West Philippine Sea Victory Day

Senator Leila de Lima

It is lamentable that progressive and powerful countries in the world advocating strong support or protection for democratic principles have remained silent and noncommittal towards our plight over China’s egregious military build-up in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

But what makes it even more ridiculous now is a bill filed by Senator Leila de Lima seeking to declare July 12 of every year as the “West Philippine Sea Victory Day”.

I mean why call for a yearly moral victory celebration when China has positioned itself intrinsically at will to continue bullying us?

Senate Bill 2201 may be right in describing the arbitral tribunal’s decision on July 12, 2016 as a landmark victory for the country when it favored the country’s sovereign rights in the WPS, as stipulated by the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also known as the Law of the Sea Treaty which, among other things, defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.

In effect, the same tribunal invalidated China’s expansive claims ruling that it had no legal basis to claim the area within its nine-dash lines demarcation.

Ironically the opposite has happened because even as the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was resolving the issue of sovereign rights over the disputed waters, China was busy developing the man-made islands into military bases with deep water ports and airports, after which all sorts of armaments were installed.

So while China would consider the area within the nine-dash line its territory, other countries were assured, if not pacified, that they would still have freedom of navigation,

How could de Lima, therefore, say it is a victory worth commemorating every July 12th when it is hollow and ineffectual, to say the least? Let us not fool ourselves.

What I am saying is that for as long as China stays militarily and permanently entrenched in our territorial waters and has claimed the rights to activities ranging from fishing to prospecting and mining for energy or mineral resources, while nobody in the world can admonish its hegemonic ambitions in the area, then one can never declare himself victorious in the true sense of the word.

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China’s maritime rescue center

 

SC Associate Justice Antonio Carpio

Aside from the expanding militarization of the artificial islands built by China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), what got the attention lately of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio is the news that China had constructed what it called a “maritime rescue center” in Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef), which is a disputed territory.

Carpio’s concern is that the Duterte’s government should not just let this pass, meaning that it should file a protest so that it cannot be said that we have consented to China’s act of putting up a maritime rescue center, whatever it means, or else it might be interpreted that we are recognizing China’s right to occupy and use Fiery Cross Reef when it is the Philippines that has the exclusive rights over it.

There is no doubt that Carpio’s legal advice is worth heeding for it is strengthening and upholding the country’s claim of the WPS according to the rules established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Carpio’s recommendation also seeks to give credence to the July 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration declaring, among other things, that China violated its obligations under UNCLOS with its island-building activities on several features, including Kagitingan Reef. Also, that China’s nine-dash lines had no legal basis for maritime claims.

But what good would Carpio’s proposition really do when China has established her dominion in the WPS with impunity, does not give a hoot about UNCLOS and simply brushes off the decision of the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal?

Needless to say that China is staying in the WPS forever and nobody, not even the US nor the UN, can stop their continuing military build-up in the disputed waters. The strategic importance of the place, both for military and economic purposes, cannot be overemphasized and China can only gloat for the success it has attained in having the vast area under its control today.

Had the Duterte government protested when China started building the now existing maritime observation center, a meteorological observatory, and a national environmental and air quality monitoring station, all on the pretext that it was built for humanitarian reasons?

How about when China quietly installed defensive missile systems and military jamming equipment, which disrupts communications and radar systems?

It never did.

The fact is that protesting against a superpower like China whose formidable military presence can be felt in our backyard is not only dispiriting, but is in itself an exercise in futility. We are on our own and the best way forward is not to antagonize but rather focus on economic cooperation while maintaining our self-respect.

Finger pointing

 

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim

There is no disputing anymore that the West Philippine Sea (WPS) has been turned into a militarized zone by China. Much has been written about it and photos will prove the extent of the military build-up in the area.

But I just want to give my two cents’ on a recent news report where US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim was quoted, when interviewed on ANC, saying, “I’m not sure if it’s really fair to point a finger at the United States because we’re not doing anything. It’s China that’s taking aggressive unilateral actions in the disputed area.”

This has reference of course to a remark made by President Rodrigo Duterte sometime this year that it is the US who should be blamed for the reclamation activities done by Beijing in the WPS.

What Duterte simply meant is that had the US, as the acknowledged leader of the free world, intervened early on by calling upon China to respect and adhere with the rulings of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), aggression and expansionism by China, using its historic claims of “Nine-Dash Line” could not have happened in the SCS and in the WPS, for that matter.

Note that UNCLOS defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans; it establishes guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.

