I HAD expected acting Chief Justice Antonio Caprio to respond to my conclusion in my column Monday that he, together with Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, and former national security adviser Roilo Golez made a fool of themselves by demanding that our government file a diplomatic protest against China for the take-off and landing of its H-6K bomber on its island in the South China Sea.
The three obviously blabbed their mouths thinking that either the Chinese bombers landed on a reclaimed land in atolls or reefs within our exclusive economic zone, or even in our Kalayaan island group. The truth is that the Chinese used their airport in what in their maps is Yongxing island (Woody Island) in the Paracel group – far, far away from us, nearer to China than Manila is to Cebu, and which we aren’t at all claiming.
But Carpio, Robredo and Golez appear to lack the intellectual integrity to admit to their quite obvious mistake.
The vice president’s website even continues to post Robredo’s statement which reads, translated from Filipino: “The news about the landing of the Chinese bombers on our islands is extremely worrisome. Aside from this, the landing and take-off exercises of China in the West Philippine Sea using their long-range bombers is alarming.” (Emphasis mine.) And to think that even the Philippine Daily Inquirer had called her attention to her mistake, with her spokesman Ibarra Gutierrez responding and thanking that paper for the “clarification.”
How can the Republic’s vice president continue to ignore the incontrovertible facts and lie? Doesn’t she have any shame at all?
The Chinese bombers landed not on “our islands” but in their Yongxing island, which is not ours, nor do we claim is ours. Yongxing is far from the West Philippine Sea, which is, according to President Aquino’s Administrative Order No. 29 of 2012, the “waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc.”
Carpio won’t admit
What I was surprised (or maybe not) is that Carpio – a member of the third branch of government that is most dedicated to the truth – hasn’t admitted his mistake, and continues to mislead the country.
In his interview with GMA TV, reported in its online edition yesterday, Carpio says: “When China seized Scarborough Shoal in 2012, we did not send the Marines to retake it, we sent lawyers to The Hague to question the 9-dash line and we won that. So, we should follow international law and take advantage of the international law.”
Carpio again misleads us, to rouse hatred against China, and worse to distract attention away from what we really need to do in the Spratlys territorial dispute.
First, it makes it appear that the Chinese leader just woke up one one morning on the wrong side of his bed and ordered his troops to seize Scarborough. This is so totally false.
It was President Aquino who lit the fuse on this dispute, and bungled it so terribly that we lost what we call Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc.
For decades, the waters around Panatag had been fishing grounds for whatever nationality. Yet Aquino in early April 2012 ordered a Coast Guard surveillance ship to board eight Chinese fishing vessels it found there and tried to arrest the fishermen, on grounds that they were catching endangered species of fish. Whether this was true or not, two Chinese maritime surveillance ships — civilian and not military vessels — naturally came to the Chinese fishermen’s rescue and blocked our Coast Guard vessels.
Aquino sent a warship
Apparently itching to deploy his new warship, President Aquino ordered the frigate BRP Gregorio del Pilar – which the US coast guard had refurbished and turned over to our Navy in May 2011 – to confront the Chinese at Panatag.
That was a big-boo. It in effect militarized the area, giving the Chinese the excuse to undertake an ocean-based people-power of sorts. A flotilla of 31 Chinese fishing boats, 50 dinghies, and 10 maritime surveillance ships blocked the BRP Gregorio del Pilar from entering the shoal.
Apparently told of his big mistake by the US, Aquino ordered the navy ship to leave the area.
What made the situation confusing is that during the two-week- long stand-off, Aquino sent Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th as his personal envoy to negotiate with the Chinese. 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, did his own thing, which is to ask the Americans for help.
On June 7, 2012, Aquino ordered the Coast Guard and BFAR vessels to leave the lagoon. The Chinese didn’t, and Chinese government, but not military, vessels to this day physically block any other vessel from entering, or even approaching the shoal.
Aquino told 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. He even went on record to call del Rosario a traitor to the country for telling Aquino that the Chinese would also leave the shoal.
The Chinese of course, who claim the shoal as part of their territory, would pursue their own national interest, and know very well that the unwritten rule in territorial disputes is “occupation is ownership,” although that occupation cannot be by force.
Aquino bungled it
China didn’t really seize Scarborough Shoal. Aquino bungled the crisis that we lost it.
The filing of the UNCLOS case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which Carpio helped and is proud of, was essentially Aquino’s admittedly brilliant move to keep from the public mind his colossal mistake that resulted in the Republic’s loss of Panatag Shoal.
What did we get from the arbitral court’s decision, which Carpio is boasting all over that we won?
China, as many world powers have done, simply ignored the decision of the arbitral court, especially since it doesn’t recognize UNCLOS, nor do the United States, the superpower wanting to be the policeman in the South China Sea. No superpower, nor the United Nations, has dared to ask China to recognize the arbitral “award.”
To spite the decision, China has even accelerated the fortification of the lands reclaimed on atolls and reefs it controls.
Of course in the world of Carpio – who had built up what had been the most influential law firm in the country during two administrations – lawyers are powerful, and would rule the world. Maybe they do within the confines of one country. But certainly not in the arena of world geopolitics.
If President Duterte did not exert efforts to befriend China, for which US lackeys have bashed him, the Asian superpower would have strived to isolate us economically. Do we really want that?
On Friday, I’ll discuss the rational approach for our territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which is to do what China, Vietnam, and even Taiwan have been doing.