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The Philippine suit: A brilliant US machination?

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Tiglao submitted his column before the Arbitral Court issued its decision which favored the Philippine suit.)

Whatever the results of the Permanent Arbitral Court deliberations on the Philippine suit against China, which would be known after this column had been submitted, I can’t shrug off the suspicion that the US deftly played with President Aquino’s administration to file the case. For good or for bad.

Here are the facts, you decide:
1. With Aquino just a year in office, the US rushes to turn over to the Philippine Navy its refurbished Hamilton-class cutter that had been a fast-patrol vessel of its Coast Guard. The cutter, named the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, was commissioned by the US Navy in December 2011.

2. Throughout 2011, Aquino’s rhetoric against Chinese alleged intrusions into waters that are within our exclusive economic zone was rising. He even made the foolish boast that “he will protect Recto Bank as if it were Recto Avenue.” (As if we could send battalions to Recto Bank as easily as we can to a Manila area.) The US was also starting to criticize more stridently China’s reclamation of submerged atolls to transform them into artificial islands.

3. On April 10, 2012, operatives of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), together with armed Coast Guard men, board eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored on the shoal’s lagoon. They try to arrest the Chinese fishermen for illegal fishing and “harvesting endangered marine species.” Two China Maritime Surveillance (CMS) ships–civilian vessels–come to their rescue, however, and prevent the arrests. It is a mystery why the Navy decided to inspect the Chinese fishing vessels: the shoal’s lagoon has for decades been used both by Chinese and Filipino small fishermen. Aquino orders on the same day the BRP Gregorio del Pilar to proceed to the shoal.

4. Three other CMS ships enter the shoal, bringing with them a flotilla of 31 Chinese fishing boats and 50 dinghies. The number of CMS vessels in the days that follow increases to 10. It was a standoff, as our warship with the much-smaller Coast Guard vessels and those of the CMS vessels faced each other threateningly in the lagoon, both refusing to leave what each party considered its sovereign territory.

5. A few days later, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar — unexpectedly — leaves the area, according to Navy Flag Officer in Command Alexander Pama, “to replenish fuel and food provisions” in its base in La Union. The Philippine Coast Guard and BFAR vessels remain.

That was a lame excuse. Aquino realized sending a warship was a stupid move as it made the Philippines appear as the aggressor.

6. Aquino orders Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th to undertake backdoor negotiations to resolve the standoff. Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, known to be very close to US authorities since his stint as Philippine Ambassador to the US for nearly eight years, does his own thing, which is to ask the Americans for help.

7. On June 7, 2012, Aquino orders the Coast Guard and BFAR vessels to leave the lagoon. The Chinese don’t,  and would then physically block any kind of vessel, whether those of small Filipino fishermen or of the Coast Guard and BFAR ships, to even approach the shoal.

The standoff here in 2012 triggered the suit.
The standoff here in 2012 triggered the suit.

Stupid incompetent
Aquino tells Trillanes that he ordered the ships out of Scarborough Shoal  as del Rosario was told by the US that the Chinese had agreed to withdraw their vessels simultaneously with our ships. Trillanes was incredulous, telling Aquino that he was just in the midst of negotiations with the Chinese.

It was such a colossal boo-boo for us, a lesson never, never again to elect a stupid incompetent to head the nation. The Chinese were probably rolling in the ground laughing as Aquino gave them the excuse to take over Scarborough by sending a warship, which technically was a military move, only to withdraw it two days later, giving them total physical control of the territory.

The rule of the game in the Spratlys dispute, after the last violent takeover of the Paracel Islands by the Chinese from the Vietnamese in 1974, is that an area is yours, as long as you don’t take it by force. Thus we lost Pugad Island in 1975, which we had occupied since 1968, when the Vietnamese lured the Filipino garrison to an overnight birthday party in the nearby Parola Island. When they returned the next day, the Vietnamese were on the beach there, with their guns and mortars aimed at the approaching Filipino troops, and yelling at them to go away.

