I SWEAR, the Yellow opposition have lost their minds: Antonio Carpio and Albert del Rosario as “convenors” for organizing the “democratic forces” in 2022? That is not just scraping the bottom of the barrel, they’re throwing the barrel at whatever anti-Duterte group that could form next year.
Former Supreme Court justice Carpio was the brains of the ill-conceived arbitration suit against China filed in 2013. Del Rosario, a longtime First Pacific high-ranking officer before he joined government, was President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s Foreign secretary, who led the anti-China campaign. These two manipulated the witless Aquino into what was the worst foreign policy direction the Philippine government ever took.
Despite their flag-waving melodramatics, their intention, wittingly or unwittingly, was to force China to allow an ambitious project of the Indonesian-owned First Pacific conglomerate to explore and exploit gas and oil in the Reed (Recto) Bank, which the Asian superpower and Vietnam claim.
Eight years after that arbitration suit was filed in 2013 and four years after the panel handed down its decision in 2016, only the ignorant or those psychotically denying reality will refuse to see not only how useless that “lawfare” — Carpio‘s term — was but the damage it wrought on us, which would have been catastrophic if Duterte had not reversed it and adopted a rapprochement policy with China.
Carpio, a corporate lawyer before joining government, inanely thought that filing a suit against a country, much less a superpower, was just like filing a suit against a company handled by the brilliant lawyer that he thought he was. He had no idea how geopolitics and international relations work.
That suit, however, proved to be so beneficial to China, the United States and even to Vietnam that these countries should thank Carpio and del Rosario — profusely. They should even award them their highest medals of honor. Why not?
China reaped the following benefits from this duo’s sinophobic campaign.
First, it roused Chinese nationalism, especially among the youth, which the Communist Party had been worried was drastically weakening as a result of China’s tremendous economic growth, which in many countries weakens people’s sense of citizenship, turning to consumerism instead.
At the height of the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal and then when the Philippines filed its suit, China’s social media like Weibo were swamped with demands for the People’s Liberation Army to invade the Philippines, “the running dog of US imperialists.” Weibo was even swamped with queries form Chinese netizens asking where they could volunteer to train to be People’s Liberation Army soldiers that would invade us.
After all, it was a US refurbished warship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which Aquino sent to arrest Chinese fishermen, it was American lawyers that handled the arbitration suit, it was a former ambassador to the US, del Rosario, who led the anti-China propaganda, it was the US government and American media that cheered on the Philippines in its fight with China.
What Carpio and del Rosario were totally ignorant of was the fact that Chinese nationalism is inherently linked to China’s “century of humiliation,” when some Western powers and Japan claimed as much Chinese territory for their own as they could. The US was seen at it again, using the Philippines as its thinly veiled proxy, this time to grab Chinese territory in the South China (West Philippine) Sea through an international body that was its puppet.
Chinese communist leader Xi Jinping no doubt would have been happy over the Philippines’ fight with China, as it raised his party’s prestige as the vanguard upholding the country’s nationalism and defending its territory against the US imperialists using the Philippines as its pawn.
Facts on the ground
Second, because one of the arbitration suit’s demand was for the panel to declare reefs as not being islands, and therefore not entitled to a territorial sea and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the Chinese “established facts on the ground.” That is, they transformed the eight reefs they occupy into islands, never mind of course if these were artificial islands, created through massive reclamation.
While China would protest the analogy, its “establishment of facts on the ground,” and in fact the origin of the term itself, was what the US-backed Israelis did after they occupied Jordan’s West Bank in the “Six-Day War” of 1967. To fend off Jordan’s and the international community’s pressures to give it up, the Israeli state encouraged settlements by its citizens in the West Bank, making it now nearly impossible for Israel to give it up.
It is, however, an old strategy in territorial disputes: a country invests heavily in a disputed area, building installations or even fortifications there, to make it impossible, short of war, for another country to claim it.
That is the reason really why even the US sat idly by while China right after the suit was filed in 2013, transformed their erstwhile reefs into artificial islands convertible to military facilities. Vietnam of course followed suit, building up their fortifications in the four islands it occupied since the 1970s.
