IT IS high time President Rodrigo Duterte explained to the nation his reticence in confronting China on its military encroachment in the West Philippine Sea, instead of merely repeating his cop-out remark that he does not want to go to war over it.
It is also time the Senate spoke up on China’s setting up military outposts on artificial islands it has built up in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone without benefit of a treaty on foreign bases concurred in by the Senate.
“Monitoring” intrusions and related activities in the WPS — meaning collecting second-hand reports – may not be safe and sufficient basis for crafting a pro-Filipino response to the continued Chinese militarization of Philippine waters.
Before it is too late to correct or undo any miscalculation, the President may want to have wider and deeper nonpartisan consultation outside his Davao coterie. The convening soonest of an executive session of a high-level security advisory group may help.
After such consultation, the President can issue a clearer statement on his special relations with China and how this could impact favorably on the nation’s security and economy. The main idea is to reassure concerned Filipinos that we are on the right track under his guidance.
Stepping up its militarization, China announced Friday it had landed strategic bombers on Woody island, its largest base in the Paracel group. Some observers saw the move as a show of force in what China regards as its patrimonial pond.
State-owned People’s Daily posted a video showing a long-range bomber landing and taking off from Woody. The warplane that conducted take-off and landing training was the H-6K, a top-of-the-line nuclear-capable bomber.
This came days after US intelligence photographs were uploaded in the Internet of Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on Fiery Cross (Kagitingan), Subi (Zamora), and Mischief (Panganiban) reefs (now developed into isles) in the Philippine EEZ near the southern tip of Palawan.
Other photographs were published earlier showing that China has also transformed Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven), Mabini (Johnson South), and McKennan (Hughes) reefs into artificial islands.
Some of the photographs of Chinese deployment were posted by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which is part of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
AMTI said: “The base H-6 aircraft’s combat radius of nearly 1000 nautical miles means even China’s basic bombers taking off from Woody island could cover the entire South China Sea. An H-6K, with its technical upgrades giving it a combat radius of nearly 1900 nautical miles, would dwarf this radius, putting all of Southeast Asia in range of flights from Woody island.”
It is not enough that President Duterte shrugs off his seeming helplessness or fear of China by his standard statement that he does not want a war with China and lose “my” soldiers.
Duterte talks like he considers war as the only option. It is not. It is in fact the last option, renounced as it is under Section 2, Article II, of the Constitution “as an instrument of national policy.”
But as a simplistic approach to resolving bilateral conflicts, war sometimes slips into the mental processes of thugs and strongmen. Without any one suggesting extreme military action, Duterte says he could always declare war, but would rather not engage in a fight he would surely lose.
Has the President failed to note that waging war is not his initiative? Section 23 (1), Article VI, says: “The Congress, by a vote of two-thirds of both Houses in joint session assembled, voting separately, shall have the sole power to declare the existence of a state of war.”
He is asking Filipinos to share his trust in China President Xi Jinping, who has assured him daw their missiles nearby are not intended against the Philippines but against Beijing’s enemies — one of which Duterte once identified rather indelicately as the United States.
There is a theory that Duterte, engrossed with accelerating his “Build! Build! Build!” development program, has fallen for China’s extravagant promise of aid, loans and investment to fuel that dream.
Duterte has said and done enough to show that he is betting heavily on China, an expansive neighbor that he courts while publicly displaying disdain – feigned or for real – of some of the Philippines’ older friends and allies.
• PAL service on the ground, in the air
THIS TIRED traveler happened to be on a Philippine Airlines flight (PR 126) May 19 to Vancouver, which explains my having no column last Sunday – and fell victim to Filipino hospitality at 37,000 feet in the air.
Some seven hours into the 11-hour flight, while most of the 376 passengers were asleep in the darkened cabin, a stewardess noticed I was up tapping away on my laptop. She asked if I cared for snack, so I asked what they had. When I heard arroz caldo, I perked up and picked that.
While she was serving the hot porridge touched with real kalamansi, I asked if we would still have breakfast before we descend to Vancouver. She showed me the menu with four dishes. That was too much, I thought, when I noticed the gourmet tuyo and bangus. She explained that was just a side dish. But since I wanted tuyo cum bangus, she offered to concoct it into a main dish with sinangag — and hot black coffee, I added! She said yessir!
I thought what would the PAL staff do for a Filipino dying to have tuyo for breakfast? But when I saw hours later how busy they were preparing to serve breakfast to the just awakened passengers, I told Karen Santos (I asked her her name, siempre) to please cancel my special capriccio for tuyo, at maraming salamat na lang!
Our departure from Manila was delayed one loong hour, because of the overcrowding at the taxiway and landing strip (NAIA is bursting at the seams!), but the crew led by Capt. Robert Serrano (I got his name from Karen) managed to touch down at Vancouver just 10 minutes off the dot! Tail winds helped.