Now any Filipino vessel even of those of small fishermen approaching Scarborough Shoal is told to go away.

Embarrassed and livid, Aquino would tell the nation there was no other alternative but to file a case in an international venue, which turned out to be the Permanent Arbitral Court, against the Chinese takeover of Scarborough.

While you’re at it, the US probably told Aquino, expand your suit, so you would have us and other Western powers backing you, to include that crazy nine-dash-line the Chinese claimed within which was Chinese territory. A team of American lawyers had been to the Palace to help draft the Philippine case.

Would Aquino have sent to Scarborough the other rusting Navy vessels if he didn’t have the just-refurbished BRP Gregorio del Pilar? Would another less “American- boy” foreign affairs secretary (del Rosario was our ambassador to the US from 2001-2006) have been more skeptical of the US information? How did Trillanes, known since his coup-attempt days as having high-level contacts with US intelligence, get into the picture?

Brilliant. The US has refused to ratify the Unclos, so it can’t file a suit invoking that international agreement. It doesn’t even have a territorial claim in the entire South China Sea, and therefore no business there. Its involvement in the region is totally based on its sheer super-power status.

Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Taiwan and Vietnam — the claimants in the Spratly Islands — of course hadn’t moved nor will ever move publicly against China, much less file a case against it, as they calculate they are better off with an unsullied friendship with China.

The Chinese fought with the Vietnamese in 1974 over the Paracel Islands, killing over 52 Vietnamese Marines, and sinking two of their ships. Despite this, Vietnam isn’t publicly cheering the Philippines, as it cleverly calculates that it needs badly China’s trade and official aid at this stage of its development.

The Philippines was, as it has always been, America’s reliable lackey in the region. Perhaps it would be good for the world if we win the case, with China pressured by international public opinion to stop its militarization of the South China Sea.

There will certainly be a nationalist euphoria over our victory for a few months, and you can expect Aquino to go out of his cocoon to claim credit for it. I doubt, however, if that victory will really benefit us, and we’re left with an angry, superpower as our neighbor. Will we recover Scarborough Shoal with a favorable court decision? Ask the Marines.


This Post Has 27 Comments

  1. Johnny4841

    While I’m glad we got the favorable decision, there’s 2 sides to every story.

    China has been claiming these territories for centuries, while we only have been since the 1950’s. To say they are only now claiming these due to expansionism isn’t exactly accurate.


    No amount of negotiations by Trillanes or posturing of friendship and trust by Aquino will have returned the islands. Even a legal decesion against China will not result in its return. The presence of US will only make matters worse. Sadly Aquino missed his opportunity early in the game, when ooccupation of the island would have been the best choice. Trillanes and Aquino both were idiots and confirmation of this fact is the outcome we see today. Ironically GMA had the entire situation under control, providing a seismic acquisition agreement to China in exchange for recognition of Philippine ownership. Aquino cancelled this agreement immediately upon taking office.

  3. Eddie Goh

    The real issue in dispute is not between the Philippines and China but whether UNCLOS is applicable law to use to resolve a Sovereignty issue.

  4. Seph

    While we’re happy the outcome of the arbitration, there’s 2 sides to every story.

    Historically China rightly or wrongly has claimed ownership of these territories for decades if not centuries. Our claim for of ownership was only made in the 1950’s or 1960’s. The idea that this is just China’s “sudden” imperialism or expansionism isn’t exactly accurate.

  5. Albert

    Lutong Kano itong arbitration as aptly enumerated by the author. Naisahan tayo ni Uncle Sam. The US itself does not follow international court rulings and even refuses to be a part of UNCLOS up to this very day yet has the gall to call on China to respect the arbitration decision.

    1. Baddy

      You should move to China, you love them so much.

    2. Baddy

      Why so anti-American?? Were you refused a visa? Also, before you bad mouth the United States, perhaps, it would be more credible if you build yourlselves a serious, competent, military force ready to protect your national territory rather than just mouthing off.

