FINALLY, the truth, from an impeccable source.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd ordered the abandonment in June 2012 of Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, thereby surrendering it to China. Whether this was because of bad judgment due to his subordinates’ false reports, or because he was too gullible to believe US claims and promises, only he can tell us.
The Philippine Coast Guard vessels at Scarborough Shoal had left the area on June 15, 2012 in order to take shelter in Subic Bay from an impending typhoon which was forecast to hit the area directly, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commandant, Rear Admiral Edmund C. Tan, informed this writer. This was authorized by the President, he said.
The PCG ship and two other government vessels, which were also manned by coast guard officers, had represented the remaining Philippine presence inside the shoal’s lagoon in the standoff that started 10 weeks before between our ships and that of China. Neither the Chinese nor the Philippine ships would leave the shoal for 10 weeks, as this would have meant abandoning the disputed area to the other country, in effect turning over control – and effective sovereignty.
“Unfortunately, when we were about to go back to Panatag Shoal after the typhoon, President Aquino directed us to stand by and hold our going back there,” Tan disclosed. Aquino’s order was given to him directly through both text message and a cellphone call. (Asked why it wasn’t Mar Roxas, the then transportation secretary whose department had jurisdiction of the PCG, Tan replied: “Yes, sec mar was my immediate superior and he was informed of all my actions. All my text to pnoy and sec del rosario, copy furnished si sec mar.”)
Aquino never ordered the PCG vessels nor the Navy back to the shoal. When was the PCG vessels ordered back to Scarborough, I asked then commandant Tan. “No more orders from me or from the President,” he replied.
Aquino in effect ordered Panatag Shoal surrendered it to the Chinese, without even testing if they would allow Philippine vessels back into the shoal.
Aquino is the first and only president of this country who has lost a territory in his term. Worse, Scarborough Shoal is the closest feature in the South China Sea now occupied by a foreign nation.
Ironically, most international law experts consider our sovereignty claim over the shoal as the strongest among the various claimants in the South China Sea, not because of its proximity to our mainland, but because of the fact that we had exercised effective control of it since independence.
Tan explained: “I was made to understand by PNoy and Secretary Albert del Rosario that there was already an agreement between China and the Philippines brokered by the US to simultaneously withdraw from the area, using the typhoon as the reason to ‘save face’. However, China did not follow the agreement and returned to the shoal. We wanted to go back also but we had no orders from the higher ups to do so.”
But there was no such agreement with the Chinese. US State Department assistant secretary for Asia Kurt Campbell lied to then Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia that there was such a pact. Cuisia then relayed Campbell’s lie to foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, who without even confirming it from other sources (such as his counterpart the Chinese foreign affairs minister or even just the Chinese ambassador in Manila) convinced Aquino that with the pact, he should immediately order the PCG vessels out of the shoal.
The US official Campbell fooled Cuisia, del Rosario and Aquino that there was such an understanding with the Chinese. To give credibility to his lie, Campbell told Cuisia it was Chinese foreign affairs vice minister Fu Ying, who by chance was in Washington, was the Chinese official he had talked to.
Fu has denied there was ever a such an agreement in her one-time, one-hour meeting in a hotel in Washington with Campbell. Most observers found it impossible for her to enter into such a pact as she had no authority to decide on such a major move on what had become a raging issue in China. The controversy had created outrage in China since it had been depicted as triggered by a Philippine warship’s attempt to arrest Chinese fishermen in the area. Photos at that time were even circulated by the Philippine government showing Navy troops armed with armalites guarding shabbily dressed Chinese fishermen.
Cuisia and del Rosario themselves have admitted that they had never talked to any Chinese official to confirm Campbell’s claim.
Apparently, one reason that prodded Aquino to believe his foreign secretary, was the earlier report to him by then senator Antonio Trillanes 4th, whom he appointed as “back-channel” negotiator, that the Chinese officials he had been talking to – of “Politburo rank” he claimed – had also agreed to a “simultaneous withdrawal” from the shoal. Trillanes regaled Aquino with his Navy expertise by explaining to him that the exit from the lagoon was a complicated procedure that he was working on, as the mouth of the lagoon was too narrow for two ships to pass through simultaneously. That now seems to be a product of Trillanes imagination gone wild.
If not for the seriousness of the matter, it was hilarious how Cuisia and del Rosario didn’t realize for weeks that they had been gypped by Campbell, telling media that the Chinese ships would be leaving soon.