Because of UNCLOS, the Philippines made a unilateral move to sue China before the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013 due to China’s aggression and incursions in the WPS which is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile-exclusive economic zone (EEZ). We all know by now that the Philippines won the case against China in July 2016 when the UN court junked China’s nine-dash line claim on the entire South China Sea.

Duterte therefore was right in putting the onus on the US which, unfortunately Kim willfully ignored and refrained from disproving it.

The truth of the matter is that while the US participated in the negotiations of modifications to the treaty in the early 1990s, before it came into force in 1994, and continues to recognize the significance of UNCLOS, it has, however, failed to ratify it to this day, thus, compromising its ability to peacefully resolve SCS disputes by its non-party status to UNCLOS.

It is in this context that China took advantage of the seeming absence of the US in strongly promoting rules-based approach to governance in SCS and in the WPS, for that matter.

The seeming US nonchalance also failed to stop China’s impunity to increase its control and extend its authority in the region at the expense of its neighbors in Southeast Asia.

No apology needed for the return of the Balangiga bells

 

Much has been said already about the historic Balangiga bells which found its way back to the church of San Lorenzo de Martir in Balangiga, Easter Samar, where it rightfully belongs, after it was readily and gladly removed from the church’s belfry as spoils of war by American soldiers during the 1901 Filipino-American war.

One can only understand how the Americans felt when the bell’s toll were used by the Filipino bolo-wielding insurgent guerillas as a signal to stealthily attack a detachment of American troops having breakfast at their garrison in Balangiga. The unsuspecting soldiers had left their rifles at the barracks thinking that having established peace they were already far from harm’s way.

This was the time when the leader and symbol of Filipino resistance, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, was captured and forced to issue a proclamation calling all insurgents to lay down their arms and submit to American rule.

Our history however of fighting oppression and subjugation that started when Lapu-lapu killed Magellan in the battle of Mactan has been always predicated on the fact that all the Filipinos wanted was humane treatment and respect over clamored reforms leading to establishing our own identity and government.

Armed rebellion in the Philippines, in whatever way seen, has always been a tacit declaration of war against foreign domination. This happened during the Filipino-Spanish war and the same colonizing mind-set of the Americans when they took over from the Spaniards the dominion of the Philippines was the same reason why animosity against the Americans also prevailed.

Thus, among the many uprisings by Filipino insurgents against the Americans, the Balangiga massacre stood out not only as a storied event but also a harrowing experience for the place and its residents when the newly replenished US troops exacted revenge after receiving orders from their angered leader, General Jacob Smith, to burn, kill and leave the place a ‘howling  wilderness”.

This utter destruction of life and property is said to have spread to the entire province of Samar with local men being killed and women and children being starved.

It is in this context that I do not understand why some group in our society still has demanded that an official and public apology be made by the US government upon the return of the bells for the atrocities committed.

War is a tit-for-tat action where someone takes revenge for what they have done by doing similar to them. In some cases the retaliatory action is beyond imagination as what happened in Balangiga.

That is all there is to it.

‘Duterte death squad’

 

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte

The infamous Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group accused by Amnesty International and local human rights advocate for widespread summary executions in Davao City, must have been in the mind of President Rodrigo Duterte when he announced that he would create his own hit squad, if that is what it takes to counter the Sparrow Units employed by the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Naming it the ‘Duterte Death Squad’, the president said it will try to match the communist rebel’s “talent in assassinating people.” An eye for an eye, as the saying goes. As if this is what is legally meant by extracting justice from the rebels.

Perhaps tired and exasperated that to this day government soldiers and policemen continue to be sitting ducks of the NPA’s hit men and hopeless that there will ever be peace while Duterte and exiled-CPP head Joma Sison continue to bicker, the former could not help but express his frustrations this way in his speech during the turnover of housing units for the military and police at Camp Rajah Sikatuna in Carmen, Bohol recently. The reality is that the plan is better said than done.

It is bad enough that to this day also there has not been any let up pertaining to killings in the government’s fight against drugs and if we have to believe that the formation of the ‘Duterte Death Squad’ is bound to happen then we simply have to admit that the country will no longer be govern by the rule of law.

But the presidency is so powerful, what with all the intelligence and resources the occupant has at the tip of his fingers that resorting to this foolish plan of creating a death squad is nothing short of being irresponsible.

Besides, Duterte as an astute lawyer and as the president of the country knows what is good for him and what is best for the country, but above all what weighs more for consideration is the legacy he wants to leave behind and how history would judge him.

Suffice to say Duterte’s announcement was just a metaphor and should not be taken seriously.

 

Soldiers at the BOC

 

This is not about questioning the wisdom of President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive for the military to have part of its component deployed to the Bureau of Customs (BOC) for law enforcement activities.

