POSTSCRIPT / April 7, 2015 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Quick US response under MDT doubtful

CONCRETE AID: It seems so easy to placate and please Filipinos.

Some Malacañang officials are jumping up and down in glee after hearing Admiral Harry Harris, US Pacific Fleet commander, say that the US is ready to respond to threats in the Asia Pacific region.

A pleased Press Secretary Sonny Coloma took no time telling listeners of state radio dzRB that the US is an ally providing concrete aid to the Philippines.

Of this concrete US aid, not to be mistaken for aggregates delivered in mobile mixers for EDSA reblocking, Coloma said in Tagalog: “We have seen this when we faced the challenges posed by typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda and other previous disasters.”

* * *

WHAT CODE?: Coloma was smart enough not to say that the US was ready to drive back Chinese land-grabbers taking over reefs and islets in the Philippines’ 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

The secretary knows that the US will defend the Philippines only if China invades the Philippines. (But why would China attack and ruin the thriving business of its nationals in these hospitable islands? It is already in control, so why spoil it?)

Asked if the Philippines considers the building of Chinese structures in disputed areas as a threat to the region, he sidestepped and pointed to the need for a Code of Conduct for claimants in the West Philippine Sea.

Coloma said there should be no construction in disputed areas until the overlapping maritime claims are resolved.

The problem is that China does not listen to small talk about diplomatic approaches and United Nations arbitration. The red dragon listens only to itself while nibbling at territory of neighbors.

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CHINA NOT LISTENING: Speaking at a security summit in Canberra last week, Admiral Harris said: “My intent is not to plan for war against any particular nation, but rather to lessen the chances of conflict by increasing security and stability more broadly throughout the region.”

As usual, China is not listening. It continues to build structures in disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea, including those located within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

Harris reported what everybody already knows, that China has created more than four square kilometers of artificial landmass through its reclamation projects in disputed sections of the South China Sea.

He said: “When one looks at China’s pattern of provocative actions towards smaller claimant states – the lack of clarity on its sweeping nine-dash line claim that is inconsistent with international law and the deep asymmetry between China’s capabilities and those of its smaller neighbors – well, it’s no surprise that the scope and pace of building man-made islands raise serious questions about Chinese intentions.”

So what will the US do aside from talk?

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ARMED ATTACK: In the case of the Philippines, the only pact that could justify the US involving itself in a military confrontation with China is the 1951 PHL-US Mutual Defense Treaty.

However, the US has limited its commitment to come to the succor of its treaty partner only in response to an “armed attack” on the “metropolitan territory” of the Philippines – and this still subject to US “constitutional processes”.

If China simply occupied a maritime area being claimed by a timid Philippines – but did not actually attack or fire a shot – Harris and his bosses in Washington would merely monitor the “cabbage capture” on CNN?

That was what happened in 2012 onward when Chinese fishing boats with naval escorts moved into our Panatag (Scarborough) shoal 120 miles off Zambales as the Commander-in-Chief ordered Philippine vessels to pull out to avoid the “bad weather”.

It seems that to trigger prompt US retaliation, Filipinos have to wait for an armed attack. Or they can bait trespassers into firing shots, preferably at some American unit within range — in which case, treaty or no treaty, the US will jump into action.

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SOCIAL WEATHER: After what looked like a turbulent first quarter, the Social Weather Stations finally came out yesterday with its own survey report saying that President Noynoy Aquino’s net satisfaction rating has dropped to its lowest level.

A week earlier, the other polling firm Pulse Asia reported a similar big plunge. The story is in how big the drops they reported.

The SWS poll showed that satisfaction with the President declined to 47 percent last March from 63 percent in December 2014, while Pulse Asia had his trust rating drop to 38 percent from 59 percent in more or less the same period.

Maybe the two polling firms were talking to different people for different reasons or posing differently worded questions? In both surveys, however, Mr. Aquino’s satisfaction rating sank across all geographic areas and socioeconomic classes.

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TOO PROUD: In all forums we went to this week, we asked businessmen, politicians and media colleagues if they saw any way President Aquino could bounce back to more comfortable levels till he stepped down in June 2016. No one could suggest any way.

If there was some way of beating the perception game, we think, Noynoy Aquino (“But I’m now the President!”) would be too stubborn or too proud to play along.

The drop in the lame duck president’s standing is so precipitous that it has eroded even his endorsement value for the administration Liberal Party’s standard bearer in 2016.

This kibitzer will not be surprised if DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, the presumptive LP presidential candidate, may even be wondering now how to avoid the crashing Aquino scaffolding. Mamasapano was Roxas’ clear chance to get out, but he missed it.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 7, 2015)

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