  6. Anton

    China is the bad guy. China started this when she seized rubi reef then the rest is history. What fault is us and phl ? Nothing. I rather be a colony if us than china. This us no brained. Lol.

  7. Oliveros

    Philippines should ACT as a SOVEREIGN country unfortunately we don’t have the necessary MILITARY MUSCLE to do this. It is only logical that we have to seek help elsewhere.

    Between CHINA and USA as superpowers, CHINA stand to gain the most. It will be too troublesome for US to launch an all out assault thousand of leagues across the Atlantic. China on the otherhand, is just a stone throw away in expanding its territorial pursuit across ASIA.

    Besides CHINA is too racist to concern itself with other countries. Their ghost cities spread across their country, beautiful but an empty hollow shell.

    Mainland CHINESE are one of the most SELFISH and ARROGANT people I’ve met. All the CHINESE druglords RUNNING the Philippine drug trade should be enough proof.


    Meiyou xiexie, TSONGO-ren!!

    1. JoJe Parker

      The Philippines already welcome the American with open arms. The biggest brothel in Asia is in the Philippine. The Americans called your women BFM (brown fucking machines) and you are referred to as GIGOLO. Long Live America!

  8. Michael

    Nice assessment. The Philippines would be wise to chart its own course between the superpowers. Both countries have something to offer. I would not be overly focused on the Hague decision. There are a lot of things that need to be done on the domestic front. I think it would be wise if the Philippines used its relationships with the superpowers to advance its internal needs for security, infrastructure, and economic development. Who the most super superpower is and whose side the Philippines is on – is not really important to the tasks at hand. The biggest threat to the country is not an external threat – its failing to really address its internal problems.

  9. Mariano Lopez

    Agree that the US just used PNoy and the Filipino people to file this arbitration case in UNCLOS, knowing that by doing so, even if the country wins the case, China will never recognize it. The Phil can not enforce the decision thru military means and the US will not risk a world war 3 just to help the Philippines. Look at what Russia did to Ukraine after Russia invaded Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Duterte is wiser and more competent than Pnoy on this complicated diplomatic problem . Surely the best approach is to have a toproblem level one-on-one negotiation to resolve the issue and have a win- win solution resulting to the attainment of the Phil and China’s best interest.

  10. filpro

    it doesnt matter whether the case filing is a US machination or not, the important thing is that the case was filed and the decision of the PCA is just and according to maritime law… afterall what is UNCLOS for?. if no institution has the right to rule over disputes… it will mean more future conflict not only in SE Asia.

  11. Walt Peterson

    Yes, indeed, the US managed to get what it wanted, make the the Chinese look like jerks, and make Filipinos feel like winners, all at once. No mean feat. I guess the US still has what it takes to be Number 1.

  12. brix

    There is no remedy for stupid fool Aquino. From Aquino to Aquino the Philippines became the laughing stock in international community,lame duck pnoy placed us in this shameful situation.?

  13. JRT

    Let’s not get hang up with US brilliance in whatever form. Give credit to where credit is due that is previous administration and the PH Hague Team. With or without the US I believe it is inherent to Filipinos (in fact also for other nationalities) to fight for what is rightfully theirs. This is what our forefathers have done by figthing the Spanish, Japanese and the Americans. It is unfair to discredit or even malign the previous administration. It is hypocrite not to acknowledge what has been achieved by the previous administration. You have been critical on the administration and it’s about time for all Filipinos regardless of religion, ideology, party, region, ethnicity, where they belong. We Filipinos have to rejoice in the ruling in our favor and it’s up for the current administration to explore whatever means to get China out of Philippine territory and more importantly to bring back the pride of the Filipinos. Let our fisherman fish in our 200miles EEZ and tell Chinese CCP to vacate the islands they reclaimed and then we can sit down for any bilateral talks. We should talk to China in a position of strength and we now have that. So please say something positive!!

    1. Weng

      100% I agree with you sir, this should be the mentality of us filipinos, your comment is an eye and mind opener, salamat sir, mabuhay ang Pilipinas. btw this article I believe is politically motivated.

