West Philippine Sea redux Sunstar

West Philippine Sea redux Featured

THIS pandemic turned out to be a convenient alibi for critical concerns to be shunted to the back burner. Foremost of these are the political reforms and constitutional revisions central to restructuring the institutions and mechanisms to eliminate the systemic rot causing the centuries-old ills of society, stark poverty, corruption in the bureaucracy and the myriad government deficits. We were hoping all along that the President, aware of the magnitude, understood fully well the need to lay the groundwork upon which subsequent reform-oriented political leaders may follow through; instead of resorting to palliatives tangential only to his agenda for change — pagbabago. In exasperation he has threatened to resign, overwhelmed particularly by corruption in the bureaucracy. And he has been reduced to refereeing the internecine conflict between two weak and whining, egotistical congressmen for the House speakership. What was then a matter of a “gentlemen’s agreement” turned out to be an oxymoron at the very least. But the latest is that one of the protagonists will not give in, supported by a congressional majority. This barefaced move has reduced the Deegong into a lame-duck president.

Coming from Mindanao, the periphery almost forgotten by central government and simply thrown scraps, he could have developed a wider horizon and a vision that goes beyond the tip of his nose correcting age-old iniquities. He has not. He was fixated and chained to his centerpiece program of eradicating the drug menace. A noteworthy endeavor had it not been for his “tokhang” deteriorating into a human rights disaster.

Thinking and acting globally
His aspirations to rise above his parochial concerns as a successful mayor ascending to the heights of a national leader of stature with global perspective did not fly. His earlier display of political will turned out to be mere theatrics (the Duterte doctrine on a “whiff of corruption” for one). Although this is not entirely of his own doing, it is a malfunction of the leadership apparatus. His inability to surround himself with lieutenants and alter-egos that could complement his strengths and rectify his weaknesses has been an utter failure. Except for a handful, he didn’t choose his people well.

His penchant for populating government’s higher echelons with factotums and sycophants was patently ego-driven; some choices no doubt influenced by his fetish for the military uniform with characters possessing the mindset of a homogeneous clique. These are people proficient in the use of force possessing a demeanor of warriors; the President “fancies himself to be one among them.” Again, as I have said in my past columns, this is not to disparage the patriotism of these former generals. Many are decent exemplary leaders suited for a specialized purpose. But this government, or any republican and democratically structured political entity, was meant to be civilian.

But we have gone over these matters ad nauseam these past four years. In the twilight years of this presidency, in fairness, I am compelled to review a near disaster he has managed to convert into a singular triumph.

West Philippine Sea
Praises have been thrown the President’s way for that powerful speech before the United Nations General Assembly. It should go down in the books signaling his coming out in the global scene — four long years after the arbitral award. He might have been biding his time all along waiting for the right moment. “The award is now part of international law beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.” And it did come. Proclaimed to the right audience — the family of nations — but directed toward China, it was not so much as to confront and shame as to challenge the rising hegemon on the exigencies of the rule of law. This speech affirmed the Philippine position and it carries a heavy weight – although in no way did the president detract or add to the legitimacy of the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. The universality of the ruling applied to all aggrieved parties and claimants in the West Philippine Sea, isolating China as the culprit, but marking the Philippines as upholding the prerogatives for the beleaguered Asian states.

And this, coming on the heels of President Duterte’s “urong-sulong” posture on diplomacy — pivoting away from the US towards China, and a reversal, pivoting back towards the US. The DDS — Die-hard Duterte Supporters — would credit this to Duterte’s strategic genius as the Yellows will dismiss this as a fluke “tsamba” It doesn’t matter really, as the Deegong has put China on the defensive, and for whatever it’s worth, this identified China as a usurper of islands in the West Philippine Sea.

The intervening four years when Duterte played China’s game and was tentative in taking the high ground took a toll on the country’s position and even self-respect. And the President was not entirely at fault as Xi Jinping was playing his “mendicancy card,” dangling the financing of the Build, Build, Build program and other goodies that a developing economy salivated for, which unfortunately did not materialize. In short, we’ve been had.

A serendipitous legacy
In a webinar with former justice Antonio Carpio this Tuesday, sponsored by the Ateneo de Manila and Davao classes ‘60 and ‘61, he revealed some interesting insights. The United States will not come to our rescue if the Philippine Navy initiates aggressive acts even against our Chinese-usurped islands already in Beijing’s possession. Only when China attacks or sinks a Philippine Navy vessel will this trigger the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). This is precisely the reason why the floating junk of a warship, the BRP Sierra Madre, is still in the active status as a Philippine Navy vessel. It was deliberately run aground in one of the islands of the Spratlys manned by the Philippine Marines to assert our sovereignty. Any aggressive move by China to dislodge this vessel to occupy the rest of the islands will trigger a response from the US through the MDT. China may have to wait for the decaying vessel to sink by itself before sending civilian vessels over like they did in April 2012 at the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough). The monumental bungling of the Aquino 3rd administration at that time cost us Panatag. (Rigoberto Tiglao, The Manila Times, June 18, 2018.)

But the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China, the Philippines and the US-based Forum Energy Technologies for the extraction of gas and oil at the Reed Bank, where the Philippines get to own 40 percent to 60 percent of the deal may be a game changer. Although within China’s nine-dash line, this could be a template for some sort of solution to the West Philippine Sea conundrum. The MoU may be silent on Philippine sovereignty. Justice Carpio even advanced the notion that the Deegong will leave a legacy as the implementer of the arbitral award.

And if all parties wait long enough without armed conflict, global warming may occur, melting the ice caps causing the seas to rise. This could drown all the China-usurped islands, leaving the Philippines in control of the 200-mile (370 kilometers) exclusive economic zone or EEZ. This may come in the next five to six decades, when all the major West Philippine Sea dramatis personae would have died out. Tongue-in- cheek, but this could be the final solution.

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Read 90 times Last modified on Wednesday, 07 October 2020 11:47
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