POSTSCRIPT / August 19, 2014 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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US is last Phl card in warding off China

NO CHOICE: At this point, the United States is the only countervailing force accessible to the Philippines to China’s expansionism in the sea around it.

This fact comes to the fore in the light of a statement of President Noynoy Aquino in a TV interview Sunday that the Philippines is not aiming to (because it cannot) equal China’s military might to stop it from grabbing areas within our exclusive economic zone.

He said the “realistic goal” is to equip the armed forces with the war material they need without necessarily coming up to the level of matching China’s military.

But how can approximating that level be possible when a big chunk of government revenues, including proceeds from the fire sale of valuable state assets, is routinely stolen by politicians in cahoots with crooks in the private sector?

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MDT LIMITATION: The realistic solution, as we have been pointing out in this space, is to involve the US in military and diplomatic efforts to ward off the Chinese dragon, assuming Washington is willing to help in a more aggressive way.

We must assume the US is willing. Our two countries are bound not only by historical ties but more formally by a Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) whereby the partners are committed to run to each other’s defense when attacked.

That is just the problem. The pledge of succor is premised on one of the partes being the target of an armed attack in the treaty-defined area.

China’s taking over, for instance, Panatag (Scarborough) shoal just 120 miles off Zambales and several thousand miles from the nearest Chinese land mass, is not an armed attack – so the MDT cannot be invoked.

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SURRENDER: The same mode of land-grabbing has been employed by China without firing a shot by simply coming over and occupying other islets and resource-rich areas within the Philippine EEZ.

In the Panatag case, President Aquino, the Commander-in-Chief, even ordered Philippine vessels to abandon the area while the Chinese moved in. With that surrender of territory to the interloper, we may have lost Panatag forever.

What the Philippine government did was to run protesting to the United Nations arbitral body at The Hague. But China ignored the complaint, with its position already bolstered by physical occupation of the disputed area.

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DELAYED REACTION: Another problem is that under the MDT, retaliation to an attack is not instant — unless US forces themselves in Philippine territory are fired at, in which case treaty or no treaty they fight back.

Per treaty, American military countermoves which could mean deployment of armed forces will have to be approved through the usual US congressional action.

By the time American action is authorized, the Chinese occupation would have been fait accompli. If/when the US takes belated action, it could open itself to accusations of having attacked a sovereign non-belligerent fellow member of the community of nations.

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FIGHT BACK: It seems to some friends having grown tired of the limp-wrist responses to the Chinese intrusions that it is high time the Philippines stood up to the trespasser. In short, put up and fight.

We will lose all that we have which we are not ready to defend. As we said in our Aug. 12 Postscript, defending our land is the only option. It is duty. See:

One practical value of fighting back at the risk of losing some men is that once shots are fired, in either direction and regardless who first opened fire, the armed attack will force the US to come in under its treaty commitment.

(I do not mean to spoil the discussion with political talk, but I can almost see that such an exchange of fire with Filipinos getting hurt defending their land will give President Aquino a 99-percent approval rating with everybody except the quislings fully supporting him.)

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GOOD OFFICES: Quietly in the background, of course, the US has been using its good offices to diplomatically help smoothen things out between China and the Philippines.

The last thing the US would want is hostilities breaking out between Manila and Beijing, an untoward development that can draw a reluctant US into the fray, either as a combatant or as a referee.

One complication is that China is embroiled in similar territorial disputes with a host of other neighbors, many of them also friends of the US.

The ideal is for a settlement of the Philippine-China row to also open the door to similar solutions to disputes with other neighbors. Balancing the diverse interests of all the claimants complicates whatever the US is trying to do to ease regional tension.

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FARMER POWER: In his last State of the Nation Address, President Aquino said that the empowerment of farmers is high on his agenda, going into the details of what has been done for Filipino farmers by way of infrastructure and support services.

Unfortunately, not everything is going well for farmer empowerment in this country. There are forces focused on keeping them down.

Among them is the European pressure group Greenpeace, which is bent on depriving our farmers the right to exercise their freedom of choice. This goes against the government’s advocating the use of modern tools including plant biotechnology.

The technology has led to the development of crop varieties with built-in resistance to pests. Because of this property, these varieties do not require the traditional application of massive doses of chemical pesticides.

The availability of biotech crop varieties has given farmers a wider option. They can now choose to plant traditional chemical pesticide-dependent crops or the biotech type which do not require such pesticides. But Greenpeace is getting in the way.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 19, 2014)

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