POSTSCRIPT / June 9, 2013 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Swallow pride, seek US help in China row

HELPLESS: Many of us who are incensed by China’s grabbing our isles, reefs and fishing grounds one after another impatiently wait for a forceful response from the Aquino administration.

Are we helpless in the face of this systematic violation our territorial integrity? Judging from the limp reaction of our Commander-in-Chief, we are not only helpless but also confused.

All that has been done is complain to an international arbitration tribunal in a process that will take years. By the time a ruling in handed down, Chinese naval patrols might already be freely roaming within sight of our coastal communities or even venturing into the Pasig River.

Even if the arbitration ends in our favor, the matter might just end there. China has served advance notice that it is not bound to heed an adverse ruling.

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LOSS BY DEFAULT: Meantime, Zambales fishermen who have long depended on the bounty of Panatag (Scarborough) shoal are being shooed away by the Chinese. They now have to look for other means of livelihood to ease the deprivation of their families.

The community on Kalayaan Island off Palawan where the Philippine flag flies and a set of officials led by a mayor sits, cowers in the threatening presence of Chinese patrols that are in the habit of harassing Filipino boats.

The Marine detachment keeping watch on Ayungin reef (also near Palawan) from a grounded vessel have to cut down consumption of food and water. A Chinese general has announced that if they run out of supplies and leave for replenishment, they will not be allowed to return.

And so forth and so on as we lose by default valuable marine areas, including Panganiban reef, within our 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

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WHAT TO DO?: Press briefings by Malacañang spokesmen and occasional brave talk by President Noynoy Aquino will not stop the rampaging Chinese dragon.

We cannot defer action till we acquire more naval and air assets under what is passed off as a “modernization” program.

As we scrounge for the needed billions and shop for defense materiel, some of it second-hand, China is busy snapping up bits and pieces of the Philippine domain.

So what do we do? I submit, at the risk of nationalist fire and brimstone raining on me, that since we cannot secure our archipelagic territory by ourselves, let us swallow our pride and ask the United States for help.

* * *

MAJORITY OPINION: This proposition assumes that the US is willing to take on the delicate job while balancing political and economic interests in its relations with Beijing.

Washington might just balk at acting as Big Brother in our tiff with China. But we will not know until we ask.

At the same time, let us also run several surveys to plumb public opinion.

Surely the radical left and the so-called nationalist groups will vigorously oppose the idea. But what does the majority of Filipinos say?

Let us find out.

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MARCOS DID IT: We can fill in the details as the proposition ripens into a formal agenda involving a wide-ranging review of Philippine-American relations, finally focusing on the Visiting Forces Agreement.

The process could be similar to how then President Ferdinand Marcos negotiated amendments to the bases agreement, shortened the 99-year lease to 25 years, and raised the rentals for the military installations.

The US is not likely to initially show keen interest in something that would revise its strategic policy and entail huge expenses at a time when its economy if not in good shape.

But what if we offer the US a package it cannot refuse?

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URGENT STEPS: Whatever timetable emerges, there are some things that must get priority attention:

• Deliver supplies to our Marines keeping watch in the Ayungin reef. Let us find out if a US craft could do us the favor of delivering food, water and munitions. This could be a test run during which the Chinese would be conveniently looking elsewhere.

• Ask the US to use its good offices to convince China to agree to a status quo anteat Panatag, a return to the past peaceful coexistence when Chinese and Filipinos harvested fish within sight of each other. There is more than enough for everybody anyway.

• Reopen VFA talks and allow an enhanced, albeit rotating, presence of US personnel in Mindanao and selected sites. To go around the constitutional ban on foreign military bases, call the installations Philippine bases, but allowing small American facilities on them.

In return, the US may agree to rewrite the thorny VFA section on criminal jurisdiction to assure respect for local laws and customs and thereby soften resistance to US military presence.

* * *

COMPROMISE: This Postscript is more of a brainstorm than an in-depth analysis of the strategic issues involved.

My friends, including those whose blood pressure shoots up when they see the Stars and Stripes (but not when they secure a US visitor’s visa), will hate me for suggesting an enhanced US military presence.

Actually I am more worried about our fast-shrinking sovereign share in the fringes of the vast Chinese lake. The Chinese already dominate the Philippine economy (and politics). Do we allow them to also gobble up territory?

But who can help us stop the expansionism except the US?

The US may not be disposed to help us openly in our territorial tiff with China. To preserve amity with Manila and Beijing, the two-timing superpower is more likely to try working out a win-win compromise.

So we can see the road ahead better, let us ask separately Uncle Sam and Juan de la Cruz.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 9, 2013)

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