• Reading time:10 mins read

Nope, Duterte won’t lose Recto Bank the way Aquino and Del Rosario lost Panatag

WHY? Because he isn’t following the Yellow playbook in dealing with foreign-affairs crises, especially as it involves China.

The gall of former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario to tell President Duterte how to deal with the foreign affairs crisis involving the sinking in Recto Bank of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel, which to him would be for Duterte to hold “China accountable.”

It was del Rosario, after two weeks of President Aquino’s incompetent handling of the Scarborough Shoal stand-off in 2012*, who lost the territory to China. Del Rosario ordered—without his president’s permission, according to a participant in the episode—the two Philippine vessels there to withdraw, in effect turning the shoal over to the Chinese. (Scarborough, the shoal’s international name, is called Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc by us.)

And why did he do that? He was so gullible, or naively trusting of the US that he believed the claim of Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for Asia, that the Chinese through then vice foreign minister Fu Ying had agreed to withdraw its vessels on the same day (June 3).

Why, even a book so admiring of del Rosario that he most probably bankrolled its writing and its printing, reported that. But there was no such agreement, and Campbell in his 2016 book, The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia, didn’t even claim that.

US as broker?
And why on earth would China agree to having as a broker the US, which it knows wants Asia to hate it? As one analyst emphasized: “The PRC’s detestation of internationalization of its one-sided scrum with the Philippines is a byword in Chinese diplomacy.” Why would it let the US get involved?

It is a testament to the power of oligarchs that del Rosario still has the gall to show his face in public, and disseminate his strident anti-Chinese views, made possible by his highly paid academics at the “Albert del Rosario Institute Stratbase” and the Philippine Star, controlled by the Indonesian Anthoni Salim, for whom he has worked for two decades.

One of del Rosario’s academics at his institute, La Salle faculty member Richard Heydarian in fact has gone all out to rouse xenophobia against China for the Recto Bank incident. He has shamelessly posted in his Facebook time-line a 2018 photo of a fishing vessel sinking in Palawan, portraying it as that which the Chinese had “sunk” at the Recto Bank incident last week. For an academic, that kind of posting of fake news is an unpardonable lie.

But it wasn’t just del Rosario’s naivete—or servility—in believing what a US diplomat told him that was the reason for our losing Scarborough. It was his entire mental attitude (and that of Aquino), the actions he got government to do, and his incessant blabbering against China that resulted in the first loss of Philippine territory by an administration.

A netizen’s post debunking academic and frequent talk-show guest Heydarian.

Now he and the Yellows—and that includes Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio—want Duterte to make the same mistakes they did that made us lose Scarborough. These stupendous mistakes were as follows:

Bad-mouthed China
First, as he is still doing now, he bad-mouthed China so much like an American hawkish general, incessantly calling it a “regional bully,” and was so belligerent towards the superpower as soon as the Scarborough crisis broke out on April 10. In response of course, China’s leadership hardened their position on their claim to Scarborough.

Let private citizens—and we won’t lack for anti-China xenophobes like Heydarian and Rappler in this country—curse China until they get hoarse.

The foreign affairs secretary is the alter ego of the President in foreign relations, and diplomacy is a matter of finesse and cleverness not crude name-calling. Theodore Roosevelt’s aphorism for diplomats is so right: “Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.” Aquino and del Rosario totally, stupidly reversed this, speaking loudly and by necessity carried a small stick.

Well actually, they thought they carried a big stick – US military might.

But US President Obama during the Scarborough crisis outrightly rejected Aquino’s plea for the US Seventh Fleet to force the Chinese out of Scarborough. Instead, Obama took advantage of the situation to tell Aquino to have enacted a new version of US military basing agreement here, the euphemistically titled Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, allegedly to frighten off future Chinese plans in the South China Sea. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the other hand told del Rosario to file a suit in an international venue. After six months, American lawyers proposed the brilliant idea of filing a suit not in the international court but with an arbitral panel.

