PRESIDENT Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is quite obviously being fed totally wrong information and analysis by his advisers on our territorial and maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea.
That this is the case was starkly demonstrated in his answers to questions asked of him by the host after his speech the other day at the Daniel K. Inouye Speaker Series at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii.
The Presidential Communications Office, however, released only his speech, but not the transcript of the Q &A part. This, however, can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuEHkBIoXgs.
For an issue that he said was his “number one” priority — “the tensions in the West Philippine Sea” — Marcos very wrongly thought that Scarborough Shoal was in the Spratly Islands (Kalayaan Island Group) 500 kilometers from the nearest Palawan coastline.
Marcos said: “If you will remember, the Spratly Islands was used by the Americans, by the US Navy, as a bombing range for a very long time, and so there was no question that this was part of the Philippines.”
The Spratlys were never occupied by the Americans but by the French in 1933 and the Japanese during the war. The “bombing range” Marcos was referring to is Scarborough Shoal, which is just 200 km from the former US Subic Bay Naval Base. US warplanes during the Vietnam War that ended in 1975 had used Scarborough as a bombing range and as a dumping area for the bombs they had not used.
Could this be the reason why Marcos is so worried over China’s “aggression,” because of the false information his advisers gave him that the Spratlys, where the Chinese have built artificial islands complete with ports, airstrips, and military facilities, are just off Zambales, getting ready to invade us?
Marcos’ succeeding statements bolster this conclusion: “Now, they (Spratlys) have fallen into the hands of a foreign power, and many of these features that are in the West Philippine Sea are slowly being turned into bases, really.”
Marcos is falsely portraying to his audience that the “invasion” is a recent event, evidence of China’s suddenly aggressive moves in the South China Sea.
Marcos again, is pathetically misinformed. Claiming the Spratlys have been part of its Nansha archipelago for at least four centuries, and no country had disputed this before, the Chinese occupied six reefs in the 1980s to retaliate against Vietnam’s and the Philippines’ occupation of over 20 features in the 1970s. China occupied Mischief Reef in 1994 to retaliate against the Ramos government’s go-ahead for a foreign company to explore for gas in the nearby Reed Bank, which the Chinese claim.
Marcos was misinformed when he said that they “are slowly being turned into bases, really.” The fact is that the Chinese already finished building the “bases” eight years ago.
What Marcos called “bases” were the artificial islands the Chinese built from 2014 to 2015 on the reefs it had occupied in retaliation against the Aquino 3rd administration’s filing of an arbitration suit in 2013 invoking the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). Among other issues, the Philippines said that China could not claim the seven reefs it was occupying since they are merely low-tide elevations, which sink underwater at high tide and, therefore, against Unclos’ provisions. China’s was a classic tactic in territorial disputes: It established “facts on the ground.” It spent an unprecedented $10 billion to transform the reefs it occupied into artificial islands. How then could any nation try to claim these were just reefs?
The US couldn’t condemn the artificial island building, as the Chinese were constructing in reefs they had claimed were part of their territory and had occupied for 25 years, with the Americans officially having taken no stand in the territorial dispute.
Marcos said in the Q&A: “There have been recent missions to Escoda and Romulo Reef, which revealed a direct correlation between the presence of maritime militia vessels and reef damage in those features. If only for that, the impact on biodiversity and the environment, I’m afraid, are assessed to be possibly already irreversible.”
There is no such “Romulo Reef” in the Spratlys, only in Pangasinan, where there is a “Romulo Island” in Pangasinan’s famed “Hundred Islands” tourist site. While the Navy claimed “maritime vessels” were observed in Escoda Shoal, the Asian Maritime Transparency Institute, a think tank set up by US institutions to provide support to the Philippine suit filed in 2013, reported that the “vessels” were the modern type of Chinese fishing vessels that were a part of China’s privately owned fishing fleets and that Vietnamese fishing vessels were in the area also.
The Philippine Navy, which claimed the Chinese vessels damaged the coral reef, presented no evidence at all. The photos of the damaged reefs they circulated to the press — from my own experience in recreational scuba-diving — are the very easily recognizable damage inflicted by dynamite fishing, which only small fishermen are known to resort to. Marcos was taking as truth fake news spread by the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard.
Marcos declared: “So I have said it before, and I will say it again: the Philippines will not give a single square inch of our territory to any foreign power. The law is clear, as defined by the Unclos and the final and binding 2016 award on the South China Sea arbitration.”
This is totally false. The South China Sea arbitration award invoking the Unclos ruled only on the Philippines’ maritime claims and China’s mysterious nine-dash line. The arbitral panel categorically declared that it does not have the authority to rule on territorial disputes. Unclos doesn’t, nor does any other international body.
Marcos said in the Q&A: “The West Philippine Sea, as what we have named it, it is generally known as the South China Sea.” For our president to say that is so embarrassing.
The South China Sea is a marginal Western Pacific Ocean bounded by South China, the Indochina peninsula, Taiwan, the Philippines, and the Indonesian islands of Borneo, Eastern Sumatra and the Bangka Belitung Island. The West Philippine Sea — created by President Benigno Aquino 3rd in 2012 — refers only to the much smaller area covered by the western portion of the country’s exclusive economic zone and the waters adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal.
What was alarming as it was totally false in Marcos’ answers to questions posed to him was the following: “The situation has become more dire than it was before. The nearest reefs that [China’s] People’s Liberation Army has started to show interest in terms of slowly using these atolls and shoals for building bases. These have come closer and closer to the Philippine coastline. And the nearest one is now around 60 nautical miles from the nearest coast. And this is an evolving situation.”
Yes, shockingly, Marcos referred to China’s People’s Liberation Army as already mobilizing to invade us. No wonder he said the situation had become “more dire than it was before.”
Marcos was referring actually to Sabina Shoal as there has been no report at all of any Chinese vessel sailing by the two shoals that are within 60 nautical miles from Palawan (Bombay and Royal Captain Shoals).
The Philippine Navy and Coast Guard claimed in September, without presenting any photographs or videos, however, that they had monitored “33 Chinese maritime militia vessels at Iroquois Reef and 15 at Sabina Reef.” The PCG, however, always refers to Chinese fishing vessels as “maritime militia” vessels.
From mere unconfirmed reports by his virulently anti-China Navy Coast Guard officials, Marcos is portraying China’s PLA as moving to grab more atolls and shoals nearest to us.
As I wrote in my column last week, there is an unmistakable campaign by National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, our military brass and a few senators playing to the gallery to portray China as becoming so aggressive that it has to be stopped, even to the point of provoking it to a military clash with us so that the US would come to our succor.
But the Philippine forces will surely be crushed by the Chinese superpower, and the US will not interfere lest it be dragged into a nuclear war with China that nobody wants. Marcos would, of course, be blamed and be forcibly removed from power.
That will be the result of these conspiratorial advisers’ belligerent rhetoric:” Makibaka, lusubin ang Tsina.”
Davao del Norte 1st District congressman and former House speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has apparently seen through this plot, saying the other day: “If that would be the decision of the Philippine government, to keep on challenging China instead of seeking a balanced and sound approach that prioritizes national interest, I guess it is better to advocate for the independence of peaceful people of Mindanao and free the people of the south from a miserable devastation.”
There are Filipino terms for what his advisers are doing to our president: kinukuryente and ipinapasubo.
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