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.

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.

China cries foul over sovereignty issue in the South China Sea

 

The Arbitral Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration hearing the case filed by the Philippines against China.

The Arbitral Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration hearing the case filed by the Philippines against China.

For bringing the sovereignty issue in the South China Sea (SCS) before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, the Netherlands, China described the Philippines’ action as foul.

Well, to make it more melodramatic, China portrayed itself as the ‘victim’ of the Philippines’ stance in wanting to solve the territorial dispute in the SCS by arbitration and not by bilateral talks or negotiations and consultations between governments, as China wants it and sees it fit.

For this, the Philippines has irked China terribly prompting the giant nation to call the smaller, weak and poor nation the ‘real trouble-maker and rule-breaker in the region.’

Does the Philippines deserve to be called that just because the country is asking the arbitration tribunal to declare China’s nine-dashed line void and for China to respect instead the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles of sea (the West Philippine Sea) from its coastline, which the country is entitled to have by virtue of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)?

Are Filipinos to be called ‘trouble-maker’ in the region just because we are asserting our legal rights over the portion of the SCS, which we call now the West Philippine Sea (WPS), and for that matter purposely grounded a dilapidated WWII-era ship with a handful of Filipino soldiers manning it, aptly describing it as the Philippines’ last line of defense against China’s efforts to control most of the South China Sea?

It must be noted that not only is China contented of claiming 85% of the SCS by virtue of historical grounds, but also wantonly, if not forcefully, still encroaches 80% of the Philippines’ EEZ.

How could one be a ‘victim’ if China has the arrogance and the capability to build artificial islands on disputed reefs, turning it into a military complex – even at your own backyard?

How could one be a ‘victim’ if China has the imperiousness to impose its will and ignore any ruling by the arbitration tribunal concerning the maritime case raised by the Philippines before it?

How could one be a ‘victim’ if China continues to have the swagger, rudeness and barbarity to order the Philippines to remove the grounded, decaying vessel, the BRP Sierra Madre, on Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the WPS upon learning that it is being repaired to prevent it from falling apart?

The Philippines considers Ayungin Shoal, which lies 105 nautical miles (195 kilometers) southwest of Palawan, as being within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

“China once again urges the Philippines to immediately stop all illegal activities that infringe upon China’s sovereignty and maritime rights, and honor its commitment of towing away the vessel. China reserves the right to take further actions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

Doesn’t sound to me like a ‘victim’, but more like a consistent big bully, which China is in all manner, shape and form.

Why doesn’t China just ask the Filipino fishermen who are the real victims?

The Torre de Manila and West Philippine Sea controversies

 

Torre de Manila at the background dwarfing the Rizal monument.

Torre de Manila at the background dwarfing the Rizal monument.

I understand that the Torre de Manila (TdM) issue and the West Philippine Sea (WPS) dispute with China are two separate and distinct controversies hounding the nation today.

Separate and distinct in the sense that the TdM has become controversial because of its alleged illegal construction which has been described by many as ‘photobombing’ the grandeur of the Rizal monument at the Luneta Park, while the WPS, where, even the country’s exclusive economic zone (a sea zone 200 nautical miles from its coast) prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which the country claims exclusive rights for fishing, drilling, and other economic activities, is now being claimed by China as part of its nine-dash map claiming practically the whole of the south China Sea.

If the subjects are two separate and distinct issues, then why am I bringing them up together instead of alienating one another?

Well, my intention is simply to point out how similar, yet dismal has been government’s approach in treating that which has now become controversial issues.

Take for instance the TdM issue. Why was the construction company given all the permits by the city of Manila to build it in a place where its monstrosity, at the end, will only destroy the vista or the visual corridors of the Rizal Monument in Luneta?

If the agencies providing the permits did not realize this at the beginning, at least the city government or the national government, for that matter, should have noticed that when the building started rising up, there were already signs that it was going to destroy the aesthetic landscape of the park, yet construction was allowed to go on, adding more floors, before deciding to stop it. And it was not even government that initiated the stoppage of the project.

Now the project is at standstill, while authorities and the stakeholders are locking horns as to how to proceed. Not only are politicians blaming each other, but one even ridiculously suggested to let the TdM stay and for Rizal to make an about-face.

Lack of concern, commitment, determination or political will, if you may, by authorities is simply the culprit. Once acts and decisions are corrupted it could have adverse effects on how our government leaders approach issues that could later turn controversial.

Local government’s delay, nay lackadaisical reaction towards the TdM condominium construction cannot really be alienated from the equally lethargic and passive approach taken by the national government towards China’s civilian-turned-military build-up in the South China Sea (SCS) that started to encroach in the WPS.

What I am simply saying is that our government, whether local or national, has always the propensity and habit of deploring and protesting violations of existing laws only when it is too late already.

China's nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.

China’s nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.

In the case of the WPS, despite the seemingly permanent structures built here and there and around the SCS by China all these years, supposedly to assist and give shelter to Chinese fishermen caught in inclement weather, we did not only have the foresight that years later the Chinese will start coming near our shores bullying our own fisher folks and, worst still, making islands out of atolls, but our leaders were more interested in our brand of politics that only made the nation poorer and weaker.

