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Arbitration ruling opened us to Chinese or Vietnamese military aggression in South China Sea

IT is sickening for the previous Yellow regime, especially its Foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, and just recently President Rodrigo Duterte’s present Defense and Foreign Affairs secretaries to be flag-waving in claiming that the arbitration suit President Benigno Aquino 3rd had filed against China was a “victory” for the Philippines.

The truth – if Duterte’s officials would just bother to study the award and read international law experts’ voluminous analyses on it (rather than reports of United States media) – is that it severely damaged our national interests on such a scale that Aquino and del Rosario could be deemed to have committed treason.

I discussed in last Friday’s column that the arbitration award degraded our islands in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) into mere “rocks” not entitled to exclusive economic zones, which could have meant – if not for the award – expansive maritime areas for the country four times bigger than the size of Luzon.

But the worst ruling of the award that has put the Philippines in a situation of clear and present danger is this: it made us vulnerable to Chinese or Vietnamese military operations to control our claimed territory within the KIG, which they claim – way before Ferdinand Marcos did in 1978 – as part of their sovereign territory.

It was really stupid for the Aquino-del Rosario lawyers to have asked the tribunal to rule as illegal Chinese ships’ attempts in May 2013 to block Philippine vessels from providing supplies to our 12-man Marine detachment in Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal living in the BRP Sierra Madrewreck.

Kalayaan Island Group
The vessel was deliberately grounded there in 1999 by our Navy during President Joseph Estrada’s term in a pathetic attempt to establish some form of physical control of what the Philippines claimed was part of its KIG. China had insisted it was part of its “Nansha Islands” and that the Philippines had promised to remove the wreck several years back.

The tribunal’s ruling shocked Aquino-del Rosario out of their wits:

“Although, as far as the Tribunal is aware, these vessels were not military vessels, China’s military vessels have been reported to have been in the vicinity. In the tribunal’s view, this represents a quintessentially military situation, involving the military forces of one side and a combination of military and paramilitary forces on the other, arrayed in opposition to one another… Accordingly, the tribunal finds that it lacks jurisdiction to consider the Philippines’ Submissions No. 14(a) to (c) (page 456 of Award).”

The implication of this ruling is devastating to us. It means that any Chinese or Vietnamese use of some sort of military force – for example, a blockade of our Pag-asa (Thitu) Island to starve our contingent there – falls outside the jurisdiction of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

This is the first time any kind of international tribunal has declared so. While the two countries did not participate in the arbitration, which China rejected, China and Vietnam are now well apprised that in case they decide to undertake military operations to seize our territory (short of a shooting war) as in a blockade, the Philippines cannot invoke Unclos to resist such action.

Note the tribunal’s verbatim quote above: “Although, as far as the tribunal is aware, these vessels were not military vessels, China’s military vessels have been reported to have been in the vicinity.”

Chinese warship
Aquino’s lawyers probably thought the Philippines would get some sympathy by claiming that other than two ships from the China Marine Surveillance, a civilian entity, a “Chinese warship believed to be a Jianghu-V Class Missile Frigate” was involved in the harassment of our supply vessels to Ayungin Shoal.

But it was that claim that gave the tribunal the reason to conclude that the event was a “quintessentially military situation,” which it had no jurisdiction over.

Can we ask the US to intervene?

Well, Aquino and del Rosario did during the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal stand-off in 2012, which led to the loss of what we call Bajo de Masinloc that we had control of for many years. President Barack Obama outrightly refused to even have US ships escort our fisheries bureau’s vessel and our fishermen’s boats into the shoal.

In 1974, the US didn’t intervene when China booted the Vietnamese out of the Paracel Islands, sinking one ship, damaging three other vessels and killing 53 South Vietnamese soldiers. In 1988, China and Vietnam again clashed over Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) Reef and, in 1995, President Fidel Ramos sought and failed to get the US to intervene to stop China’s building of structures on Mischief (Panganiban) Reef.

In a colossal blowback to the Philippines’ filing of its arbitration suit in 2013, China went on a massive, unprecedented building program that year and, in 2014, to convert their seven reefs into artificial islands, most with airstrips and ports which could be quickly transformed into military facilities. While the US became hoarse protesting against it, with two American warships even sailing close to these artificial islands to provoke a Chinese response, it could only watch helplessly.

US State Department
Will the US intervene this time, as some observers claim is the message of US State Department Secretary Michael Pompeo the other week? “The world will not allow Beijing etc. etc.,” was what Pompeo said. How can he talk in behalf of the world when nearly all countries, except for seven nations, including the US, have ignored the arbitration award?

And after all, most US observers see Pompeo’s belligerent statement versus China as just another pathetic attempt of his boss Donald Trump to distract from his massive failure in addressing the pandemic in his country, and to play to his jingoistic red-neck base.

Just as the US would have gone to war with the former Soviet Union that was intervening in Cuba in 1962 by building nuclear missile bases there, China would go to war against the Americans if they intervene in the South China (West Philippine) Sea, where after all it has no territorial claims and has no business there except its self-proclaimed role as regional police to ensure freedom of navigation there.

That’s the reality, folks. Better accept it and adjust to it.

If President Duterte had pursued Aquino’s belligerent stance against China, we would have lost all of our KIG through some military or paramilitary maneuvers by Chinese forces, emboldened by the tribunal ruling that such moves were outside its jurisdiction.

That would have been the consequence of the Yellow regime’s belligerent stance against China, which Duterte steered us away from. Sadly, Duterte’s Foreign Affairs and Defense secretaries, going by their statements issued on the same day and with the same message as that of the US State Department, are dragging the country back to that same Yellow foreign policy.

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