POSTSCRIPT / April 22, 2018 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Constitution out, China’s goodies in

SO WHAT do we do – go to war? A friend asked that question (again!) — when we got to discussing yesterday the presence of Chinese military aircraft on a landing strip on Panganiban reef off Palawan, well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

That’s the same no-brainer that President Rodrigo Duterte often asks to fend off criticisms that he has been too submissive – some say “cowardly” – in asserting Philippine sovereign rights in his talks with China on its artificial isles in the West Philippine Sea.

The President may be testing the limits of his prerogatives as the country’s spokesman in foreign relations. His continued failure to protest China’s military outposts built on Philippine territory could just raise constitutional problems for him.

A case in point is Panganiban reef (international name: Mischief reef), where two Xian Y-7 military transport planes were photographed Jan. 6 on a runway that had been constructed on the feature recently built up and militarized by China.

Panganiban is one of seven reefs in the Spratlys where Chinese activity prompted a complaint by the Philippines before the Permanent Court of Arbitration created at The Hague under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Although the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines, in the process invalidating China’s nine-dash line claim over virtually the entire South China Sea, Beijing questioned its jurisdiction and ignored its adverse ruling.

Photographs have been published showing that aside from Panganiban, China has also transformed Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven), Mabini (Johnson South), Zamora (Subi) and McKennan (Hughes) reefs into artificial islands.

So back to the question of what to do? The President and his coterie should not even ask. Almost by reflex, we think, they should get quick verification of the reported intrusion and buildup, and file a protest upon confirmation.

The filing of a protest is not a declaration of war – the absurd final and only option raised by Duterte to wave away critics. It puts on record the fact that we protested. It cannot then be said that we did not complain, or even whimper, when we were being raped.

A former Philippine foreign secretary once said that if rape is inevitable, one might as well lean back and enjoy it.

One wonders if President Duterte – world renowned for his vulgar remarks about rape and vaginas – has the same mind frame as he stretches out his palm in expectation of Chinese aid and massive investments.

Cozying up to China from the time he became president in 2016, Duterte has ignored the potentially impeachable violation of the constitutional ban on allowing foreign military bases on Philippine territory.

Duterte continues to play blind to documented reports that China has built up WPS features into military facilities without benefit of a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate as required under Section 25, Article XVIII, of the Constitution.

What else to do? The Senate could conduct an ocular inspection as part of an inquiry into reports that at least Panganiban that used to be a forsaken reef has been converted by China into another military outpost.

• What UN tribunal at The Hague said

FOR reference, the award of the UNCLOS arbitral court at The Hague says on Page 476 in the dispositive portion of its 479-page award that it:

“16) FINDS that, during the time in which these dispute resolution proceedings were ongoing, China:

“a. has built a large artificial island on Mischief Reef, a low-tide elevation located in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines;

“b. has caused—through its land reclamation and construction of artificial islands, installations, and structures—severe, irreparable harm to the coral reef ecosystem at Mischief Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef (North), Johnson Reef, Hughes Reef, and Subi Reef; and

“c. has permanently destroyed—through its land reclamation and construction of artificial islands, installations, and structures—evidence of the natural condition of Mischief Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef (North), Johnson Reef, Hughes Reef, and Subi Reef.”

Based on unchallenged photographs and intelligence reports, China has accelerated what appears to be the militarization of the artificial islands that it has built up in the disputed area, some of it within the Philippines’ EEZ.

Questioning the arbitral court’s jurisdiction, China ignored the proceedings and its final award. It continued to build up the reefs and features despite the court’s declaring (Page 477) that:

“China has breached its obligations pursuant to Articles 279, 296, and 300 of the Convention, as well as pursuant to general international law, to abstain from any measure capable of exercising a prejudicial effect in regard to the execution of the decisions to be given and in general, not to allow any step of any kind to be taken which might aggravate or extend the dispute during such time as dispute resolution proceedings were ongoing.”

It did not help the Philippine cause any that President Duterte has pursued a policy of acquiescence in relation to China’s continuing and aggravating its violation of the UNCLOS that it has signed.

Among the problems spawned by the passive – some critics say “cowardly” if not “traitorous” — attitude of Duterte is that neutral low-tide elevations have been converted by China into islands now under its effective and exclusive habitation and control.

Low-tide elevations do not generate entitlements to a territorial sea, exclusive economic zone, or continental shelf. But what used to be features that are not capable of appropriation, have been converted by China into habitable islands under its control.

The territory-grabbing and militarization were going on while a submissive president of a sovereign Philippines accepted aid, loans and promises of investments, grandly proclaiming his love for China.

Some disgusted Filipinos call this prostitution, which is different from rape. Whatever it’s called, it does not look good.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 22, 2018)

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