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!

Trump’s America

trump1I will not be writing about Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States of America, as there are more writers, authors and pundits who can describe him better as a person and as the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth today.

All I can say is that on November 2016, Trump made the cover of the famous German Der Spiegel magazine, when he won the election, depicting him as a fiery Earth-bound asteroid that could very well “end the world (as we know it)”.

donald1

Always providing the world with absurd pronouncements/statements, nothing, however, has been more ridiculous, outrageous and discordant than Trump’s recent executive order implementing the travel ban to the USA of people coming from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

It is for this reason that, again, Der Spiegel had Trump on the cover of their magazine depicting him as a machete-wielding figure, mouth agape, holding the Statue of Liberty’s severed head aloft menacingly with the caption America first.

trump

No doubt the new cover speaks volume about what is happening in Trump’s America today with respect to immigrants and most especially to refugees. The latter’s resettlement has been halted for 120 days except those coming from Syria whose resettlement to the US has been stopped indefinitely, leaving tens of thousands of people in refugee camps.

For better understanding and appreciation of who Trump is and how the world views him, let me invite you to click the following links:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/trump-inauguration-signals-new-world-order-a-1130916.html.

http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/317787-german-magazine-rips-trump-in-new-cover-art.

 

Duterte continues to dominate news

 

President Rodrigo Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte

Being an unorthodox or an unconventional president when compared to past leaders, Rodrigo Duterte has been and will always be an extraordinary fodder for news.

And to think that Duterte is just in his seventh month of his four year presidential term!

Whether Duterte’s words or deeds project a good or bad image for the country really depends on who you are or where you find yourself in today.

For one who has made the war on illegal drugs, corruption and criminality as cornerstone of his presidency, Duterte has not only showed his unique style of leadership but has also served notice to the world that under his leadership the sovereign state, that is the Philippines, has to be respected.

This is what makes Duterte stand up head and shoulder over the past presidents – his humanity, his determination and his political will to apply unconventional ways if only to eliminate the scourges responsible for hindering the growth and development of the country, establish lasting peace all throughout the archipelago and once and for all improve the quality of lives of poor Filipinos.

Obviously, some sectors like the members of the Catholic Church and human rights advocates and some political adversaries are making so much noise and blaming Duterte for the killings and this is what is making news abroad, too, but fortunately or unfortunately this is apparently how it goes as Duterte has proven it in making Davao City a peaceful and progressive place.

But what really has the country and the whole world talking about Duterte are his overtures towards China and Russia while in the process of letting go the coattails of the U.S., which the Philippines has always been pictured to be hanging to.

Duterte’s promotion and upholding of his independent foreign policy stand is how he was able to earn the respect of the other leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) and with the Philippine strongman now fully committed to the organization, ASEAN could be a force to reckon with in years to come.

No wonder, therefore, that China’s magazine, the equivalent of America’s Time magazine, has named Duterte as the “Person of the Year”.

What seems to be a certainty in the future, too, is that the Philippines will no longer be conducting joint military exercises with the U.S., but rather with Russia and China, and in such a controversial place like the South China Sea, which no doubt is part of China’s domain now.

Indeed, it is interesting to see how this will be viewed by the incoming U.S. President Donald Trump.

Talking about unceasing news on Duterte’s presidency.

PH-China relations more important than sea row ruling by international tribunal

 

President Rodrigo Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte

If anybody is still wondering why President Rodrigo Duterte was included among the 74 most powerful people in the world, one has only to read this piece and see how his decision to “set aside” an international ruling which concluded that China has no legal basis to claim historic rights to the bulk of the South China Sea is impacting the world community.

It ruffled the feathers of some world leaders that the Duterte cozied up with China despite the favorable ruling the country got, but declaring now that he would not press Beijing to honor the ruling even if factual new satellite images released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington reveal weapons emplacements for the first time on their man-made islands, is tantamount to defying the powers that be.

What this simply means is that Duterte is, indeed, putting a premium on the PH-China relationship rather than upholding the tribunal decision that  China doesn’t have the right to resources within its “nine-dash line,” which extends hundreds of miles to the south and east of its island province of Hainan and covers some 90% of the disputed waters.

Besides, how could one really justify the implementation of the international tribunal’s ruling when, in the first place, China has not only boycotted the proceeding but also does not acknowledge the decision, and, second, that being the case, what else could the international community do when China has already reclaimed and have created harbors, runways and reinforced hangars big enough for military aircraft on the islands?

America should not blame Duterte if the latter’s statements and pronouncements run counter to their interest in the country and in the region.

Why did America allow China to build up islands in the South China Sea and turn it into military installations when they know what is going on in the world with all their imaging satellites in place?

What else could Duterte do really, if you think about it, but have a pact with the devil for as long as the country benefits from it?

Apparently, the one appearing to be the devil in Duterte’s eyes are the Americans, the way he is now imposing his independent foreign policy.

It looks like the leaders of the ASEAN are all recognizing and acknowledging Duterte’s out of the box leadership and this is what matters most to him because now he is considered as one of them who don’t feel comfortable being America’s lap dog.

Much ado about Duterte’s criminal past

 

President Rodrigo Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte

Why are we making a big fuss now about President Rodrigo Duterte’s criminal past?

Just because Duterte confessed his crime-busting days, while still the mayor in Davao City, at the gathering of business executives at the Wallace Business Forum in Manila, saying, he just wanted to show to his policemen that if he can kill criminals that they, too, could do it, would it be reason enough for us to change our opinion of him?

Why, what is the difference between the Duterte today and the Duterte before, who as Davao City mayor had already been investigated for human rights violation by the Human Rights Commission and the Department of Justice, both coincidentally led by now Sen. Leila de Lima?

And what has de Lima proven? Nothing!

Yet Duterte never denied having killed criminals.

Even the illiterate self-confessed hitman of the Davao Death Squad Edgar Matobato alleged before senators during the hearing on extra-judicial killings that Duterte had ordered and participated in summary killings.

So why raise a furor about it now?

Just because de Lima has been harping abroad before international audience that Duterte’s action “is betrayal of public trust and that constitutes high crimes because mass murders certainly fall into the category of high crimes. And high crimes is a ground for impeachment under the constitution”, must we allow this hysteria to bother us?

Impeachment? De Lima must be dreaming!

What we know certainly is that de Lima has her own agenda against her most ardent nemesis, Duterte, and is simply inciting human rights organizations, like the Amnesty International, to create uproar in the country.

“By boasting about the blood on his own hands, President Duterte will further embolden police and vigilantes to blatantly violate laws and carry out more extrajudicial executions without fear of being held to account,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty’s director for South East Asia and the Pacific.

Only a misinformed and an ignorant person could come out with such a statement on Duterte’s war on illegal drugs, criminality and corruption.