The Republic has done what is dignified and necessary, which is for its foreign affairs department to file a formal protest on the Recto Bank incident, and to ask China to investigate the matter and prosecute the Chinese crew responsible for it. As Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo put it, it is a correct calibrated response. And “calibration” is a distinct feature of good diplomacy.

The Chinese were much more dignified than Aquino during the Scarborough stand-off. China’s leader Xi Jinping never said anything about it (nor in this Recto Bank incident), nor did any ranking government or party leader.

Who did the talking? Not even China’s foreign affairs minister. There was only one mouth talking, and in a very disciplined way, that of the ministry’s official spokesman. During the Scarborough stand-off, even Philippine military officials were so talkative about the crisis. Now what message is sent, when a general or admiral talks about his country’s squabble with another?

C’mon now, with China struggling uphill against American and Western media’s demonization of it—largely successfully—as the new Evil Empire, do you think China won’t prosecute the Chinese crew responsible for giving it a black eye in the world stage? I would think they’d try them in a flash, and execute them by firing squad.

The Yellows are trying to bait Duterte, insisting that he should protest as loudly as Aquino did during the Scarborough stand-off.

Unless we’ve declared war on China, the nation’s representatives can’t publicly treat it as the enemy the way Del Rosario’s many words did during the Scarborough crisis.

Because of del Rosario’s belligerent statements when he was foreign secretary, and especially when the Aquino government released photos of our fully armed sailors guarding “helpless” Chinese fishermen, there was a tsunami of outrage against the Philippines in China’s, many even demanding that the People’s Liberation Army send its warships to Scarborough, since Aquino had deployed the Navy’s BRP Gregorio del Pilar. That of course helped harden the Chinese government’s position on the Scarborough crisis. Do we want a repeat of that?

The Yellows’ second mistake in the Scarborough stand-off was that del Rosario and Aquino immediately framed the crisis as a question of sovereignty, insisting that the area was ours and so the Chinese should leave it immediately. Del Rosario now wants Duterte to make the same mistake, claiming that he should invoke our sovereignty over Recto Bank, where the incident occurred.

The worst and most biased statement has come from Carpio, who claims that the Chinese fishing vessel was part of a militia under the command of the People’s Liberation Army, which implies that China is now using guerrilla warfare to enforce its clams in the South China Sea. Now, where did he get that information, the CIA? Is Carpio getting so depressed over his leaving the Supreme Court soon that he is losing his mind?

The reality is that China has its claims and we have ours. No international court can and will ever decide whose claim is legitimate, and therefore should occupy the disputed territory.

The arbitration ruling that the Yellows claim was a total victory for us ruled only on maritime rights, not on sovereignty issues which is categorically not covered by the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. For example, the arbitral panel ruled that Scarborough is within our exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It didn’t rule though whether China’s sovereign claim to it as its territory it calls Huangyan Island (and not just because of that vague nine-dash line) is legitimate or not.

As we and the world realized two years after, the ruling of the arbitration suit against China is useless as it can’t be enforced. The reality is that the country which physically controls a disputed area can’t be evicted. But it can’t use force as the United Nations Charter’s Chapter I, Article 2 (4) categorically bans “the threat or use of force” in claiming a territory.

It is useless and counter-productive for us to frame the Recto Bank incident as a question of sovereignty. Useless, since sovereignty issues in this era cannot be settled, except though mutual agreement of the claimants. It is counter-productive as it risks the hardening the Chinese position to one in which they’d use all their resources short of violence to try to claim what they think is theirs – as they did in the Scarborough stand-off.

We should follow, as China really has been doing, Deng Xiaoping’s idea, which is to let a “wiser next generation” deal with these sovereignty issues. We have to find ways to cooperate with China in a manner that would benefit us, and not just serve America’s need to demonize it.

On Wednesday: The real reason why Aquino and del Rosario were so belligerent towards China.

*This is thoroughly discussed in chapter in my book Debunked: Uncovering Hard Truths about EDSA, Martial Law, Marcos, Aquino, with a Special Section the Duterte Presidency.”




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