POSTSCRIPT / February 28, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Sino missile sites don't alarm Duterte!

WHY the deafening silence of President Rodrigo Duterte over disclosures of updated satellite images showing Chinese missile sites in advanced stages of completion on several areas that China has militarized in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone?

The Commander-in-Chief should say something, anything, about new photographs of military-type structures built on such sites as Fiery Cross (Kagitingan), Mischief (Panganiban) and Subi (Zamora) Reefs in the Spratly Group. There are other militarized Chinese outposts in Philippine waters.

The Spratly islands, some of them occupied or claimed by the Philippines, are just 100 kilometers off Palawan. That China has built structures on them to hide or support missile sites should at least prod the President to ask his Chinese friends what they are up to.

Etched in the public mind is the campaign caricature drawn by Duterte himself of his braving the waves on a jetski, flag in hand, on his way to planting the Philippine banner in the disputed islands.

That resolve of his seems to have been dissolved by cunning Chinese leaders who regaled the visitor from Davao with promises of millions of dollars in investments, infrastructure, easy loans, et cetera, to help him keep his campaign promises of a better life for Filipinos.

Duterte actually has an ace, but chose not to play it. He set aside the favorable ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague on a complaint filed by Manila questioning the expansive claim of Beijing over much of the South China Sea and Philippine maritime areas.

While the Chinese keep Duterte hoping and waiting for the delivery of the promised aid, they accelerate their building of artificial islands on reefs and protrusions in Philippine waters – and proceed to put up surface-to-air missile sites on them.

We do not expect Duterte to rant and rage on this issue — he may not be able to muster the courage for that kind of performance despite his tough front. But, as we said, he should at least grunt or mutter something.

Duterte held back by his China liaison?

THE CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative based in Washington, DC, released satellite images days ago showing eight buildings being constructed by China on several isles in the Spratlys.

Alarm was expressed in Manila and elsewhere, but not in Malacañang. US Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), for one, condemned China’s buildup in disputed areas. Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said it is high time the arbitral ruling at The Hague was invoked.

Del Rosario said the Philippines’ hosting and chairing the coming 50th anniversary summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is an opportune time to bring up the PCA ruling to fast-forward an ASEAN consensus on resolving territorial disputes.

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. may be able to say something to assert Philippine interests in the dispute with China as soon as he and the Commission on Appointments are able to decide if he is a Filipino, an American, or whatever.

The AMTI, meanwhile, said the deployment of weapon systems to China’s three largest outposts in the Spratlys boosts its defense capabilities within the so-called “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea.

The think tank said that China appears to have begun building the structures between late September and early November last year. It said they could be used for HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles that Beijing had deployed to Woody Island in the Paracels.

The images presented showed buildings measuring about 66 feet long and 33 feet wide – said to be capable of hiding “transporter-erector-launcher vehicles carrying missiles” ready to fire from inside without being exposed prematurely.

Abandon Filipino town of Kalayaan? 

THE SEVEN islands and three reefs in the Spratlys that the Philippines occupies or controls are collectively called the Kalayaan Group. They lie just 100 kilometers away from Palawan, well within the 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the country.

In May 1956, Filipino adventurer Tomas Cloma, then operator of a fishing firm and director of the Philippine Maritime Institute, discovered the islands together with his brothers and a crew. He founded on the biggest island a new town he called Kalayaan, which until now is a thriving community where the Philippine flag flies.

The Philippine government sent troops to the Spratlys for the first time in 1968 and incorporated Kalayaan into Palawan in April 1972. On June 11, 1978, then President Ferdinand Marcos formally annexed the Kalayaan Group by virtue of Presidential Decree No.1596.

Commenting on the roiling of regional waters, Del Rosario said the Philippines must resolutely adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea upon which was based the ruling that junked as illegal China’s “nine-dash line” arbitrary claim on the South China Sea.

On the coming ASEAN summit in Manila, Del Rosario said: “Our proposed agenda should have included an open discussion on the outcome of the arbitral tribunal, which effectively addresses a lawful approach to ASEAN’s most crucial security concern in the region.”

He warned that developing a Code of Conduct framework would be “an exercise in futility if the arbitral tribunal outcome is not factored in and not recognized as being a most important component of the framework.”

“The Philippines should assert effective leadership as ASEAN chair,” Del Rosario said. “We have an opportunity which we should not forgo. By seizing it, we can be confident that we will not be short-changing the many generations to come, who should be benefiting from our proactive leadership.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 28, 2017)

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