Reef row: US plot in its ‘re-pivot’ to Asia

Photos provided by US entity, not PH Coast Guard

US PRESIDENT Joe Biden couldn’t have picked  more anti-China officials than US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. The two were at the head of former President Obama’s so-called “Pivot to Asia,” a thinly disguised program to contain the rise of China as a superpower.

Blinken last January even told media that China posed the “most significant challenge to the US and any other country in Asia.”  Biden himself has said in several speeches that assembling a united front against China would be a top priority for his administration. It was the new administration’s “re-pivot” to Asia.

Trump, however, had that pivot twisting in the wind; after all he wasn’t really interested in geopolitics. Duterte gained power in 2016, and dropped his predecessor and the Yellows’ servile stance towards the US, and undertook a rapprochement with China that has yielded concrete benefits to the country

Blinken and Sullivan had hardly warmed their seats in late January, and after five years of calm in the South China Sea, a situation has quite suddenly emerged that portrays  China as violating Philippine “territory” by having “200 of its maritime militia vessels” intrude into “our’ Julian Felipe Reef.  It got the Philippines’ defense secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, and mainstream media – except this newspaper – nearly deliriously livid against the superpower.

Militias?: They’re there, one day they’re not there, away fishing. Photo from: Simularity.com
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Colossal lies, delusions on the Felipe Reef brouhaha

“First of Two Parts”

VIETNAMESE generals must be rolling on the floor with laughter, at the same time wildly cheering our defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana. The defense chief has been bashing the Chinese and trying to do what the Vietnamese have been wishing for fervently since 1988, which is to drive them out of that area in the Spratlys nearest to Ho Chi Minh City.

Raising the decibel of his rants the past few days, Lorenzana,  referring to  their vessels at “Julian Felipe Reef”,  commanded the Chinese “to leave our sovereign territories.”

It’s embarrassing to us as a nation to have as the head of the department tasked to defend our territory one who is so ignorant of the extent of our territorial boundaries.  No wonder the spokesman of the Chinese embassy here, which has been relatively quiet on this brouhaha in contrast to the torrent of harangues by high Philippine officials, said that Lorenzana’s statements were “perplexing.” 

Indeed, how could Lorenzana ask the Chinese to leave an area which not only they claim as their sovereign territory, but have been occupying since 1988, or more than three decades ago?

Felipe’s neighborhood: Two giants.
Felipe’s neighborhood: Two giants. Lorenzana commanded them to all leave as it is Philippine territory. Dates refer to when they were occupied. (Inset are satellite photos of installations of the two countries. Map by author using Google Earth Pro. Insets from amti.csis.org.)
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Jesus: A failed rebel, a myth or a Roman invention?

AT this time of year, when our culture, dominated for nearly four centuries by the Hispanic model of late-medieval Catholicism, imposes on us several days of contemplating the Christian Messiah, I dare discuss whether Christ did exist in the first place. Indeed, a mountain of scholarly work in the past few decades has been published trying to answer this question, mostly in the negative, at least in the way Christianity claims he is.

To start getting out of one’s mindset built since childhood, you have to recognize that in this modern age science has been the singularly powerful tool for us to understand reality, to separate what’s false and mythical, and what’s true and factual (or historical). Science just in a brief span of 100 years of modern human’s 200,000 years of existence, has unlocked the mysteries of the atom and of the human genome, so we understand now that the world is not composed of “earth, air, water and fire” nor are we just a more sophisticated form of dust.

But science has been employed not only to understand matter, but also human society itself  through such disciplines as archaeology, philology, psychology, literary and textual criticism, and sociology. So, it is not surprising at all that the social sciences have been used to study that aspect of human society that is so significant to humans: religion.

The social sciences have been employed to study the central figure of Christianity, Jesus Christ, whose death we are supposed to be commemorating today. A few similar studies have also been used to study Muhammad of Islam, although mostly by anonymous scholars, obviously afraid a fatwah would be issued against them.

Three modern narratives of Jesus.
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Nation’s fate this decade rests with virus and IATF

THE virus (officially called the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) could mutate to a deadlier, more communicable form, or it could dissipate as did the “Spanish flu” in 1918. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) that President Duterte had designated to handle the government’s  efforts to contain the pandemic will be more efficient in its work, or it will prove powerless in the face of the tsunami of infections.  

These hypotheticals will determine how our country will look like for the rest of this decade. If the pandemic is not contained either due to the virus’ mutation so that it overwhelms our health services and science, or as a result of the IATF’s mismanagement (as happened in the US, Europe and Brazil), President Duterte would be a lame-duck president.  