After all, not being a lawyer, one can only submit to the statement of Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, saying, “Time and again, the President assures everyone that as a lawyer, he knows the limits of the power and authority of his office.”

This, after Malacañang finally saw it fit to declare a state of lawlessness at the BOC following the seemingly undetected shipment of illegal drugs (shabu) worth billions that entered the country through customs during the time of recently ousted Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña, and even during the time of his predecessor, Nicanor Faeldon.

Obviously, what is happening at the BOC can be considered as a crime committed against humanity, which can also be interpreted in the same vein as invasion or rebellion and the only way to quell it is by the use of military force which is a constitutional mandate of a president.

But what I am questioning, however, is the efficacy of such an order.

It is not as if there never were military officers assigned to the BOC before. In fact this is one government agency where, because of its notoriety as haven for nefarious activities, retired military leaders are immediately considered on the pretext that their training, rank, assignment or position while on active service will be able to instill discipline and change the despicable corrupt culture of the hugely income generating agency.

Alas, time and again the once highly respected gentleman and officer fall short of his mandate to tame and cleanse the agency or his department for that matter, of unscrupulous individuals and become instead a willing participant of a rotten system.

So what makes the deployment of ordinary soldiers a ray of hope at the BOC under a newly minted commissioner who is himself a general of the armed forces?

I understand it is a tactical approach not only to make the bureaucracy change its notorious corrupt practices but also effect a turn-around of the negative perception of the people about the BOC.

It’s an approach intended to stir ‘shock and awe’ feeling in the bureaucracy, but who are they kidding?

Whatever and however one describes the crime syndicate inside the bureau that are smuggling illegal drugs with impunity and creating havoc in our society, the fact remains that those behind it cannot easily be intimidated and, therefore, no amount of soldiers and weaponry brought in could ever bring down the monster that it has become all these years.

This is not to belittle our soldiers, but this is not the kind of confrontation they have been trained to do their best and so let us save them from embarrassment as they will surely fail. Without strong psychological preparedness in battling corruption, human frailty can easily succumb to temptation.

Hopefully, Duterte would consider looking once more into what Sen. Panfilo Lacson has suggested which is having a need for a sophisticated counter-intelligence mechanism in the BOC. This is not about force but rather of having a superior intelligence by any means under a competent and exemplary head.

A living political martyr

 

It was not too long ago that a running controversy erupted between Sen. Antonio Trillanes and Pres. Rodrigo Duterte as to who was the smarter of the two.

Well, if Duterte kept his cool and exercised prudence, as his office expects him to do, people would have continued believing that he was the more intelligent.

Alas, Duterte got the better of his unbridled emotions, after Solicitor General Jose Calida reported his covert discovery that the amnesty granted to Trillanes in 2011 by then president Benigno Aquino III, for leading the Oakwood mutiny in 2003 and the Manila Peninsula siege in 2007, was defective.

Immediately, Duterte issued Proclamation 572, declaring the amnesty “void ab initio,” for supposedly having failed to comply with two requirements for its granting, namely, (1) application for amnesty and (2) admission of guilt.

There is no doubt in the minds of many who has been following how Duterte and Trillanes have been feuding that each has been laying traps for the other to fall into.

It looks like this time the foxy Trillanes has been able to successfully snared Duterte first, for how else would you describe it when it is Trillanes now who is accusing Duterte’s point man, Calida, of “stealing” his amnesty application documents following these statements:  “I am calling on the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense, particularly AFP’s J1. They knew that I applied. They knew that I have the documents. Why did they allow Mr Calida to take it and lose it?”

Indeed, what a turn of events!

But does this mean that Trillanes has now the upper hand against Duterte despite being out on bail after Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 150 ordered his arrest that brought him to the Makati City Central Police Station for booking procedures, while still making his office at the senate building his home?

That could be anybody’s guess, but one thing sure is that this turn of events has given Trillanes even more opportunity to be basking in the lime light which he enjoys doing.

This has always been Trillanes’s game plan – to be the center of attention – as a renegade soldier and now a controversial senator.

Remember the verbal tussles he had had with his peers, the likes of Sen. Zubiri, Sen. Gordon, Sen. Cayetano, and even former Sen. Enrile, when the latter was still active?

Trillanes always comes out strutting like a peacock after these episodes for having caught the attention of people and the same thing is happening now against Duterte. All ears and eyes are directed towards him, yet again.

Indeed, this is a classic case of how one is made a living political martyr, perhaps to the realization and consternation of Duterte.