  14. Mga_imbento

    US and China are both bully but US is he lesser evil

  15. francis liew

    I admire your ability to see real politic as is really is. Too much had been given of the PH subservient relationship with the US. It is about time those governing elites think in the long term national interest of the PH instead of short term US interest. China is a superpower and currently only inferior to the US in military power. This US superiority will not last as modern warfare is always predicated on economic power. The US knows this and is moving head and earth to slow down the growth of China. The PH knows this too but it cannot do anything to slow down the growth of China nor can it challenge China military. It can only play the role of a lackey to the US. Why in heaven named does a proud nation like the PH wants to do so. The answer lies in the PH elites. They have to take care of their national interest first before taking care of the US national interest. Winning the Hague ruling means nothing if you cannot enforce it. Would the US send the 7th fleet to help the PH enforce its sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal? There is much room to doubt over this action. The US will not jeopardize its investments in China to assist the PH. The PH had been played out in politics by the US.

    1. JRT

      I respectfully disagree with your idea that China will continue on its economic prosperity. It’s a long way to get their people at par even with most people in Europe. There are many reasons amongst them are other nations are beginning to be wary of Chinese intents in controlling the commodities. There is over capacity in Chinese manufacturing industries. There are many sectarian violence in many parts of China. There is dispute with many of its neighboring countries and not just Philippines. Many have predicted that China will be contained not because of its people but some of its leadership which is causing much of the problem in the world. China has to stop many illegal activities or unfair practices in the world such as, unfair trade, dumping of cheap and low quality products, disregard of copyright law, etc. What I and possibly many Filipinos hope our country to be is to be like “Israel of Asia”. Philippines will be prosperous if they could check the wrong doings of Chinese illegal activities in the country especially drugs and dumping of Chinese products that are not valuable to our country. There are many products that Philippines can produce without buying from China. Your question, “Would the US send its 7th fleet to help PH enforce its sovereignty. The answer is crystal clear, YES. PH is the first line of defense of the US. It can not afford to weaken their forces in the pacific. They learned their lesson during world war II when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. The US do not care about it’s investment in China. It cares about investments in countries that they have friendship such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, UK, etc all large economies. China can get support from countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Myammar and some African countries whom the leaders of these countries can be bribe. This is a fact and you can get first experience when doing business in China.

    2. RexOcampo

      So what do you propose The Philippines should do? At least, winning the arbitration against China is a repudiation of China’s baseless claim. It will be a black mark on their reputation.

  16. Thai anton

    Now The Hague issue a ruling in favor of the Philippines , WHO will make China leave ? the USA is not even a signatory to UNCLOS .
    Relax HOT heads we can’t even maintain 2 C 130 in operation . We may end up losing Palawan to China if we are not careful enough .

  17. janelle

    Stupid stupid Aquino. Did he file the case for our country’s interest or to please his real boss, the US?? He not only left a huge mess in the domestic front but the international front as well. No matter what, I believe that Duterte will be wise on whatever his next move will be.

  18. rolando

    A thought-provoking analysis from the author. I can assume President Duterte has his own dictum on this issue and I surmise it will be explosive. Let us hear what he would say in his first SONA come July 25.

  19. Roberto

    Scarborough or Panatag shoals and some in the Spratly islands are within our EEZ. US and other countries has freedom of navigation interest on the 3 million square kms. comprising almost 90% of China sea. Being a Filipino, what should we do to redeem what has been ours as outlined in the PCA decision?

    1. francis liew

      Nothing. Let sleeping dogs lie and PH fishermen will continue to fish there unmolested. Isn’t that’s better than spending millions of dollars on arbitration fees. At the end you can’t even enforce it if it rules in your favor.

      1. Roberto

        The 40 nations led by US, Japan, G7 and 7 ASEAN are behind us to follow the PCA decision. We must assert our claim on our EEZ THAT IT IS OURS.let us CamPaign TO LET INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY PUSH FOR THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THIS PCA DECISION

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