I’M beginning to suspect that it’s not the usual or obvious suspects who could be plotting to oust President Marcos Jr. Indeed, former president Rodrigo Duterte seemed to know something when he said on his radio program: “Be wary of the military.”
My suspects would be Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, his colleagues in that chamber Risa Hontiveros, Jinggoy Estrada and recently Francis Tolentino, together with Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., Armed Forces Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner and National Security Adviser Eduardo Año.
Why do I say they are making moves that would oust Marcos?
Because they have been consistently making virulent statements to rouse Filipinos and this government to adopt a belligerent stance against a superpower, China, over our territorial dispute with it, even to the extent of risking a shooting war, it seems. As I will narrate below, such a move could lead to a sequence of events that would prod the military and the Philippine elite to oust Marcos. I’m sure they know that scenario.
Not one of these warmongers has ever uttered the word “negotiations,” i.e., talking with the Chinese for a win-win solution. To his credit, retired justice Antonio Carpio, who started all this demonizing of China in 2012, appears to have recanted and recognizes that our disputes with China do not just involve maritime claims (i.e., EEZs) but sovereign territorial claims, which are the harder problem that can be resolved only through negotiations or voluntary submission to an arbiter.
Providing no explanation why the takeover of Ayungin Shoal from Chinese control will strengthen our national security, Año arrogated to himself the role of architect of foreign policy when he told the Senate: “We will never abandon Ayungin. We will not give an inch.” Brawner’s spokesman in the same venue declared: “No one can stop us from doing our mission [to supply the marines stationed at BRP Sierra Madre].” No one? Not even the President?
Important to note that Marcos himself and his cousin House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez have not uttered such belligerent statements as those made by this gang. Of course, Romualdez is super loyal to his cousin and, from his maneuvers, appears smarter than the warmongers that he won’t be a party to an oust-BBM plot.
I hope Vice President Kamala Harris and, more importantly, Chinese President Xi Jinping got to convince Marcos — in their very short meetings — to order the Philippine Navy and the Coast Guard to stand down over Ayungin Shoal.
If Teodoro, Brawner, Año and their cabal would do what they have said they’ll do in Ayungin Shoal, the sequence of events will most likely be as follows:
First, insisting that Ayungin is “ours,” they’ll order again and again either contracted civilian boats or Coast Guard vessels — with Navy ships stationed nearby — to supply the contingent at the BRP Sierra Madre grounded there since 1999, not just with basic necessities but with repair materials. Since 1999, China has told our government that since President Estrada (through his foreign secretary then Domingo Siazon, Jr.) had promised to remove the Sierra Madre, it would allow the delivery of food and water supplies only and not repair materials that are unnecessary.
Since then, succeeding administrations complied with that agreement, although the Navy tried in a few instances to send other than food supplies but were blocked. This explains why the BRP Sierra Madre has been so much full of rust and holes, practically a skeleton from the spic and span condition of the vessel when it was grounded 24 years ago, purportedly to symbolize our sovereignty. No supplies of materials — not even WD-40s cans, it seems — could be sent to the vessel just to slow down its rusting.
Second, the Chinese block the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard’s attempts to provide the Sierra Madre with repair materials. As happened two weeks ago, rather than firing at our ships, Chinese vessels undertake blocking maneuvers to shoo them away.
Collisions are very usual in such maneuvers, and as the videos (one taken on board our ship and another on board a Chinese vessel) show, the Chinese ship only very narrowly missed a Filipino vessel that deliberately crossed its bow.
My suspicion is that the military top leadership actually wanted a collision to occur, in which case it would be the Filipino vessels that would be destroyed by the bigger Chinese ships with thicker hulls. Especially if Filipinos were to drown in such an incident, there would be international outrage against the Chinese.
Marcos would seek US help but would be told it wouldn’t, as it was the Philippine forces that provoked the incident. The US actually would never help under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty in this day and age, when China has become a nuclear power: The US will not risk a nuclear war with China over some obscure shoal. “Look guys,” State Secretary Anthony Blinken would probably say to our officials, “We have Ukraine and now the Middle East becoming powder kegs, and you want us to help you occupy a godforsaken uninhabitable shoal and risk a war with China?”
In retaliation, and tipped that the US won’t help us, the Chinese would impose a total blockade of Ayungin Shoal, tow the BRP Sierra Madre away and sink it in deeper waters.
China has had a one-step-back-two-steps-forward strategy in the South China Sea disputes. For example, when the Aquino government filed the arbitration suit against it in 2013, it responded by turning the seven reefs it had occupied since 1988 into artificial islands complete with airports, seaports and military facilities.
Claiming that Filipinos tried to take over Ayungin Shoal, it would move right after the incident to take over the nearby Patag and Lawak islands, which reportedly had just a platoon of Marines guarding them, in order, would claim, to further assure the defense of Ayungin from future Philippine incursions. China would also simultaneously tighten the economic screws on the Philippines. As it did in 2012 during the “Scarborough Stand-off,” shipments of Philippine fruits landing in Chinese ports were impounded until they rotted, cutting substantially Philippine agribusinessmen’s income, who then lobbied for an end to the stand-off.
It would be a national embarrassment for the Philippines, which would get no sympathy from the rest of the world as it would be portrayed as recklessly challenging the Chinese over an area that is claimed not just by the superpower but by Vietnam.
To evade blame for the fiasco, Marcos would blame the military and claim he did not give such an order that was a catastrophic failure, and may even fire Teodoro, Brawner and Año — giving the military brass the excuse to undertake a coup, with Senate President Miguel Zubiri assuming the presidency — assuming of course that Vice President Sara Duterte has been removed through impeachment.
A precedent for a small power taking on a big power is the Falklands War in 1982, when the Argentinians tried to take over the Falkland Islands near its mainland, claiming the British were illegally occupying it. The reality was that the military junta that ruled the country hoped to raise patriotic feelings among the Argentinians to divert public attention from the economic problems and the massive human rights violations against leftists, dubbed the “Dirty War” at that time.
The Argentinians lost the 74-day war, with the US refusing to help what had been its fiercely anti-communist Cold War vassal. The defeat was a national embarrassment, with Argentinians blaming the ruling military junta for its reckless war against the United Kingdom. Large protest demonstrations against it eventually ousted it.
I suspect that’s the game plan in some way of a cabal, which has been issuing, as one of its proponents melodramatically entitled his column, a “clarion call against a renegade neighbor.”
On Gaza genocide
“Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques and slums to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command in control, and calls it a war. It is not war. It is murder.” – Noam Chomsky
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