His political support and mass popularity will collapse. When death and pestilence surrounds a people, their rationality vanishes, and they would be blaming the “father of the nation,” no matter the amount of good that he has done, and seek a new savior. Again and again demonstrated in politics, to drastically paraphrase Shakespeare, it is a president’s failures, whether avoidable or otherwise, that people remember; the good is forgotten.

If this were to happen, and it is now only 13 months to the national elections in May 2022, Duterte’s endorsement of a candidate would be a kiss of death, and the Yellows or some other opposition would assume power in July 2022, reversing all of Duterte’s policies, even his kind of strong governance. 

But if the pandemic is contained in the next three months, Filipinos’ satisfaction with Duterte will hit the roof, not just because of irrational exuberance that it was all due to presidential leadership. There likely will be an economic boom – our version of  the “Roaring 20’s” in the US after the 1917-1918 Spanish flu  epidemic – as business capacity, idled in the lockdowns, will be exploding while consumers will be buying and traveling so much, thankful that they’re alive. 

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Drilon wants govt to capitulate to communists

PERHAPS the pandemic lockdowns have gone to Sen. Franklin Drilon’s head or he has applied for membership with the Communist Party of the Philippines, but the bill he filed last week at the Senate just boggles the mind.

The Yellow Philippine Daily Inquirer headlined its report raving over Drilon’s bill, “Drilon bill to outlaw ‘red-tagging’ filed, cheered.” Cheered? Of course, no doubt by the communists, although the article quoted only one person doing so: Edre Olalia, the head of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL). Who is he?

Olalia officially has been the chief counsel of the National Democratic Front in all its negotiations with different administrations. He is also officially the personal counsel of Communist Party founder (and still its main strategist) Jose Maria Sison.

What is the NULP? The association of leftist lawyers that handled, wittingly or unwittingly, almost all legal cases of the Reds. It has been a member for nearly 10 years of Sison’s International League of People’s Struggles, which this megalomaniac thought would be kick off an international communist movement under his leadership.

Drilon’s bill (Senate Bill 2121 filed on March 21) has only one substantive section:

“Any state actor, such as a law enforcement agent, paramilitary or military personnel, who labels, vilifies, brands, names, accuses, harasses, persecutes, stereotypes, or caricatures individuals, groups or organizations as state enemies, left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists, shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of ten (10) years and perpetual absolute disqualification to hold public office.” 

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Sickening politicization of the pandemic

IT’s sickening how the Yellows and those claiming to be better leaders of the country have politicized the issue of controlling the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead of uniting just once so we can better meet this threat, even really know-nothing politicians like Vice President Leni Robredo and Sen. Nancy Binay seem to think that they could hog the headlines — for the 2022 elections of course — by taking potshots at the government’s efforts to contain the disease.

Binay, for instance, went for the quotable rather than substance by claiming that the government has had a ningas cogon attitude in combating the pandemic.

Doesn’t she read the papers, watch TV programs, in which officials of the Duterte task force on the pandemic have been briefing the nation almost daily on what it’s been doing since it was organized last year? Hasn’t she heard that government is currently deploying 52 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and the Chinese-made vaccines? Hasn’t she heard that government has firmed up purchase orders for 20 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, 30 million of the US-developed, Indian-manufactured Novavax/Covovax, and 15 million of the Russian Sputnik V — despite the mad scramble in the world to hoard vaccine supplies?

Rather than blabbering inanities, Binay should instead show how Covid-19 should be contained in her hometown, Makati. After all, her family has total control of the city. Yet despite being the richest city with P18 billion in revenues, and among the smallest, and with so many hospitals, Makati has the third largest cases of the disease among the country’s cities, with 20,330 as of March 23. That’s Health department data. The Makati City Facebook page reports only 13,224 cases.

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SWS, Pew Research: Filipinos feel PH under Duterte as freest, most democratic

LAST March 18, a wacky group announced that it would organize the country’s “democratic forces” in order to resist President Duterte’s “authoritarianism.” The very next day, the Social Weather Stations released the results of its November 21-25 survey that very much belies their claim and shows how detached they are from reality they should start talking to ordinary folk.

The SWS poll showed that 65 percent of its respondents agreed with the statement: “I can say anything I want, openly and without fear, even it is against the administration.”  That 65 percent “grade” is the highest since September 1988, through three decades, and through five administrations. 

It is only lower than the 74 percent who agreed to that statement in March 1987. I even suspect that was a statistical error, since it steeply dived in the next poll, in September 1988 to 46 percent. President Corazon Aquino averaged just 54 percent for this measure of freedom for her entire administration. Duterte’s average so far is 58 percent.

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China, US should thank Carpio, del Rosario — profusely

I SWEAR, the Yellow opposition have lost their minds: Antonio Carpio and Albert del Rosario as “convenors” for organizing the “democratic forces” in 2022? That is not just scraping the bottom of the barrel, they’re throwing the barrel at whatever anti-Duterte group that could form next year.