Not until we saw these man-made islands turn into airfields and military complexes that our leaders started making a lot of noise and moving mountains, looking for help. Certainly, we could not do it on our own, not having the capacity and the capability to prevent China from encroaching in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which China is claiming as theirs, too.

Sad to say that as China awaken, with the whole world seeing its succession of leaders turning around the giant nation with an enormous population into both economic and military power to rival the US and seek its own world dominion, the Philippines continued to wallow in poverty with its corrupt leaders and their allies putting their selfish interest ahead of the nation’s and it’s people’s well being.

If the US, the greatest and most powerful nation in the world, has not been able to stop China’s military build-up in the SCS and, most importantly, from imposing China’s nine-dash map that includes our own territorial waters, thus making China the sole claimant of the vast resources in and underneath the SCS, who are we to mount an offensive militarily against them?

What the Philippines has been exercising instead is verbal offensive, for that is all we can do, and for this reason the country is sending a delegation to the UN tribunal at The Hague, headed by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, to argue the country’s position against China’s claim over most of the resource-rich SCS.

But, China has been saying all along that it won’t participate in any arbitration proceedings now or in the future.

Suffice to say that no matter how many arbitration proceedings there will be and how articulate our delegates/advocates are, or whether or not the UN tribunal will rule in our favor, the fact remains that nobody can undo what China has done already at the SCS, including that which is in our own EEZ at the WPS, much less contest and drive them away from what the giant nation claims as their historical domain.

As we find the local government in Manila in quandary searching for solutions as to how to proceed resolving the TdM controversy, so are we looking at the national government alarmingly and desperately trying to keep what belongs to us in the country’s territorial dispute with China at the WPS.

The way I look at it, and I hope I am wrong, is that the steps taken by both governments are all exercise in futility.

Needless to say, we have to live and co-exist with whatever is there, on land and at sea, no matter what the consequences will be.

Balikatan exercise 2015 and China’s military build-up in the South China Sea

balikatan-joint-military-exercise-6This year’s Philippine-US Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder) military exercise is considered the largest, being participated by 11,000 soldiers (around 5,000 Filipinos and 6,000 Americans).

The exercise is an annual joint military event which seeks to improve the capability of the two countries’ forces to respond militarily to threats that include terrorists, pirates and smugglers, which could be summed up as maritime security threats, and as well as dealing with natural disasters.

It is also a time to showcase partly America’s newer military hardware with its awesome firepower.

Suffice to say that its primary aim is to maintain security and peace in the Asia Pacific region with the country being a party to the Mutual Defense Treaty Agreement with the US and the armed forces a beneficiary of a modernization program.

But, isn’t is ironic that while the Balikatan exercise is going on today, supposedly to prepare and enhance our bilateral capabilities in confronting and protecting the country’s sovereignty against internal and external threats, China is at the same time aggressively building up its military presence in the South China Sea, encroaching even now in areas which we think and deem our own?

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg expressed that through this bilateral exercise, current challenges being faced by the Asia Pacific region will be solved.

How?

What could be more brazen and menacing challenge to a third world country and the mightiest country in the world than China’s continuing reclamation projects in the South China Sea reaching now within the Philippines’ 200-kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is a clear violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)?

Not only is China purposely acting oblivious of the UNCLOS, but China is also flagrantly unmindful of what the US and other Western powers say about its all or nothing claim of the South China Sea.

And yet US Ambassador Philip Goldberg says that this exercise is the kind that will help maintain in Asia the freedom of aviation and navigation as well as the diplomacy in Asia Pacific region.

How could there be freedom of aviation and navigation in the South China Sea when one giant of a nation is dictating the demarcation of claims by sovereign states in the region and controlling the passage of planes and ships later?

It is affecting the livelihood of many Filipino fishermen in the area now.

Tomorrow it will be the people of the world who will be disadvantaged, unless the US and its powerful allies in the Western world will help put order in the South China Sea region.

China changes strategy in territorial sea dispute

dispute1Looks like China has finally realize that bullying other claimant nations, like the Philippines and Vietnam, even in the latter’s respective territorial sea, according to the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is not only destroying important political and economic relationship between nations but also damaging China’s image as a responsible global leader.

So instead of asserting their claim of almost the whole of South China Sea (SCS) with the use of force for emphasis, while still ignoring the UNCLOS, China has now declare that resolving maritime disputes should be done by peaceful means, which translates to having a friendly discussion or dialogue with the aggrieved nation.

I view this change in strategy simply as cosmetic and trivial.

A wolf in a sheep’s clothing is still a wolf by any stretch of the imagination.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has declared that neither turbulence nor war serves the fundamental interests of the Chinese people, adding that there’s only one trend in today’s world and that is the trend of peace and development and win-win cooperation.

Sounds like a wise preaching, but China is not about ready to give up the military development it has been pursuing in the SCS all these years.

As far as the SCS is concern, and whether one likes it or not, China will continue to show its authority and influence through the militarization of the area and still sending the same message to other claimant nations that what is China’s is China’s and what is yours is China’s.

Nothing has changed really.

Flowery language will not change the fact that China’s military presence in our backyard is contemptible and repulsive.