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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

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’s utter arrogance

 

SCS disputeDespite the fact that the whole world knows now that China’s historical claim over almost all of the South China Sea through its nine-dash line configuration had been negated and nullified by no less than the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in its marine territorial dispute with the Philippines, still China has shown nothing but belligerence in the decision.

Belittling the historic decision as rubbish, China’s foreign minister strongly warned the Philippines that the ruling is simply a ruling which China completely ignores.

While the Western world and those in the region considers the landmark decision a triumph of international law that ought to be respected and uphold, China on the other hand has nothing for it but disgust and resentment, especially towards the Philippines which brought up the issue to the arbitration court.

In complete defiance of the tribunal’s ruling, even as most democratic countries lauded it, China has not shown signs of abandoning its hegemony over the South China Sea but rather is acting more aggressive and arrogant making it known that any resolution of any conflict in the contested areas can only be made by directly negotiating with them.

China’s utter arrogance can be noticed when the Chinese foreign minister made a contemptuous statement, saying, “China expects the new Filipino government to cooperate and recognize that the ruling is nothing more than a piece of waste paper and cannot be enforced. China hopes that the Filipino side will set aside the award and return to the negotiation table.”

In the same vein, the Chinese official reportedly addressed the Philippine government, saying, “I kindly advise you to throw the papers concerning the arbitration into the rubbish bin, put them aside on book shelves, or put them in the archives. The disputes will eventually have to return to the table for negotiations and China hopes the Philippines to return to the track of bilateral negotiations.”

There is no problem talking with China because that is the proper and appropriate thing to do. The question, however, is: Will China get out of our exclusive economic zone?

As I was insinuating in my previous blog, ‘No euphoria in the favorable decision of China-Philippines arbitration’, the landmark decision, aside being an empty victory, is for the world community’s consumption to know and appreciate the legality of it.

To me and in that particular area, China has this unspoken line about the territorial conflict: What is mine is mine and what is yours is mine!

That is all there is to it!