BY “Bajo Three” I mean the three very high-ranked Philippine officials who lost Bajo de Masinloc (also known as Scarborough or Panatag Shoal) because they naively believed in early June 2012 a US official’s lie, he got the Chinese to agree to a simultaneous withdrawal of Chinese and Filipino vessels from the shoal, to end a 10-week stand-off in the area. The three believed him and had our vessels vacate the shoal, leaving the Chinese in control of the shoal — forever as it were.
– Then foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, to whom Cuisia relayed the claim, after which del Rosario ordered, by one account, the Philippine vessels to vacate the area
– Then President Benigno Aquino 3rd to whom del Rosario relayed Cuisia’s claim and who, according to the foreign secretary, had the sole authority to order the vessels out
That this actually happened and was kept secret for so long by a powerful Yellow-controlled media with the help of the smokescreen that was the arbitration case filed in 2013 against China, is beyond doubt. Cuisia and del Rosario have practically confirmed they relied totally on Campbell’s say-so and neither of them had talked to a Chinese official, even just by telephone, about the agreement.
Campbell has kept mum about the incident, and in his 2016 book, The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia, the only mention he made of that episode which had far-reaching consequences for the South China Sea geopolitics — China’s occupation of a shoal so close to the Philippine mainland — was a single sentence: “The Philippines’ ten-week standoff with China ultimately resulted in its loss of the Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by both countries.”
Campbell is not just any ordinary US official. He is considered to be the architect of America’s “Pivot to Asia” policy launched by President Obama in 2009. New US president Joe Biden on day one appointed him “Asia czar.”
If Campbell had brokered a deal, which the Chinese reneged on, shouldn’t he have been shouting it to high heavens denouncing China? His silence on this is deafening as he doesn’t hide his disdain for China. In a recent Foreign Policy article, he wrote: “China’s growing material power has indeed destabilized the region’s delicate balance and emboldened Beijing’s territorial adventurism. Left unchecked, Chinese behavior could end the region’s long peace.”
The loss of Scarborough — in my book the Yellow regime’s biggest crime against country — is a classic case, if not of gullibility and incompetence of Yellow officials then of a puppet mindset: Uncle Sam takes care of us, he can never betray us, the Bajo Three must have thought.
There are three major reasons why the US fooled the Aquino government into surrendering control of Scarborough Shoal, an understanding of which should be a lesson in our foreign policy.
First, the US had to prevent at all costs a battle between Chinese and Filipino forces over Scarborough Shoal.
After a 10-week stand-off, the Americans got worried the Aquino regime — especially with the belligerent language of his generals and personalities like then Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio — would provoke a military skirmish in a desperate attempt to regain control of the shoal. The Philippines would then invoke the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the US.
This would force the US to respond in two different ways, one unpalatable and the other way too risky.
The first option, an unappealing one, was for the US to claim the MDT refers to an attack only on the Philippines’ mainland and forces there, not to an attack on a disputed territory and to Filipino forces there. In fact, Marcos had in 1976 backed out of a project to get foreign companies to explore the Reed Bank when US officials explained this “fine print” in the MDT to him. And that was even the era when Marcos had a trump card: the US military bases in the country, critical during the Vietnam war.
But such a hands-off stance would portray the US as weak, or even interpreted as the start of a US retreat from Southeast Asia. For US anti-China hawks, that would embolden China to enforce its claims in the entire South China Sea, even totally drive away not just Filipinos, but Vietnamese and Malaysians out of the Spratly.
The second option was to go to the Filipinos’ defense in a military conflict. But this would almost certainly trigger a war between the US and China. The Chinese Communist Party would not be able to withstand domestic outrage in China if it backed down from a confrontation with the US, which in the first place has been viewed by the Chinese as attempting to continue its hegemony in Asia. It is not an exaggeration that it could have escalated into an all-out nuclear war.
The Americans of course had no way to get the Chinese to leave the shoal and thus prevent a military situation. They could think with the Philippines with its gullible and submissive diplomats. Why, its ambassador was a very close friend of America, having been the chairman of Philam Life owned by the American AIG Insurance and was currently (while he was ambassador) chairman of the Philippine distributor of Chevrolet cars.
Second, the US decided to trick the Bajo Three because it calculated the loss of Bajo de Masinloc to the Chinese would bolster its propaganda that China’s strategy has been to control the South China Sea gradually and in increments. This would convince the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations to move closer to the US and allow it to have a bigger naval presence in the South China Sea region.
