POSTSCRIPT / May 24, 2018 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Du30 China policy has public support?

PLAIN folk reeling from such problems as rising prices, unemployment and corruption may feel detached from foreign affairs, but President Rodrigo Duterte’s worrisome handling of relations with China may just affect his satisfaction rating in the next survey.

There is a growing concern that the President’s timid (some say “traitorous”) reaction to China’s conversion into military outposts of hitherto uninhabitable features in the West Philippine Sea may lead to a security crisis or the eventual loss of territory.

Having pivoted to the left toward Beijing on the pretext of charting an independent foreign policy, Duterte appears to be falling for China’s offer of massive aid, loans and investments to quicken his infrastructure-building program.

Duterte’s pro-China inclination has been noted in mainstream and social media, with notable authorities and influencers weighing in with words of caution and suggestions to break out of his parochial box to find wider nonpartisan counsel.

Although the building of Chinese outposts in the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone was not yet being discussed prominently before March 23-27, when the last Social Weather Stations survey was conducted, a slip in Duterte’s satisfaction rating has been noted.

The SWS survey found 70 percent of adult Filipinos satisfied, 17 percent undecided, and 14 percent dissatisfied, leaving a net satisfaction rating of +56 percent.

But Malacañang did not seem alarmed with a 10-point drop in Duterte’s net trust rating from 75 percent (excellent) in December 2017 to 65 (very good) in the first quarter of 2018.

It would be interesting to see what the President’s trust rating would be in the next survey considering that his deference to China could complicate the gut issues already bedeviling the population.

Of the last survey, public relations guru Charlie A. Agatep noted that while +56 percent was described by SWS as “very good,” it did not say how many of the 70 percent satisfied are “somewhat” or “very” satisfied, nor does it give an inkling of how many of the 17 percent undecided would say they are satisfied or dissatisfied if the interviewer had probed a bit further.

The question asked the 1,200 adult interviewees was: “Please tell me how satisfied or dissatisfied you are with the performance of (Duterte). Are you very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, undecided if satisfied or dissatisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, very dissatisfied, or you have not ever heard or read anything about (Duterte)?”

Agatep noted: “Duterte got the biggest drop in satisfaction rating during the two years tenure of every president. At one point Duterte had a steep drop to 45 percent. The satisfaction ratings show that Filipinos ay mababa ang kaligayahan (easy to please). What we’d like to see are ratings for specific subjects like employment generation. peace and order, poverty alleviation, foreign affairs.”

It remains to be seen if the desultory handling of China’s aggressiveness by President Duterte, as architect of foreign policy and its sole spokesman, would inspire confidence among Filipinos some of whom are already asking if they are being sold down the Yangtze river.

 Clarifications from Star reader

MARIO E. Valderrama, founder/first president (now president emeritus) of the Philippine Institute of Arbitrators, said in reaction to our Tuesday column titled “Full report needed on China intrusion”:

The President (in his send-off speech re Philippine Rise researchers) made it known that he is aware of the distinction between sovereign economic rights over resources in the Philippine EEZ on one hand and sovereignty over the maritime zone where those resources are located on the other hand.

The first was granted to the Philippines by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the grant was confirmed by the arbitral tribunal at The Hague. The second was neither granted to the Philippines by UNCLOS nor by the arbitral tribunal.

In layman’s terms, the Philippines has sovereign rights over the resources in its EEZ and continental shelf. But the Philippines neither owns the sea bed, the water column nor the air space below, in and above its EEZ.

As for the reefs (e.g. Mischief), they are parts of the sea and they cannot be owned by anybody. Unless if they are within a coastal country’s territorial seas.

On the point, China’s taking over of the reefs within the Philippine EEZ and its buildup of artificial islands hamper the exercise by the Philippines of its sovereign rights over resources. Hence, the need for consent by the Philippines. Needless to state, China had not previously secured the consent of the Philippines. So, China violated the maritime rights of the Philippines.

Still on the point, China’s buildup is so massive that it may have also violated the high seas freedoms of other countries.

And, apparently, China’s militarization threatens not only the Philippines but also other countries.

And so, why egg the Philippines to lead the fray against China? The Philippines is one of the weakest, if not the weakest, militarily in the region.

On another point, the Philippines had apparently tied up its hands when it agreed with China to (1) establish “red lines” that none of them may cross and (2) establish bilateral consultative meetings where issues and possible disputes are to be raised, discussed and, possibly, be resolved. Hence, the Philippines cannot publicly protest China’s military activities for to do so would amount to a violation of the agreement.

A matter of concern here is that, while the DFA Secretary announced the Philippine “red lines,” he still has to disclose China’s red lines.

On still another point, the fact is that the United States also maintains a military presence in the region. So, should that not be also a matter of concern to us? Or, is this an issue of trust? We trust the US but not China?

Finally, I think that our real worry should be the possibility that the region may become an area of military conflict between the two superpowers.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 24, 2018)

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