What was the Philippines doing all this time? Del Rosario and Carpio were ranting to the world, “What is ours is ours,” “China must comply with the international rule of law” and, of course, “USA, help us!”
Occupying only reefs, and therefore hardly any dry land before the arbitration suit was filed in 2012, China by 2016 because of its reclamation on it reefs, had the biggest dry land in the South China Sea totaling 1,300 hectares, seven times bigger than the 187- hectare area of islands and reefs of both Vietnam and the Philippines.
“Thank you, Mr. Carpio and Mr. del Rosario, for giving us the excuse to do what we were itching to do since the 1990s,” the Chinese would have likely told these two. A chain of Chinese-occupied fortified artificial islands, convertible to military bases, has now become the most prominent feature of the Spratlys (Kalayaan Island Group).
And third, of course, Aquino’s hostile stance against China and the arbitration suit led to the loss of Scarborough Shoal to the Chinese. Six weeks into the so-called Scarborough stand-off — when Chinese and Philippines vessels refused to leave — a US diplomat told del Rosario that Chinese vice Foreign Affairs Minister Fu Ying in order to peacefully end the stand-off, agreed for China’s vessels to leave the area simultaneous with the Philippines ships, as leaked by then-senator Antonio Trillanes, whom Aquino appointed as his back-channel negotiator, del Rosario ordered the Philippine vessels to leave — without even informing Aquino. The Chinese vessels stayed put though. There was no agreement, only talks for such agreement. Since then, Chinese vessels rotate occupying the shoal, blocking Philippine government ships from entering. We’ve lost it, forever as it were.
The arbitration panel didn’t order the Chinese to turn over Scarborough Shoal to us. Worse, it declared it as being claimed by both China and the Philippines, and that it had no authority to resolve these convicting claims. That is the first time that an international body declared that sovereignty of what we call Bajo de Masinloc was under dispute.
For the US on the other hand, the biggest benefit it got from Carpio and del Rosario’s “bright idea” of filing the arbitration suit was the de facto restoration of the US military bases in the Philippines, albeit in its modern, cost-effective version. This was through the so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that Aquino and Obama officials signed in 2014.
In contrast to the old expensive version of huge US military bases in the country such as Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, the EDCA commits the Philippines to allow the US to use five of its military camps as forward bases, where it can stockpile as much war materiel it wants and station troops for deployment to a war theater, anywhere in the world.
How did the US get to restore military bases, even in this “lite” form, which even President Corazon Aquino failed to deliver to them in 1991?
After the Scarborough stand-off and the filing of the arbitration suit, the US and the Aquino government had left Filipinos and the country’s political elite really frightened that China would retaliate by grabbing our other islands in the South China Sea, even Palawan. They therefore claimed that the nation had no choice but to allow US troops in such an impending scenario, as a deterrent.
A second huge benefit of the arbitration for the US is that the Americans and their minions here portrayed China’s refusal to accept the arbitral award as a rejection of the “international rule of law. That propaganda though had lost its credibility since 2016, as more and more scholars have shown up the arbitration suit to be a farce, as it in effect ruled on sovereignty issues when the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), on which the award is based, has no authority to do so. Only the US and its handful of “allies” that always toe the US foreign policy tack are asking China to comply with the award
No more islands
And us, did we get anything from the award? We even lost a lot, as the award ruled that no feature in the South China Sea is entitled to an EEZ, and that all these aren’t islands under Unclos. This means that we can never invoke EEZs over the islands we occupy in the Spratlys, such as Thitu (Pag-asa) and West York (Likas) Islands, the second and third biggest in the area, while Japan, the US and many European countries do so for their reefs and islets.
We have even lost the Kalayaan Island Group, although we have not yet acknowledged that. Aquino’s American lawyers claimed in the arbitration hearing that the 1978 Marcos decree, which created it was repealed by Unclos, as it doesn’t comply with its provisions.
What is comedic if not for the seriousness of the topic is that it is only the Philippines which is bound by the arbitral award, as China refused to participate in the arbitration and doesn’t recognize it. And of course, as an arbitration, its ruling cannot involve any other country.
This was the handiwork of Carpio and del Rosario. And the opposition has now appointed them as convenors for organizing “democratic forces” for the 2022 elections.
How dumb can they get? Pathetic.