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Pursue joint development in disputed areas of SCS

Second of 3 parts

FOLLOWING is a slightly edited discussion on the second of three initiatives I had proposed in my 2022 book “Debacle: The Aquino Regime’s Scarborough Fiasco and the South China Sea Arbitration Deception,” which I think would send us on the path of resolving our disputes with China and other claimants in the South China Sea. Time to move on.

“Debacle” excerpt starts here:

On Nov. 20, 2018, the Philippines and China signed an agreement titled “Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development” between the governments of the two countries. The committee consisting of representatives of the two countries which would implement the agreement met for the first and last time in October 2019.

While the pandemic had put on hold further meetings, the agreement opened a way for settling the disputes in the South China Sea (SCS): Joint development of the resources even in the disputed areas of the SCS. That could make the South China Sea, as even a vociferous critic of China, retired magistrate Carpio, surprisingly wrote, a “zone of peace.”

The agreement’s intent, as its text put it, is to “negotiate on an accelerated basis arrangement to facilitate oil and gas exploration and exploitation in relevant maritime areas.” This, it said, “will be without prejudice to the respective legal positions of both governments.”


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Time to move on

First of three parts

IT is quite obvious that the belligerent foreign policy towards China, started by Benigno Aquino 3rd, reversed by Rodrigo Duterte, and revived by Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s officials (but apparently not officially declared by him) has yielded nothing to advance our national interests. If this hostility continues, we risk an economic catastrophe since, whether we like it or not, China has become our biggest trading partner, and a military power at that.

Only an ideological China-hater (i.e., “China has and will always view itself as the center of the world”) or one advancing the US program to demonize China to slow down its rise as the Asian superpower would insist on continuing the clearly counterproductive unfriendly stance towards a neighbor, which could even be — as in the case of a few Asean nations — the biggest source of private and public capital.

The following is a slightly edited version of the final chapter in my 2022 book “Debacle: The Aquino Regime’s Scarborough Fiasco and the South China Sea Arbitration Deception” that discusses three main thrusts in resolving our disputes in the South China Sea.


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Are we at war with China already, or will be very soon?

WELL, going by the statements of three senators, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman, very disappointingly of the new defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. as well as Armed Forces chief Romeo Brawner, and the headlines of the Philippines Daily Inquirer and the Philippine Star, a state of war exists, or will soon exist, between us and China, ever since the Chinese coast guard used water cannons against our PCG vessels.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada in the halls of the Senate called me a traitor — for reporting an incontrovertible fact that his father Erap when he was president, or his administration, had promised the Chinese that the BRP Sierra Madre and the BRP Benguet — the former deliberately run aground in Ayungin Shoal, the latter in Scarborough Shoal — would be towed away. This is an incontestable fact, bolstered by the Foreign Affairs secretary’s and Erap’s Defense secretary’s silence on this issue.

Brainless as this senator is, that promise was really a smart move on Erap’s part, as it gave China an excuse not to pressure us for 15 years to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin, which was just kilometers from their huge artificial island turned into an advanced military base at Mischief Reef, with Erap’s successor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo very successfully making China our friend.

The Chinese moved to call on the promise only in 2013, in retaliation against the Aquino 3rd government’s hostile filing of the “arbitration” suit against China. The Marcos Jr. administration’s agreement to let the US military use nine of our camps and airports to pre-position war materiel and house their troops then prompted the Chinese to pressure us to abide by the commitment, to make sure that the BRP Sierra Madre isn’t expanded into a permanent facility, and even turned over to the US as a tenth site that it could use.

Jinggoist Jinggoy even falsely claimed that Erap’s defense secretary, Orlando Mercado, had claimed that there was no such promise. Mercado, however, has not denied it. He even revealed that Erap in fact ordered the BRP Benguet towed away a few weeks after it was grounded. The Navy rushed to implement his order, even to the extent of hiring a Malaysian tugboat to tow it away, as the BRP Benguet’s engines weren’t working.


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Not just a promise: Erap ordered pullout of second grounded vessel

THERE is another, perhaps more compelling evidence — among the many I’ve presented in the past three columns — that the Joseph Estrada administration promised the Chinese that it would pull out what its Navy had deliberately grounded on Ayungin Shoal which served as its claim of sovereign rights in that disputed area.

