The true story of how we lost Panatag Shoal

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IT was 10 years ago this month that a very serious conflict dubbed the “Scarborough Standoff ” broke out between China and the Philippines. This resulted in our loss two months later of Panatag Shoal (also called Bajo de Masinloc and Scarborough Shoal) to China.

The shoal, claimed by both countries, is the first ever territory that we have lost since independence, the tragedy more stark as it is just 240 kilometers away from the Zambales, much nearer than any of the features we claim in the Kalayaan Island Group. Then President Aquino 3rd, his foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, and anti-China commentators condemned the loss as another instance of the Asian superpower’s expansionist moves in the South China Sea. That misleading view has been the basis for many Filipinos’ support for the shameful restoration of US military bases in the country, under the guise of an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

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Vassals can’t make requests to the Emperor

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WITH the Philippines’ allowing US military forces to use as bases-on-demand nine civilian and military facilities as their platforms for a war with China, Filipino diplomats went to Washington last week excited that they could get something in return from the Americans in the so-called third Ministerial Dialogue of defense and foreign affairs officials of both countries.

They got nothing. Philippine diplomats were pushing for a commitment from the US to undertake talks for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that would lower or abolish tariff and non-tariff barriers on exports to the US.

After all, the US has free trade agreements with 14 other countries, with all except South Korea not functioning as the Americans’ platforms for war. After all, former president Trump in his visit to Manila 2017 announced: “The United States welcomed the Philippines’ interest in a bilateral free trade agreement and both sides agreed to discuss the matter further through the United States-Philippines TIFA (Trade and Investment Framework Agreement).”

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EDCA gives US two international airports to use for war with China

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THE United States under its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the Philippines will have the use of two of the country’s biggest international airports for its military operations in case of a war with China, or even just to prepare for such a conflict. On top of that, two other airports — one facing the disputed Spratlys and another looking toward Taiwan — will practically be solely for the US military to use.

These facts have been diabolically concealed by the US and Philippine Defense departments’ announcements that two of the “agreed locations” under EDCA were the Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan and the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa. Most Filipinos would have never heard of these air bases (named after little-known Air Force officers killed in the line of duty), and would have thought, “Why not? These seem to be small bases we can give to the US to use.”

There would have been outrage if our defense officials had been honest enough to explain that what the country is really allowing the US to use as “platforms for war” against China — to use President Rodrigo Duterte’s words — are two of its biggest international airports.

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Do we have a DENR secretary?

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DENR website as it appeared Sunday: Oblivious to the oil spill.

HONESTLY, I’ve become confused as nine months into the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. four crucial departments actually do not have secretaries, but mere OICs.

Prominent among these is the Defense department which only has an “OIC/senior undersecretary.” Quite anomalously, I think, an “OIC/undersecretary” will sign the EDCA documents that puts on the line the lives of 110 million Filipinos — if nuclear war breaks out between the US and China.

The Health department still has no secretary, only another “OIC/undersecretary” Maria Vergeire, even as she performed quite well as Health Secretary Francisco Duque’s deputy as well as being the face of the department in the government’s victory over the Covid-19 epidemic. Marcos himself of course is also officially the Agriculture secretary.

We do have a secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) who I’d bet very few of my readers can name: Maria Antonio Yulo-Loyzaga (the wife of a son of the basketball legend Carlos), who has however been practically invisible these past nine months.

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EDCA site in Cagayan not a military camp

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PHILIPPINE and US defense officials’ propaganda is that the sites that US military forces will be using for war mobilization under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) are military camps.

However, one of the four additional EDCA locations is an entirely civilian facility: the airport in Lal-lo in Cagayan province, officially called the Cagayan North International Airport (CNIA).

The airport is technically not entirely a government facility, since it was built and run by the Cagayan Premium Ventures Development Corp., a joint venture between the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) and a private firm Cagayan Land and Property Development Corp.

For the Cagayan airport to be designated as an EDCA site, it would need the official approval of both the CEZA and the Cagayan Premium Ventures Development Corp. This, I was told, has not yet been done, as the CEZA’s leadership has been in confusion after its chief executive officer, Raul Lambino, was asked to step down in July 2022.

Replacing him was Jaime Escaño, a CEZA director. For unknown reasons, however, Escaño stepped down in January leaving an officer in charge, Joseph Tan, to head the CEZA. Tan was a lawyer at the law firm known as “Pecabar” whose leading figure is the presidential chief legal counsel Juan Ponce Enrile.

