A MONTH after the hysterics, sadly participated in by our own defense and foreign affairs secretaries, the so-called “intrusion” by 200 Chinese “maritime militia in our territory” is turning out to be a hoax.
It is a hoax, since no iota of evidence has been presented that the vessels were China’s maritime militia. They were Chinese fishing fleets, huge ones, yes, because these are deep-sea fishing vessels. They massed at the Julian Felipe Reef not because they were in a military formation but because that is what fishing fleets do to brace against storms, in this case against a fierce northeast monsoon last month. It gives the vessels more stability when they are tied up together, ensuring that a lone vessel does not float away helpless in a storm.
Even the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), an anti-China think tank set up by US propagandists and intelligence in 2013, couldn’t really provide evidence that the vessels were Chinese maritime militia ships.
Yet its article on Whitsun Reef is a classic of disinformation. It titled the article “Caught on camera: Two dozen militia boats at Whitsun Reef identified.” What that headline really means is that out of the 200 vessels at Whitsun Reef which the Philippine defense secretary claimed were Chinese maritime militia, it has identified the registered names for 23 of the vessels.
Based on these, what were they? Fishing vessels. The AMTI report pointed out: “Each vessel’s name begins with ‘Yue,’a shorthand for Guangdong, and ends with ‘Yu,’ meaning fish. In between are characters referring to their home ports. The ’Zhan’ in ‘Yuezhanyu,’ for example, shows that they operate out of Zhanjiang. So does the Yuexiayu 90122, where ‘Xia’ refers to Xiashan District in Zhanjiang.” Thus, ‘Yuexiayu 90122’ painted on the hull of one of the alleged ‘maritime militia’meant a fishing vessel with port at Guangdong.
The anonymous writer of the AMTI piece obviously wasn’t aware what he was proving, that the vessels that Lorenzana has claimed were maritime militia were fishing vessels, and the piece even identified the home ports, which are well known as bases for China’s fishing fleets.
Dr. Mark Valencia, a respected scholar on the South China Sea disputes, in a recent post in www.lawfareblog.com, also pointed out that the Chinese explanation as to why the vessels were at the Julian Felipe Reef appears valid: “The vessels were moored in the lee of the reef, offering some protection from the northeast monsoon. The Philippines’ ambassador to China, Chito Sta. Romana, wisely suggested that observers should watch and see if the vessels stayed in the area when the weather improved. As if on cue, the weather moderated and by April 1 the number of Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef had dropped to 44, and by April 14 it had dropped to nine.”
The Julian Felipe Chinese invasion is a hoax since the Chinese vessels – fishing, militia, whatever — were in Whitsun Reef (Julian Felipe) that is a part of the Union Banks area. This was claimed and occupied not only by China (since1988) but also by Vietnam (since the 1970s) as part of their South China Sea archipelago that the former calls Nansha and the latter Truong Sa.
The Vietnamese has four installations there, the Chinese two. If the Vietnam’s lee had been invaded by 200 Chinese maritime militias, don’t you think it would have protested, and even militarily fought its archenemy in the South China Sea disputes? After all, the two had fought before, in the Paracels in 1974 and in the Johnson Reef in 1988, with 139 Vietnamese and 24 Chinese killed.
President Aquino 3rd’ order in 2012 for the area to be called the West Philippine Sea, and unofficial maps showing it to be within our exclusive economic zone doesn’t automatically make it “ours.” That is the reason we all agree there is a territorial and maritime zone dispute, blockheads. The arbitration award even emphasized that it had no authority to rule on such disputes.
When foreign vessels appear at, say off Basilan, which is not claimed by any other country, that’s when Lorenzana and Locsin should be livid to declare that we’re not giving up an inch of territory. When foreign vessels area sighted in a disputed area such as Whitsun Reef, which two other claimants have occupied for decades, just shut up, and stop pretending you can evict them – as the wiser Vietnamese do.
Lorenzana in his declaration to the world (i.e., posted in his Facebook page), said Whitsun Reef and Union Reefs “are territories well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, where Filipinos have the sole right to resources under international law and the 2016 arbitral ruling.”
However, Valencia pointed out in his article: “The Philippines has not officially declared the extent of its EEZ, further muddying the waters.” ‘Show me an official map that your EEZ covers Whitsun Reef,” a Chinese lawyer may as well have told Lorenzana. There is no such official map, as the country’s authorized map-making agency disclosed to me in an official communication.*
To Secretaries Delfin Lorenzana and Teodoro Locsin: Email or text me the part in the 2012 arbitration award which you claim ruled that only “Filipinos have the right to resources in Whitsun Reef, located within Union Reefs,” and I will stop writing columns forever. The award even ruled that fishermen from all nationalities an fish at Scarborough Shoal, which is four times closer to our mainland compared to the distant Julian Felipe. Read my lips: Territorial sovereignty is superior to EEZ.
Furthermore, the arbitration award ruled in favor of the Aquino lawyers’ plea that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) had repealed the Marcos law that created our Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in 1978, so we can’t claim features in the KIG, such as Julian Felipe, as part of our territory.
This Julian Felipe hoax is so despicable since the Yellows fanned the ensuing Sinophobia to accuse, as the delirious senator Risa Hontiveros screamed, President Duterte of being a “traitor or a coward for surrendering Philippine sovereignty.” They have waged an intense campaign to portray Duterte as a traitor at the risk of the country reverting to the disastrous hostile stance against China of the past Aquino regime.
What is worrying is that it would not be beyond the Chinese to react to the Yellow accusations, made by former Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, that Duterte has exchanged our sovereignty for China’s Sinovac vaccines, by withholding the 20 million doses our government has bought from them.
With the “EJK” accusations long buried, and the jury still out on Duterte’s performance in addressing the pandemic, the only issue the Yellows can raise against the President in the hope of capturing power in 2022 is portraying him as weak in fighting China.
Wittingly or unwittingly, Lorenzana and Locsin have been at the forefront of the mob spreading this hoax, unnecessarily painting their boss Duterte to a corner, who in exasperation said that the only way to evict the Chinese is through a war which however we will certainly lose.
If these two just did their jobs to point out that China and Vietnam have as much claim as we do in the Spratlys, and the Chinese ships were in a territory they have long occupied, Duterte certainly didn’t need to say that, which the Yellows have pounced on to claim he is a traitor or a coward.
Duterte must fire these two officials, if not for their uncritical, mindless embrace of the false Yellow narrative over the South China Sea issue, then for their incompetence in understanding an issue so crucial at this time. They are risking the well-being of Filipinos with their incessant, ignorant blabbing. No wonder that wacky opposition group 1Sampayan want them declared as heroes. Heroes probably, but of the vanishing Yellow tribe. *See my column: “We don’t have territorial sea, EEZ, maybe even WPS – yet: Blame Congress.”