Cuisia related in the book Rock Solid, obviously bankrolled by Carpio or del Rosario: “I got a call from Albert [del Rosario] asking me why had the Chinese not pulled out. I, in turn, called Kurt and he suggested we give the Chinese some time.”
Del Rosario would tell the country (and the world) that China wrested control of Scarborough only a month later, when he desperately asked the Asean foreign ministers to issue a statement condemning China for “grabbing” the shoal and screaming that China had reneged on the agreement.
In his State of the Nation Address on July 23, 2012, or about a month we lost Scarborough to China, Aquino did not report that debacle. He even made it appear as if the standoff hadn’t ended: “Rest assured: We are consulting experts, every leader of our nation, our allies – even those on the other side – to find a resolution that is acceptable to all,” he said, a total lie.
If the Chinese had reneged on its word to pull out, Campbell would have been outraged, and told the world how duplicitous China was, which would have bolstered his incessant propaganda line that it was an unscrupulous superpower out to control the South China Sea.
Campbell never ever claimed that that there was an agreement, not to this day. In his 2016 book, The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia, his only mention of that episode which had far-reaching consequences in the South China Sea disputes 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.”
More revealing and intriguing is Campbell’s email to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on June 22, after del Rosario was jumping up and down screaming the Chinese reneged on their word. The email (released by Wikileaks) had as “Scarborough Shoal Update” in the “subject field” read:
“Ambassador Zhang came in to see us today on a range of issues and cooperative projects. We are exploring some options on Iran language – working closely with Wendy and her team.
“Also conveyed all messages to Phils. They are pleased and I think a little relieved. These are quite positive developments which we can build on. Kurt.”
That certainly doesn’t sound that Campbell was furious over “Chinese duplicity,” which Cuisia and del Rosario claimed is the reason why we lost Scarborough Shoal. What is intriguing in that email though is what messages from Clinton and Campbell conveyed to the Philippines regarding the Scarborough Shoal issue, which made them “pleased and a little relieved.”
What Campbell may have been referring to may be gleaned from his much earlier email to Clinton at the height of the standoff, on May 17. This was an endorsement of an “expert’s” view that the Scarborough Shoal standoff should be resolved by “an international court or tribunal and ask them to decide which State has the better claim to sovereignty.”
The logical explanation from all this is that Campbell explained to del Rosario: “Don’t worry, our lawyers have already studied this issue. The Philippines will file a suit against China that would not only recover Scarborough for you but rule illegal its claims on your Kalayaan Island Group, which is based on the nine-dash line. We will use our connections to assure you win the suit. In the meantime, do not do anything to create another round of tension for us.”
This could explain why Aquino categorically ordered the PCG, according to its commandant, not to return to the shoal, not even to approach it in case he changed his mind, or to at least show the Chinese the Philippines had not given up its claim on it.
Campbell’s strategy worked, which probably was a factor that convinced the new US president Biden to appoint him as his point man for Asia with the title “National Security Coordinator for Indo-Pacific.”
His fooling of the three stooges immediately assuaged the Obama administrations’ big worry at that time, which Trillanes in a lecture at the Ateneo School of Government explained as follows: “The Americans were so afraid that with the escalation of tensions, there would be miscalculations [by either country], and they would be drawn into a fight on election year [presidential elections in the US was November 2012].”
Clinton’s email to Sullivan also alluded to this worry, emphasizing that “aggressive actions of recent days in the South China Sea will lead to conflict (perhaps drawing us in) or passive acceptance (undermining us).”
And what do you think would Aquino and del Rosario do to cover up their loss of Scarborough Shoal? Raise hell to condemn China as an invader in the South China Sea, most probably hire even at astronomical fees a former Supreme Court justice to be their mouthpiece in demonizing the Chinese, using the entire propaganda apparatus of del Rosario’s First Pacific* conglomerate (which includes the Philippine Star). The arbitration suit indeed was an effective smokescreen for their bungling, that it had not been investigated.
This duo’s colossal crime against the nation, the loss of Scarborough Shoal, is one of the two real reasons* for their cabal’s intense and apparently expensive campaign to demonize China, nothing more.
*Why this is so is explained in my May 10, 2021 column “Salim (aka MVP), Razon, Ongpin’s project behind Aquino’s discord with China.”