WE cannot underemphasize the colossal damage inflicted on the Republic by the loss of Scarborough Shoal, the result of the collective bungling of President Aquino 3rd, his Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, our ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia, and his back-channel envoy, then senator Antonio Trillanes 4th.
It is the first territory ever lost by the nation, and worse, it is the closest occupied by a foreign power to our mainland. Its consequences were even worse, with del Rosario revealing that it was the “catalyst” that led to the filing of the arbitration suit against China.
What he meant was that it gave the Aquino government the excuse to file the suit against the superpower, ostensibly since it was the only recourse to recover the shoal we call Bajo de Masinloc. The arbitration panel, however, instead ruled that sovereignty over it (or any other disputed body) is beyond the jurisdiction of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
China of course acted as a superpower and was well on the way of cutting off economic ties with the Philippines, thereby inflicting so much damage to our economy, and future economic prospects. Our neighbors in the region, actually our competitors, were laughing at us for our government’s stupidity and puppetry to the US, and delighted that Chinese capital and trade flowed to them instead.
We’re fortunate that President Duterte, who won power in 2016, realized instinctively the insanity of the foreign policy course his predecessor had set for the country and instead adopted a rapprochement policy toward China.
Aquino himself in his July 2011 State of the Nation Address had disclosed that such a suit was being planned even that early as a means of getting China to allow the gas exploration and exploitation project of an oligarchic triad on Recto Bank, which the Chinese stopped in March on grounds that the area was part of their territory.
But that suit has a more profound utility: US policymakers had been looking for a way for an international body of whatever form, to rule that China’s nine-dash line around most of Southeast Asia, drawn on all of Chinese maps as if to declare that the area was theirs, had no legal basis under the relatively new law of the seas, the Unclos.
The Pentagon had for a decade been looking for a way to give US warships legal justification to patrol the South China Sea without having to announce their presence as would be necessary if they sailed through countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs). The arbitration award practically cleared the South China Sea of EEZs that could have been declared by countries as emanating from the features they occupied in the Spratlys archipelago.
To get the Philippines to file the arbitration suit therefore was the reason why the US’ top diplomat dealing with Asia, Kurt Campbell, fooled Cuisia and del Rosario into believing his lie that the Chinese had agreed to leave the shoal. The gullible Aquino ordered our three vessels there out of the shoal, and thus we lost Bajo de Masinloc.
I quoted an impeccable source for this in my column last Wednesday, Vice Admiral Edmund Tan, the Philippine Coast Guard’s commandant at the time to whom Aquino gave the orders for the vessels not to return to Scarborough. Indeed, I congratulate Tan for his patriotism and boldness in having no qualms about telling us what happened to make the history books accurate.
Aquino, Cuisia and del Rosario have kept mum, saying not a word to deny the claims over their colossal gullibility.
In the 10 weeks that led to its loss, and weeks after, newspapers appropriately made the crisis their banner stories. In contrast, there has been no coverage at all of how the dark story was “resolved” and its terrible aftermath, the arbitration and the consequent cold yet totally unnecessary conflict with the economic superpower.
That’s really no surprise, however. That silence is testament to the power and arrogance of the oligarchy, which has had a firm grip on media. The Philippine Star has been one of the anti-China propaganda tools of del Rosario, as it is owned by the First Pacific conglomerate that is a major player in our squabble with China and its head Manuel Pangilinan has a 20 percent equity in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
I myself have no illusions about the power of media. What we report has consequences only if some other political force, figure or institution does something using the information we journalists gather.
I still hope Congress undertakes an investigation into how the Philippines lost Bajo de Masinloc. It would explain much, especially why a faction of the oligarchy, in collusion with the US, had launched an intense campaign against China to demonize it, ironically recruiting even the Communist Party of the Philippines – whose dogma for decades has been to fight US imperialism.
We lose respect for ourselves as a nation if the Congress can’t even conclude why and how we lost such a valuable territory.