THE gall of former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario to even open his mouth on the Whitsun Reef brouhaha and to admonish the Duterte administration to do this or that in dealing with China.
In an article prominently posted yesterday in the Philippine Star, owned by the Indonesian-controlled First Pacific where del Rosario got most of his income for two decades, he wrote: “On Panatag/Scarborough, an agreement in settling an impasse in 2012 was brokered by the US. It involved the withdrawal of all ships on both sides by a certain time. We withdrew while China deceitfully breached our agreement.”
That is a gargantuan lie. Not even the US claims that. Only del Rosario, nobody else – not even his fellow Sinophobe Antonio Carpio or even President Aquino 3rd – dares repeat that lie that has been incontrovertibly proven as such. Del Rosario in fact will go down in Philippine history as the person to have dropped the ball so that this Republic lost its first ever territory. For that alone, del Rosario should have the decency to shut up on our territorial disputes with China.
In May 2012, a ‘stand-off” ensued at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal as Chinese and Philippine vessels were in its lagoon for eight weeks, after the former blocked an attempt by our warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar to arrest Chinese fishermen who were allegedly illegally fishing there. Neither side would leave. To do so would have meant abandoning the area, thereby losing sovereignty over it. The stand-off went on for eight weeks.
On June 3, del Rosario ordered our vessels to leave the shoal, according to a written aide memoire by then senator Antonio Trillanes 4th, who was appointed by Aquino to be his back-channel negotiator to the Chinese and an eyewitness as it were to the events.
Trillanes wrote in his aide-memoire: “On the morning of 04 June, PNoy called to inform me that our BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) vessels had already left the shoal but China had reneged on the agreement of simultaneous withdrawal of ships so 2 CMS vessels are still inside.”
“I asked him (Aquino), who agreed with what, since I was just hammering out the details of the sequential withdrawal because the mouth of the shoal was too narrow for a simultaneous withdrawal. He told me that Sec. del Rosario told him about the agreement reached in Washington. This time I asked him, if the agreement was simultaneous withdrawal, ‘why did we leave first?’
PNoy responded to this effect, ‘kaya nga sinabihan ko si Albert kung bakit niya pinalabas yung BFAR na hindi ko nalalaman.’ (That’s why I scolded Albert why he ordered the BFAR vessel to leave the shoal without my knowing it.)”
The Chinese didn’t leave the lagoon and subsequently blocked our ships from returning. The Philippines lost Scarborough – forever, as it were since there’s no chance in the world that the Chinese would be persuaded to return it to us.
Perhaps del Rosario heard what he just wanted to hear – that the Chinese had agreed to leave – as the mess was the consequence of the belligerent position he advised Aquino to adopt. He and Aquino were desperate as the US had refused to intervene in the stand-off.
Del Rosario trusted the Americans so much, claiming that he was told by US Assistant State Secretary Kurt Campbell, relayed through our ambassador in Washington, Jose Cuisia, that the Chinese had agreed to a simultaneous withdrawal.
There was no such agreement. He gullibly believed the US official’s claim that he got the Chinese, represented by Fu Ying, then China’s vice foreign minister for Asia, to agree to withdraw their vessels from Scarborough Shoal.
Plain common sense tells us that it is impossible for such an agreement on such an important crisis—and on a sovereignty issue—to have been made by one Chinese official, and in a one-hour meeting in a hotel room, without even consulting her superiors.
Campbell, who retired from government service in 2013, would have raised a howl that China had reneged on an agreement that he had brokered, since this would even bolster the US propaganda of a China that was deceitful. Campbell hasn’t.
In his 2016 book, The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia, his only mention of the episode in one sentence: “The Philippines’ ten-week standoff with China ultimately resulted in its loss of the Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by both countries.”
Anyone only a bit familiar with the nature of negotiations between countries, the Chinese decision-making process, and the circumstances of the Scarborough stand-off would laugh at del Rosario’s claim that Campbell got the Chinese to agree to the pullout.
“Any scenario based on the PRC agreeing to US mediation in its dealings with the Philippines is, for lack of a nicer word, horsepucky,” China observer Peter Lee wrote. “The PRC’s detestation of the internationalization of its one-sided scrum with the Philippines is a byword in Chinese diplomacy. Maybe as a courtesy, Fu agreed to transmit the US proposal back to Beijing; most likely, the leadership’s decision would have been to reject any US involvement in the matter.”
In an interview a year later by a Financial Times reporter who asked her about the alleged agreement, Fu replied: “I do not know what agreement you are referring to…. The Chinese vessels did not leave the area because they feared the Philippines might double-cross us. All China is doing is to keep an eye on the island for fear that the Philippines would do it again.”
So why would the US, through Campbell, fool del Rosario into losing Scarborough?
Subsequent events explain why.
First, frightened by the US and their local minions that the Chinese would use Scarborough as a jumping board to take over other nearby islands, the Aquino regime agreed to the euphemistically titled “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA),” a thinly veiled restoration, in a more cost effective way, of American military bases here. When Aquino and del Rosario groveled to Washington to beg President Obama to order the US navy to escort Philippine ships so they could return to the shoal, they were told they can’t risk even a regional war, as they didn’t have forward bases in the South China Sea. Aquino gave them those forward bases through the EDCA.
And second, it prodded Aquino and del Rosario to file the arbitration suit against China in January. It served as a huge and expensive smokescreen for their loss of Scarborough Shoal. People forgot about it, believing that the suit could recover it. It didn’t. Worse, the arbitration award affirmed: “The Tribunal records that this decision is entirely without prejudice to the question of sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal.”
For the US, the arbitration suit not only served to paint China as a bully in the region. More importantly, since the suit ruled that no feature in the South China Sea can have a 200-natuical mile exclusive economic zone, it gave the US navy some legal basis for patrolling it as if it were a US lake, euphemistically called their freedom of navigation operations.
I am appalled at del Rosario’s continuing, shameless lies on how we lost Scarborough. It is indeed a testament to the power of oligarchs, through their control of media such as the Star and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, to mold public opinion to hide his witting or unwitting betrayal of our national interest. Del Rosario is telling us: “I am rich and with the oligarchs: I can make you believe what I want you to.”
I’m afraid though that del Rosario in his delirious bitterness towards China and Duterte may be losing his marbles. What kind of person would write, as he did in his piece yesterday, referring to a war with China: “If threatened by the use of force, we should be ready to inflict, at the very least, a bloody nose on any attacker who is out to harm us.” He thinks war with China or any other country is just like schoolboys’ fisticuffs, that would involve only bloody noses? Such bellicose braggadocio coming from an 81-year old man is pathetic and at the same time appalling.