his uncompromising love for his country, his strong faith in the Filipino people and his resoluteness to do everything in his power to move the country forward and improve the lives of its citizens.

Thus, Duterte’s mission and vision for the country entails that, if necessary, he has to wage a bloody war against illegal drugs, criminality and corruption which are the scourges ever present in our society and which have grown to monstrous proportions.

It was providential for the nation that Duterte won the presidency because the magnitude and extent of these problems, especially the one on drugs, are simply mind boggling and the only person competent and capable of battling it head on is Duterte.

Likewise, it is only Duterte who has the fortitude to initiate peace with the communists and the Moro rebels in Mindanao.

I could not imagine a Roxas, a Poe or a Binay leading the kind of fight Duterte is doing for the country and its people. With them we would surely have awaken one day with nothing more to hope for the best as the country will be overrun by evil people.

Duterte may be described as shooting his mouth often or as loose cannon only to retract and make amends but that does not make him less of leader.

For what he has said and done, either controversial or unquestionable, Duterte has become a fodder for news here and abroad.

He may have ruffled the feathers of some politicians here for declaring a ‘state of lawlessness’ in the whole country but it is an act that is not politically motivated, as to put the country under martial law, but rather a move that will hasten the restoration of peace, order and security of the country following the recent terrorist act by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Davao City.

Duterte may have also disconcerted the feelings of some noted international officials or head of state and organizations but this is for all and sundry to know that the Philippines is a sovereign country and that he as leader will no longer tolerate any foreign leader to meddle and bully his way into the internal affairs of the country and/or infringe into what rightfully belongs to the state.

For all these and for the hope and expectations that Duterte is projecting for the country and its people to attain, it is only fitting that Filipinos should rally behind him now.

 

China still a winner despite arbitral tribunal’s favorable ruling

 

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr.

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay’s pronouncement as ‘a great and resounding victory’ the arbitral tribunal’s favorable ruling in our dispute with China on the country’s claim of the West Philippine Sea is, to my mind, ambiguous at best and a sham at worst.

How can the country claim victory when China not only disrespects and dishonors the arbitral body and its decision but more significantly has not move an inch away from our own exclusive economic zone, which the country has the sovereign rights to explore and exploit, conserve and manage the natural resources, whether living or non-living, etc.

What is even disadvantageous is that China has not stop developing and strengthening militarily the disputed area, all to our dismay.

Most wanting yet is that the rich fishing grounds where our fisher folks used to go for a living continues to be off limits to them.

Yes, they call it a historic ruling by the arbitral tribunal but what impact has it made on the foreign powers, most notably the United States?

Nothing! Why? Because there is nothing the Western powers can really do directly about it. That is the long and short of it.

Yet Yasay says, “We are also getting the pressure on the part of the international community to urge China to precisely respect and recognize the decision of the arbitral tribunal. This pressure on the part of the international community is building up.”

If the most powerful country in the world and its allies can’t compel China to honor the decision of the arbitral tribunal, who are we to bulldoze this giant nation?

“We are trying to make China understand, especially when the dust settles, that unless they respect and recognize the arbitral tribunal, they will be the losers at the end of the day on this matter,” Yasay said in a congressional budget hearing.

Losers or is it that China just don’t give a damn and continue to have their aggressive winning ways?

For how else one should interpret what the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said in an interview with reporters on this matter:  “We cannot accept the arbitration award but we do look forward to talk to the Philippines bilaterally of the troubles we have.”

That is the reality we and the rest of the world have to contend with.