Yes to martial law in Mindanao

 

President Rodrigo Duterte

The writing on the wall was there. It was coming. It was just a matter of time.

Coming from Mindanao, President Rodrigo Duterte has always longed for peace in the war turned  region.

He has always made it clear that he identifies himself with the Muslims, openly stating that he has their blood flowing in his veins from his maternal side of the family.

But as then mayor of Davao City he could only do so much and with limited impact.

Thus, when Duterte got overwhelmingly elected president he worked hard to make Mindanao what it is suppose to be – the land of promise, among other things.

Duterte realized that peace in Mindanao will not come easy not because of the much talked about Muslim-Christian conflict, but more serious is the enmity and hostility among the different Moro rebel themselves.

As Duterte showed ardor and determination in his fight against illegal drugs, criminality and corruption in the country, his sincerity and passion also manifested in his quest to pacify the warring Moro rebels in Mindanao so lasting peace in the region could be attained. I am referring here to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Alas, while peace talks, agreements and even unavoidable occasional skirmishes between government troops and the Moro rebel have been ongoing, another radical Islamist rebels known as the Maute group made known of their existence with impunity.

The Maute group who are based in Lanao del Sur is also known as the Islamic State of Lanao led by their founders Omar and Abdulla Maute. It is said that this local terrorist group has already pledged allegiance to international terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS), carrying and raising ISIS black flags and insignia.

The Maute has been blamed for a bomb attack that killed 15 people in southern Davao city last September and a number of attacks on government forces in Lanao, although it has faced setbacks from a series of military offensives.

With events going bad and spiraling out of control in Marawi City, as the Maute group mounted violent attacks when government forces tried to capture their leader Isnilon Hapilon, Duterte deemed it timely to declare martial law for the whole of Mindanao.

I think Duterte knows what he is doing and if putting Mindanao under martial law is what it takes to prevent the enlisting and widening the control of the Maute terrorist group so that the country could go on developing its national interest then the president should be commended for exercising his much appreciated guts and political will.

 

War with China not an option

 

President Rodrigo Duterte with China President Xi Jinping

Much have been said about whether or not China’s leader, President Xi Jinping, had really warned the Philippine government not to rock the boat over the country’s maritime dispute with them at the West Philippine Sea (WPS) or else  there will be war.

Some politicians and political pundits are saying this is bullying in its highest form to keep us silent, and the best remedy, as they suggested, is to bring the matter up again to the UN tribunal, the same body that declared China’s build-up in the WPS as illegal.

Again I have to ask: what for?

Even Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the Chinese leader’s threat, if true, is a gross violation of the United Nations (UN) charter. Then he cited Article 2, Section 4 of the UN Charter that states “all members shall refrain in their institutional relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purpose of the United Nations.”

While this may serve as basis for another related complaint we will be raising against China before the UN tribunal, what good will it do the country if China do not give a hoot about what the arbitral court says?

Like I said many times before, what China has claimed at the South China Sea is China’s and what belongs to the Philippines at the WPS is still China’s and if the most powerful nation on Earth, the US, was not able to prevent China from its military build-up in the area and the UN tribunal’s decision favoring the Philippine’s claim of its own territory just brazenly and utterly disregarded and disrespected by China, then who are we to think, much less believe, that elevating the war threat against us by China will stop China from doing what they are there for – militarizing the area.

President Rodrigo Duterte knows very well that war with China is not an option, but he is intelligent enough to understand that if he plays his cards well he can make the most out for the country and the Filipino people.

We are in a new geopolitical situation forced upon a third world country and we just have to be thankful that Duterte is one leader who thinks out of the box, has political will and has the support of the people to make things happen for the interest of the country.

Duterte is left with no other alternative but to make deals and pacts with China to benefit the country, like when sought closer ties with Beijing to win billions of dollars of Chinese investments and loans.

Duterte is doing the same thing with Russia now finally putting into practice his serious shift in foreign policy that all these years have been dictated and dominated by the US government.

Duterte orders occupation of SCS islands belonging to the Philippines

 

President Rodrigo Duterte

It was reported that President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to occupy all islands of the Philippines in the South China Sea (SCS) to strengthen the country’s claims to the area.

I would presume these are the islands, reefs, shoals, and other features within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) over which, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind. The EEZ stretches from the baseline out to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from its coast.

Whether or not this is the new code of conduct for the SCS among claimant nations in the region vis-à-vis China, which has laid claim to almost all of SCS simply because it bears its name, one can only surmise that, indeed, this must have the blessing of China leadership.

Obviously China does not want to appear as a despotic neighbor for as long as the small claimant nations let them be where they are now and whatever else it is going to do in the future.

This seems to be a nascent ‘modus vivendi’ approach of China towards some members of the ASEAN, like the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, now that they are well entrenched in the area with their seven man-made militarized islands.

What else can the Philippines do except to take advantage of the ‘benevolent act’ of China giving us the situation and occasion to lay emphatic claim of our own with the following statements by Duterte:

“We tried to be friends with everybody but we have to maintain our jurisdiction now, at least the areas under our control. And I have ordered the armed forces to occupy all these.”

“It looks like everybody is making a grab for the islands there, so we better live on those that are still vacant. At least, let us get what is ours now and make a strong point there that it is ours.”

China knows that it has gotten us by the “cojones” (balls) already. Our subservience to them cannot be denied and this was manifested when Duterte hinted that going to war against China is nothing but a suicidal act. It is simply a classic case of the saying: “if you cannot beat them, join them.” And that is what we are doing with China.

But ours in not the first case of having islands, reefs, shoals and other features occupied.

I am sharing with you this link for better appreciation of the subject:

http://thediplomat.com/2016/05/south-china-sea-who-claims-what-in-the-spratlys/.

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!

Putting closure to the Mamasapano carnage

 

saf44I have written a few pieces last year on the Mamasapano carnage that resulted in the gory death of 44 commandos of the PNP Special Action Force, which President Rodrigo Duterte aptly describes now, as “gallant officers who were fed to the lions to be eaten by death”.

In all of those pieces I was very critical of the way former President Benigno Aquino, PNoy, handled the operation as president and commander-in-chief.

PNoy’s biggest and indefensible mistake is not only his mistrust in his own DILG secretary who was then Mar Roxas and the PNP OIC chief, then Gen. Leonardo Espina, who were left in the dark about the SAF mission, dubbed Oplan Exodus, but in his misjudgment in believing and in having faith and confidence that a friend and savior by the name of PNP Director General Alan Purisima had all the competence to make the covert operation successful.

What made it even dumb and damning for PNoy is that he was surreptitiously conniving with Purisima about the operation and giving the latter the authority to direct the risky and perilous operation even when the latter did not have the adequacy and the power to do it because at that time he was under suspension.

Even the military was out of the loop about Oplan Exodus, would you believe it?

Thus, it is commendable therefore for Duterte to show once again strength of character and political will to have the Mamasapano carnage re-investigated if only to put closure to this misadventure sanctioned by no less than the president and commander-in-chief, when the truth, the whole truth is finally divulged.

In fact closure has started already when Duterte hinted that he would award the PNP’s Medal of Valor to all 44 fallen SAF commandos and that a date will be set to remember their heroism.

Note that PNoy’s indifference and insensitivity showed all the more when he awarded the Medal of Valor to only two commandos that made eyebrows raised from the 42 other bereaved families.

Calling for justice and demanding an explanation from PNoy for his presidential booboo on the Mamasapano carnage is only fitting as it falls under the dictum of command responsibility.