Former Supreme Court justice Carpio was the brains of the ill-conceived arbitration suit against China filed in 2013. Del Rosario, a longtime First Pacific high-ranking officer before he joined government, was President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s Foreign secretary, who led the anti-China campaign. These two manipulated the witless Aquino into what was the worst foreign policy direction the Philippine government ever took.

Despite their flag-waving melodramatics, their intention, wittingly or unwittingly, was to force China to allow an ambitious project of the Indonesian-owned First Pacific conglomerate to explore and exploit gas and oil in the Reed (Recto) Bank, which the Asian superpower and Vietnam claim.

Eight years after that arbitration suit was filed in 2013 and four years after the panel handed down its decision in 2016, only the ignorant or those psychotically denying reality will refuse to see not only how useless that “lawfare” — Carpio‘s term — was but the damage it wrought on us, which would have been catastrophic if Duterte had not reversed it and adopted a rapprochement policy with China.

The two men (top row) made China and the United States very happy. The two ladies lied about chief justice Renato Corona’s dollar accounts in his impeachment trial.
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Duterte extracted benefits from China and US

Second of 3 parts

RATHER than making the Philippines a “province of China” as the ignorant Yellows keep on ranting in their delirium, President Duterte’s rapprochement with the Asian superpower allowed the country to extract benefits from both the Chinese and the US. This is according to a study by entitled “An Analysis of the Philippines’ Policy Shift on the South China Sea Disputes.” Manantan is a research fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan.

Manantan summarized his study: “The Philippines under Duterte is using China as leverage in its alliance with the United States. By exploiting the ‘China card’ and downplaying the arbitration case, the Philippines has extracted concessions from Beijing and Washington. In capitalizing on the Sino-American rivalry, Manila has reaffirmed its strategic value within the US-Philippines alliance while benefiting more visibly from Chinese foreign aid and investment pledges.”

He explained: “The looming competition between the United States and China in the region is a springboard for the Philippines to further push its burden-sharing approach. As the great powers compete for dominance in the region, the Philippines is exploiting the conducive geopolitical environment to pursue its inherent interests. Therefore, the Philippines, under the Duterte government, gained an upper advantage which led to extracting benefits from two competing powers.”

The study continued: “Recognizing that the institutional mechanisms that would otherwise enforce the arbitral ruling are lacking, and that the Philippines’ weak defense capabilities would do little to deter China from pressing its sovereign claims in the South China Sea, the Duterte government has instead resorted to embracing China’s preference for bilateral talks. This has afforded the Philippines the chance to diversify its policy options by normalizing relations with China, and consequently benefiting from bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries.”

Manantan noted that China had immediately and even massively responded positively to Duterte’s extension of the Philippines’ hand in friendship: “Setting aside the South China Sea issue, Duterte’s four-day visit to Beijing from Oct. 18 to 21, 2016, generated deeper economic and diplomatic engagement with China. Duterte attained $24 billion worth of funding and investment pledges, and Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez subsequently listed the funding deals: $9 billion for soft loans, including a $3 billion credit line with the Bank of China, and economic investments worth $15 billion. The $9 billion in soft loans were earmarked for development programs, and a $15 million package was designated for drug rehabilitation programs.”

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Scholars praise Duterte’s China policy

First of 2 parts
PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s pivot away from his predecessor’s belligerent stance toward China was a tour de force in crisis management, a bold move that stopped what would have been the country’s catastrophic conflict with the Asian superpower — with the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations most likely abandoning us — the latter, who are really our competitors, with hidden glee even.

It was also a stroke of genius in diplomacy in that Duterte’s independent foreign policy extracted benefits for the Philippines not only from China but also the US as the two rival superpowers scrambled to compete for the country’s support.

I am not presenting my opinion or analysis here — although I have drawn similar conclusions in many of my past columns. I am merely presenting the conclusions of two scholars who studied comprehensively the country’s foreign relations with China through the Aquino years to the present, seeing through the propaganda of the pro-American former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario and former Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio.

The first study is by Peter Kreuzer, titled “Dealing with China in the South China Sea” published as Report 3/2018 by the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, a highly respected think tank and the largest in Germany. It was established in 1970 and focuses on research on international and internal conflicts. Kreuzer is a PhD and a senior researcher at the institute. Kreuzer explains why the arbitration suit has merely provoked the Asian superpower to harden its stance in the South China Sea disputes.

Peace Research Institute Frankfurt: ‘If [Benigno] Aquino [3rd] remained in power, the conflict with China would have escalated, with the Philippines on the losing end.’ Photo: Rodrigo Duterte meets Xi Jinping in Beijing in October 2016.
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