He actually ordered the removal of a second grounded vessel at a more strategic disputed site, Scarborough Shoal.

Estrada when he assumed power in June 1998, was compelled to demonstrate his nationalist credentials, having made nationalism one of his advocacies, and especially since nationalist organizations (read: communist fronts) backed his run for the country’s highest post. He declared in late 1998: “If the Chinese are building structures, then we may as well put up our own structures.”

However, after he made the order, he was told by his officials that the Philippines doesn’t have the kind of money to build structures in the Kalayaan Island Group, which would cost billions of dollars. His Navy’s top brass proposed what they thought was a clever solution: deliberately grounding World War 2-vintage landing ship tanks (LST) in the shallow disputed shoals since these, as then Navy head Ferdinand Golez said, “would hit rock bottom, and never sink.”


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DFA statement on promise to remove BRP Sierra Madre

WHILE the Philippine government’s alleged promise to tow away the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal has become a hot topic only in the past few days, the claim had already been exposed and became controversial way back in 2014.

Indeed so much so that the DFA issued a statement on it, which I quote verbatim from the Official Gazette’s website:

“The Department of Foreign Affairs’ statement on China’s allegation that the Philippines agreed to pull out of the Ayungin Shoal

(Released on March 14, 2014)

The BRP Sierra Madre, a commissioned Philippine Naval Vessel, was placed in Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a permanent Philippine government installation in response to China’s illegal occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995. This was prior to the signing of the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002.

The Philippines reiterates that Ayungin Shoal is part of its continental shelf over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction.


This entry was posted under Briefing Room, Department of Foreign Affairs.”

(A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson reacted three days later to the DFA statement claiming that Manila had made an “unequivocal commitment to China on many occasions that it would tow away the ship ‘grounded’ on [Second Thomas] due to ‘malfunction.’ The spokesman said the “sitting Philippine government was not the one of 15 years ago,” but demanded that “as a country the Philippines should honor its commitment” or else risk losing its “credibility.”)


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PH did promise to remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin

PRESIDENT Joseph Estrada did promise in 1999 to remove the BRP Sierra Madre, which his Navy deliberately grounded on Ayungin (Second Thomas Shoal). In the instances when the governments of Estrada and later of President Benigno Aquino 3rd were reminded of that commitment by the Chinese, they claimed that technical difficulties prevented them from removing the landing ship, tank (LST) Sierra Madre.

This is an indisputable fact. The Foreign Affairs department is shamelessly irresponsible in its refusal to correct the claims of such ignorant jingoists as National Security Council spokesman Jonathan Malaya and Coast Guard official Jay Tarriela.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was more careful and instead said, “I am not aware of such agreement. If there was, I rescind it as of this moment.”

While the commitment was solely verbal, it was mentioned in several documents. The succeeding administrations after Estrada did not claim that there was no such promise. The denial of such a promise by Malaya, a former interior undersecretary, is the first to be made by a government official of the commitment. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has not officially denied that such a promise was made to the Chinese.

That there was such an agreement is reflected in confidential official memoranda by DFA officials.


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Ayungin incident: China’s first move vs Marcos’ US embrace?

First of a series

(I posted this article half a year ago and am re-posting it, with only the last two paragraphs added, to prove that the August 5 water-cannoning incident should have been expected. A companion piece here is “The harsh reality: We have lost Ayungin Shoal,” which came out two years earlier on Nov. 24, 2021.)

I CERTAINLY hope it’s just coincidental, but the China Coast Guard’s recent blocking of a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship delivering supplies to a platoon of Marines stationed at Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) could be China’s first response to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s recent moves to place the country in alliance with the United States.

Marcos on February 2 agreed to allow the US to use as it pleases four more of our military camps (on top of the five that President Aquino 3rd gave them in 2014) under the 2014 Enhanced Cooperation Defense Agreement (EDCA). The Ayungin incident occurred on February 6.


Continue ReadingAyungin incident: China’s first move vs Marcos’ US embrace?