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Will China invade Taiwan soon?

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WHILE US generals have been quoted claiming they believe so, and in the near future (2025 or 2027), take those with a ton of salt, they may just be toeing the Pentagon’s propaganda line for increased budgets to fund more sophisticated weapons, or worse, they are engaging in wishful thinking.

US scholar’s book debunking Chinese expansionism.

After all, what’s the use of generals without a war, or even in the case of our generals, war games?

For this question, there’s a very enlightening March 21 article in the respected Foreign Affairs magazine by Jessica Chen Weiss, professor for China and Asia-Pacific Studies at Cornell University. The article says it all: “Don’t Panic About Taiwan.” However, its drophead is a worrisome warning: “Alarm Over a Chinese Invasion Could Become a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.”

Weiss wrote: “Fears that China will soon invade Taiwan are overblown. There is little evidence that Chinese leaders see a closing window for action. Such fears appear to be driven more by Washington’s assessments of its own military vulnerabilities than by Beijing’s risk-reward calculus. Historically, Chinese leaders have not started wars to divert attention from domestic challenges, and they continue to favor using measures short of conflict to achieve their objectives.”

She emphasized though: “If Western policymakers exaggerate the risk of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, they might inadvertently create a self-fulfilling prophecy… The United States should focus on arresting — or at least decelerating — the action-reaction spiral that has steadily ratcheted up tensions and made a crisis more likely.”

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Has expanded EDCA provoked China to advance date of Taiwan invasion?

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The Manila Times front page yesterday.

THERE’s certainly a basis to believe so. Just two months after the US Department of Defense announced that the Philippines agreed to allow its military to use four more camps, from the five the Aquino 3rd government committed to in 2014 under the so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) announced a three-day military drill around Taiwan island that started last Saturday.

Dubbed the “United Sharp Sword,” Chinese state media said it involves encirclement of the island by its navy and air force. Western media reported it as a “stern warning” that was the reaction to a meeting between Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen and US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.

But that meeting was on April 5: Could Chinese leaders have met and decided to order the PLA to undertake a military exercise — involving “long-range rocket artillery, naval destroyers, missile boats, air force fighters, bombers, jammers and refuellers” — in just two days’ time?

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Decline of religion, Catholicism in the Philippines

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A WATERSHED has occurred in my generation: religion is now on a steep decline, especially Catholicism whose culture and worldview have dominated this country since the Spanish conquistadores subjugated this archipelago nearly 500 years ago.

And it is during what we call the Holy Week that it becomes obvious that Catholicism is on the way to extinction as a system of beliefs, although many will still cling to its cultural aspects, as there are yet no replacements — weddings, baptism, and even house or office blessings. It is also during Holy Week that one feels religion as still fighting for dear life, as in several newspapers’ closure from today till Sunday.

In my youth Holy Friday to Easter Sunday really did feel as if the entire world is mourning the death of God (an absurdity which I found inexplicable) and you can watch on TV only the always-shown-on-Holy-Week “Ten Commandments,” “Jesus of Nazareth,” with “Ben Hur” the most exciting. Now of course hallelujah you can watch nearly whatever movie or series you want through Netflix and other streaming services.

Just three years ago the Pabasa two blocks from our home kept me awake for several nights. That practice ended with the passing away of the elderly man who financed it. That is one of the reasons for the decline of Catholicism, the old religious generation is passing away, and the new ones aren’t really interested in religion.

Before, only the rich would escape the cemetery-like ambience of Holy Week who troop to their Baguio residences or abroad. Now, I bet more than half of families that can afford it see Holy Week as a grand vacation time in some beach or hill resort. Golf courses are crowded. As late as the 1980s, absolutely no mall nor movie theater was opened during Holy Friday. Now only a few are closed on that day.

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I agree 100% with Marcos

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THAT is, with the then senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s stance, as reported in a Senate press release of March 22, 2016, as follows:

“The next administration should revisit the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and [the] United States (US) to make sure the Philippines gets the best terms under the agreement.”

In a press conference in Olongapo City, Marcos said the fact that the agreement did not pass through the scrutiny of the Senate was enough reason why the deal should be reviewed by the next administration.

“I still maintain my position that the agreement should have been ratified by the Senate, but it was not submitted to us so we did not have any means to review it,” he said.

He said that while it would not be possible to rescind the deal at this point because its constitutionality had already been upheld by the Supreme Court, the deal should still be reviewed to make sure that we are not put at a disadvantage.

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