This propaganda has been quite successful the most vehement anti-China (but apparently pro-Vietnam and pro-US) propagandist Carpio has been incessant in mouthing the American line of China’s “creeping invasion.” No matter of course, the last feature China occupied in the South China Sea before Scarborough was Mischief Reef in 1995, which was in retaliation against the Ramos government’s move in 1994 (cleared reportedly by Carpio who was the president’s legal counsel) to grant oil exploration rights in the Reed Bank to the US-affiliated firm Alcorn Petroleum.
Third, the US calculated if the Chinese took over Scarborough, it could easily scare the wits out of the Aquino government that it would quickly restore US military bases here that were terminated in 1991, although in a more modern form, as a means of fending off Chinese expansionism.
This was through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), signed by the Aquino 3rd government in 2014, which gives the US permission to station its troops and war materiel readying for battle in five military camps in the Philippines.
Americans undoubtedly told Aquino and his officials: “We need military bases in the Philippines so we can easily mobilize our troops and war materiel in case the Chinese decide to invade you next, after Scarborough.
Indeed, then associate justice Antonio Carpio unabashedly devoted his entire concurring opinion in the Supreme Court decision that upheld the EDCA in 2016 to argue not that it complied with the Constitution. Instead, sounding like a spokesman for the US military, he argued the EDCA agreement was necessary to defend the country from China:
“After China’s seizure of Scarborough Shoal in 2012, the Philippines finally woke up and summoned the political will to address the serial and creeping Chinese invasion of Philippine national territory. Thus, the EDCA was born. With the EDCA, the Philippines will have a fighting chance to hold on to Philippine-occupied islands in the Spratly. With the EDCA, China will think twice before attacking Philippine Navy and coast guard vessels patrolling the West Philippine Sea.”
Fourth, the US fooled the Bajo Three to lose Scarborough Shoal in order to prompt the Philippines into filing the arbitration suit against China. This suit in reality was a US scheme not just to bolster its propaganda China doesn’t believe in the international rule of law.
One of its aims was to give, and indeed successfully gave, the US some basis in ‘international law’ — even if only through the ruling of an arbitral panel — for the US Navy’s patrols in the South China Sea (euphemistically called Freedom of Navigation Operations, or Fonops) to project its military power.
The arbitration “award” ruled no feature in the South China Sea, including those occupied by the Chinese, can have a 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ). If followed, that prevents nations there from declaring their EEZs in the South China Sea, which would make most of its international waters through which US warships can freely sail without having to ask any nation for permission, and even secretly. That assures US submarines — actually the most powerful US weapon — to approach closer than ever to mainland China and North Korea.
The arbitration case was planned as early as 2011, as President Aquino revealed in his July 2011 State of the Nation Address. The suit was a conjunction of US interests and those of the oligarchic group whose gas-well development plans in the Reed Bank were stopped by China in March that year. However, that an oligarchic group’s project was stopped by China was hardly an issue that Filipinos would rally around, for the government to file an unprecedented case against a superpower in the neighborhood.
The Chinese takeover of Bajo de Masinloc was a game-changer and it was easy for the Aquino regime to stoke anti-Chinese feelings over the issue, especially since Bajo de Masinloc was portrayed in newspaper illustrations as being very close to the well-known former US military base in Subic Bay in Zambales.
Aquino officials went all out in trying to scare the Philippine elite of an impending Chinese “invasion.” According to a written eyewitness report of then senator Antonio Trillanes 4th, seasoned diplomat Henry Bensurto Jr. told a Cabinet meeting in which several senators and representatives were present, the “annexation” of Scarborough Shoal by China would be used as a springboard to claim Western Luzon.
As the International Crisis Group in a report said: “Members of the Manila policy establishment who supported bilateral engagement with Beijing lost influence after a mid-2012 standoff that ended with China seizing control of the Scarborough Shoal.”
Del Rosario himself told the British Financial Times it was the loss of Scarborough that became the “catalyst” for the Philippine decision to bring China to an international court over its expansive claims in the South China Sea.
The Philippines’ loss of Scarborough because of US duplicity gave Washington tremendous gains: fodder for China’s creeping-invasion strategy, the return of US military bases in the Philippines, and the arbitration suit. Our loss of a Philippine territory — the first after Sabah — was of no importance for the US.
No wonder Campbell, the US operative who fooled the Bajo Three, rather than being condemned in the US for helping China to seize a piece of Philippine territory, was appointed on the very first day of the Biden administration as “National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific.” That’s a brand-new post that conceals its enormous authority, essentially Biden’s point man for Asia.
Did Biden’s search team recommend him for his brilliant, bold machinations in 2012 over Scarborough Shoal that led to a tremendous loss for the Philippines, but gave a huge boon to the US Pivot to Asia program, of which Campbell was the architect?