POSTSCRIPT / March 21, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Mr. President, war not the only option

NOBODY is asking President Rodrigo Duterte to go to war against China over Panatag (Scarborough) shoal. The war option is just in his mind that runs along a simplistic line that shooting down an adversary is the quickest way out of a conflict.

We are afraid that after almost nine months into the presidency, the former mayor of Davao City still has to learn the diplomatic nuances of international relations and the efficacy of the peaceful resolution of disputes.

“We cannot stop China from doing its thing,” Mr. Duterte said Sunday, referring to a reported plan of China to build a monitoring station on Panatag. “What do you want me to do? Declare war against China? I can, but we’ll lose all our military and policemen tomorrow!”

While the President is right that the Philippines will lose in a shooting war with its goliath of a neighbor (GDP: $21.27 trillion; Population: 1.373 billion; Area: 9,596,960 sq km), he is wrong in thinking that he is being asked to go to war.

At the same time, we wonder if he is raising the folly of a losing war merely to rationalize his timidity in confronting Chinese aggressiveness. Being a lawyer, he must know that the Constitution strikes down war as “an instrument of national policy” (Article II, Section 2).

But he should at least protest to his new-found Chinese friends their plot to add Panatag, a traditional fishing ground of Filipinos, to the string of shallow spots in Philippine seas that China had converted illegally into military outposts.

The land-grabbers pretending to be friendly neighbors may ignore Mr. Duterte’s plea, but he must persist in protesting IN WRITING and IN PUBLIC. He need not spice up his protests with his usual cursing.

• Duterte sounding like China’s attorney

FORMAL objections to a Chinese buildup of Panatag, which is within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone, will put on record not only Manila’s complaint but also the fact that the President did his sworn duty to serve and protect his nation’s interests.

Mr. Duterte should appreciate that last point, because many Filipinos are perplexed why he sometimes acts and talks like the attorney of the Chinese, at times speaking, unbidden, in their defense.

The issue has led to related questions about what deals Mr. Duterte may have entered into outside those covered by official agreements already made public. Some worried Filipinos ask in the native tongue,“Ano kayang pinakain sa kanya ng mga Tsino?”

His excessive affability to the Chinese is in stark contrast to the ferocity displayed by his police in their summary execution of poor Filipinos suspected of drug peddling and abuse.

It could also be that Mr. Duterte is tiptoeing on eggs, because he is still awaiting delivery of Beijing’s promised multimillion-dollar investments, infrastructure and easy loans.

• Conceding sure defeat is virtual surrender

REGARDING the possibility of war, although remote what with the United States itself not wanting it, we note that:

1. While Filipinos can lose a few battles in that theoretical war, it is bad form for their Commander-in-Chief to announce defeat even before the first shot is fired — unless such declaration is just a feint. A concession of impending defeat is virtual surrender.

2. As the Philippines is a military pygmy compared to communist China, Mr. Duterte should not have aggravated that disadvantage by quarreling with and alienating its friends, especially true and tested allies.

3. The President spoiled his chance to strengthen the country’s standing in the community of nations as regards its case against China’s encroachments when he pushed aside the favorable 2016 ruling (award) of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

The President has explained: “I will not invoke the arbitral ruling now, but there will be a time in my term when I will bring the issue back on the table on the foursquare of the arbitral ruling and it will come.”

By that time, however, it may be even more difficult to drive away the Chinese intruders. Occupation is the name of the game.

• Golez urges protest, cites security threats

FORMER national security adviser and congressman Roilo S. Golez urges the government to protest, because the shoal is Philippine territory under RA 9522 (Philippine Baselines Law) and China’s plot is a threat to national security.

RA 9522 provides: “The baseline in the following areas over which the Philippines likewise exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction shall be determined as ‘Regime of Islands’ under the Republic of the Philippines consistent with Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea… a) the Kalayaan Island Group as constituted under PD 1596; and b) Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.”

Golez said not protesting “could be interpreted as accepting China’s ownership of Scarborough.” He added that protesting “is the duty of the President and the government in compliance with RA 9522.”

Citing the “serious security threat” of China’s move, he said: “China’s erecting bigger structures there, such as buildings, harbor, runway, power stations, air defense facilities, missiles… would convert Scarborough into a military installation so close to Subic, Clark, Basa air base, Metro Manila, Villamor air base, Sangley Point and CALABARZON.”

He said the shoal could be made into a naval base and airfield as it has a navigable lagoon almost as big as Quezon City. Once this happens, he added, China would be able to complete its envisioned Strategic Triangle consisting of the Paracels, the cluster of artificial islands like Fiery Cross Reef, Mischief Reef, Subi Reef (all with 3,000-meter runways), and Scarborough.

He warned: “China would then have full control of the South China Sea, posing a threat to our national security and the security of our allies in Asia-Pacific.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 21, 2017)

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