LAST month, President Duterte said outright: America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) planned to assassinate him. He didn’t give any reason why the CIA would want to do so, but not a few analysts think it is because of his getting close to Russia, the US’ arch-enemy even after the Cold War ended in the 1990s.
Indeed, the US even recently warned Duterte not to buy submarines that the Russians were offering.
My opinion though is this: If there’s any reason why the US would want Duterte toppled, it is his independent foreign policy stance over the South China Sea territorial dispute, and his refusal to make the country, as the past administration slavishly was, the US proxy to oppose Chinese claims in the area.
More than ever, the US desperately needs a puppet like President Aquino in the South China Sea, to try to stop China’s emerging hegemony in the area, even if only as its de facto spokesman. But Duterte has adamantly refused to do so, even defiantly drawing the country closer to the most powerful claimant in the area, the People’s Republic of China.
The only way for the US to have its lackey would be to topple Duterte and replace him with Vice President Leonor Robredo, who is together with her Yellow forces so subserviently pro-American in ideology and in practice.
In the US strategy, Duterte has to be removed now, to reduce the chances of his anointed, with a stance just like him, succeeding him in the 2022 presidential elections.
The all-out campaign by the US through its most influential media such as the New York Times, and through local media outlets funded by American foundations, namely Rappler, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and Vera Files is not due to its noble crusade to protect human rights all over the world.
Not a puppet
It is because Duterte has refused to be the US puppet, and it has become critical at this time for it to have such a lackey because it is fast losing its hegemony in the South China Sea — the body of water around which China and most of Southeast Asia are.
Underestimated has been the gradual demise of America’s status as the superpower in Asia since after World War 2, and the rise of China — both as an economic and military power — in the region in the new century.
Whether we want it or not, China has become the legitimate superpower in the area, because it is in Asia and the only superpower with territorial and sea claims in the South China Sea among the claimants, namely Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The US does not have any justification for its presence in the South China Sea. It can only lamely claim to be the self-appointed policeman in the region, that all it wants is to ensure freedom of navigation in this sea. The justification simply falls flat on its face in that it doesn’t claim to be the policeman in the Atlantic.
Unsaid of course by the US is that in the past decade more and more studies are pointing to the high probability that there are vast amounts of hydrocarbon-based fuels in the South China Sea’s seabed. American strategists’ nightmare now is that if China becomes the hegemonic superpower in the area, the South China Sea would be to the Chinese what the Middle East has been to the US.
The US had not come up with, much less implemented, a viable strategy for maintaining its presence in the South China Sea.
In the 1970s , China could not assert its claims in the South China because of its weak economy and military, and especially because of its internal political crisis during Mao’s so-called Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution from 1966 to1976, when it became a hermit to the world. It was during this time — also taking advantage of Vietnam’s civil war — that Marcos acquired for the Republic the Kalayaan group of islands, which includes the second biggest island in the South China Sea region. China was left with the worst “real estate” in the area — all shoals and atolls, with not a single island.
But the US did not foresee that China’s weakness would fast become history starting in the 1990s. It also miscalculated in putting Corazon Aquino to power in 1986, as she failed to deliver the Senate to agree to the extension of US military bases in 1992, from which American military power could be projected to the South China Sea.
China very cleverly went on a new, unexpected tack to assert its sovereignty in the South China Sea. This was to reclaim lands on which artificial islands were built — which were engineering feats that required massive state funds, which China could afford.
In 1994, China built small bunkhouses on stilts on Mischief Reef, which we had claimed but did not—or could not—occupy since these were merely reefs. Years after an intensive geological survey and engineering studies on the seven shoals and reefs it had occupied, and after Vietnam first built on its own reefs, China started reclaiming land from the sea on its shoals, and constructing artificial islands on these. China accelerated such construction after the Philippines filed its arbitration suit against the superpower’s actions and its vague nine-dash line that claimed more than half of the South China Sea.
None of the other claimants in the South China Sea have agreed to become the US puppet in the region, even by way of criticizing China for its claims in the area. Even Taiwan, whose existence had been solely because of US military strength after the communists won power in China, didn’t. Taiwan is content in its control of the biggest island in the Spratlys, Itu Ataba, which it has even turned into the Taiping island scuba diving resort with an airport. (The arbitral court claimed however it was only a “rock”.)
That the US could no longer rely on any country in Southeast Asia became so obvious when the Asean foreign ministers’ meeting in July 2012 refused to include the Spratlys dispute in its joint communique, that Aquino’s pro-American foreign secretary Alberto del Rosario very undiplomatically called as pro-China the presiding country at the meeting, Cambodia.
The usefulness of having a puppet in Asia was so starkly demonstrated during Aquino’s regime. As I have explained in detail in several columns, I suspect it was wily CIA strategists who really were responsible for the Scarborough Shoal stand-off in 2012 in which Aquino — and his foreign secretary Del Rosario and Sen. Antonio Trillanes — lost the atoll to the Chinese. (See among other columns: “Did the US manipulate Aquino and Del Rosario to lose Panatag to the Chinese?” August 3 ,2018.)
Why do I suspect so? If the Aquino government had decided to fight the Chinese in order to arrest its fishermen, it would have certainly lost in a bloody way, going by the Paracel islands clash in 1974 when Vietnam fought with the Chinese for control of the area, resulting in 52 Vietnamese soldiers killed and two of its warships sunk.
That would have painted China as a violent aggressor in the South China Sea, which would have rallied the world to the US side, demanding it to be the region’s policemen.
When it didn’t result in a violent battle, Scarborough’s loss to the Chinese became the justification for the Philippines to file an arbitration suit against China, which was not just about Scarborough Shoal, but about all of China’s claims in the entire South China Sea. With the arbitration deciding mostly along the Philippine suit, it portrayed China — even if not so accurately if one really reads the decision — as violating international laws in its actions and claims in the South China Sea.
Other than Aquino’s attempt to arrest Chinese fishermen he claimed were catching endangered fish in the area, what one thing triggered the Scarborough Shoal crisis? His deployment to the area of the Navy’s biggest warship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar.
China pounced on that boo-boo by claiming that the Philippines had militarized the dispute. US diplomats told Aquino that the Chinese had agreed to undertake a simultaneous withdrawal from the shoal. Aquino believed the Americans and ordered all our ships out. The Chinese didn’t leave. We lost Scarborough.
How did we get BRP Gregorio del Pilar? From the US, which refurbished its Coast Guard cutter and donated it to us in 2011. It was like giving a brand-new pistol to a spoiled brat, whom you could rely on to brandish and even use it on somebody and soon.
Do you think Duterte would have acted in that stupid manner, and so slavish to the US, as Aquino did?