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Duterte rectified Aquino 3rd’s colossal blunder

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THE Chinese Embassy the other day confirmed that the People’s Republic of China and former president Rodrigo Duterte agreed on a “temporary special arrangement” to allow small-scale fishing around the disputed Spratly Islands, but restricted access for military, coast guard and other official planes and ships to the 12-nautical-mile limit of its occupied island’s territorial waters.

This agreement rectifies, at least to some extent, the past Benigno Aquino III regime’s loss of Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island to the Chinese) in 2012.

The agreement is also a template for peace in the disputed islands and reefs in the Spratlys archipelago. It shows how stupid and leading-nowhere is the incumbent administration’s belligerent “what-is-ours-is-ours” policy toward China. Vietnam informally has had a similar agreement for years.

The de facto agreement puts aside the issue of what country legitimately controls a particular feature in the Spratlys but allows fishermen from a claimant country to fish within the other claimant nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The Philippines and China, in fact, had such an informal policy since the 1990s, and even before, although the Fidel Ramos administration had violated it a few times, when it arrested Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen in the area, allegedly for catching endangered species. These arrests were toned down, although the Ramos government had such fishermen put in jail and arraigned in a regular court a few times. The fishermen would then be released upon the Chinese Embassy’s cognizance and the issue would die down.

That practice was discarded by President Benigno Aquino III, which led to his loss of Scarborough Shoal, or Bajo de Masinloc, to China in 2012.


The Chinese takeover was not illegal by international law as it wasn’t taken by force. A similar takeover occurred when Vietnam in 1975 grabbed Pugad Island (Northeast Cay) through a ruse when Filipino soldiers stationed there were hoodwinked into leaving their post and joining a birthday party hosted by the Vietnamese on a nearby island. The next morning as the Filipino soldiers returned to Pugad, they found Vietnamese ordering them not to land on the island, or they would be rained upon by machine gun fire.

The world turns. (Top) Philippine Navy troops in 2012 arresting Chinese fishermen, their M-14s at the ready at Scarborough. (Bottom) Chinese coast guard shoos away Philippines vessel by using water cannons.

It was Aquino himself who triggered the Scarborough Shoal crisis in 2012 when he ordered the Navy’s biggest warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar to help the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) arrest Chinese fishermen who were allegedly illegally collecting endangered giant clams. The deployment of the warship gave the Chinese the high moral ground as they claimed the Philippines militarized their dispute over Scarborough by sending a warship.

It also meant Aquino’s breaking of the informal agreement to let fishermen from all countries fish in adjacent waters of the shoal and allow them to enter its lagoon to escape the choppy waters around, especially during typhoons.

Apparently to boast that the Aquino government was exercising its sovereignty, then-foreign secretary Albert del Rosario released in May 2012 Philippine Navy photos intended to document its operations for internal use to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The photos showing sailors with Armalites guarding unkempt Chinese fishermen were distributed globally. Del Rosario’s move backfired: It triggered national outrage in China over the humiliation of its fishermen. China’s social media were flooded by angry posts: Why does China, a superpower, allow a weak nation to “bully” it?


In response, the China Maritime Surveillance vessels and a flotilla of Chinese fishermen’s boats rushed to the lagoon’s mouth to prevent the Philippine vessels with the arrested Chinese from leaving. Thus a standoff ensued when Chinese and Philippine vessels refused to leave the lagoon, which risked violence breaking out between the vessels of the two countries.

Nine weeks into the standoff, when Chinese and Philippine vessels refused to leave the lagoon, then-US state assistant secretary Kurt Campbell told Foreign Secretary del Rosario that he had struck an agreement with the Chinese to leave the shoal, simultaneous with Filipino vessels moving out. Del Rosario believed him and forthwith ordered the PCG ships to vacate Scarborough Shoal.

But there was no such agreement, although Campbell tried to convince Chinese vice foreign minister Fu Ying to agree to his proposal. The latter however said this decision would have to be made by her bosses in Beijing. Even before Beijing could discuss the proposal though, Campbell told del Rosario the Chinese had already agreed to the plan.

The Chinese, of course, didn’t leave the shoal and would consequently strengthen its hold over it, claiming that even before the standoff, the shoal was its sovereign territory, which it called Huángyan Dǎo.


Since it considers the shoal as its territory, China regularly does what a state does, which is to have its coast guard and even its navy patrol it. Yet our deluded officials like PCG spokesman Jay Tarriela jump up and down, and yell to the press that our Navy had sighted warships in the vicinity of Bajo de Masinloc. Well of course, China considers it as its territory, with the Philippines permanently kicked out of it because of the Aquino-del Rosario blunder.

The Chinese enforced their claimed sovereign rights on the shoal after Aquino lost it, by stationing their navy and coast guard at the lagoon and outside it, and by banning our fishermen from fishing in the area.

Duterte, because of the agreement, at least managed to convince China to let our citizens freely fish there, a boon to our fishermen.

I have written more than a dozen columns on this issue, with details in my book “Debacle,” which also cited the eyewitness account of then-senator Antonio Trillanes IV, whom Aquino appointed as his personal envoy to Beijing to resolve the Scarborough standoff. There have been articles in US publications echoing my account, such as a chapter in the book “Countering Coercion in Maritime Asia: The Theory and Practice of Gray Zone Deterrence” by the Washington-based anti-China think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Even the Asia Maritime Transparency Institute set up by the CSIS as an anti-China propaganda platform on the South China Sea disputes lists on its website all the Spratly features according to the country which occupies it and chronologically with the date it was occupied. Scarborough Shoal is listed as the 28th and last to be occupied by China in 2012.


But why did the Americans fool the Aquino government, which ended the standoff?

Then-president Barack Obama’s officials were worried that Aquino’s military would deliberately or accidentally provoke an armed conflict with the Chinese. In such an eventuality, the US would either have to militarily assist the Philippine vessels, under their Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which would have risked a nuclear war with China. The other scenario would be for the US to claim the incident did not fall under the MDT since it had occurred in a disputed area. In this case though, the US would lose its credibility as the force to deter alleged Chinese “expansionism.”

One important consideration for the Americans at that time was that President Obama was running for reelection in a tight race, scheduled just four months away, on Nov. 14, 2012. A war or even just the threat of war with China during the election campaign would have undoubtedly doomed his candidacy.

These are all incontrovertible facts that the Philippines lost Bajo de Masinloc as its territory in 2012 – 12 years ago. Yet the ignorant or stupid Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard pretend this did not happen.

Even with this reality, the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard continue to act as if we are still in control of Scarborough Shoal and ignore Chinese warnings that they cannot just enter its territorial waters without the permission of China. As any country would do to maintain its territory, China’s coast guard water-cannoned the PCG vessels and undertook maneuvers to shoo them away. Did the PCG expect the Chinese to serve them with teak and even dimsum?


Our Navy and Coast Guard’s real agenda was not to help our fishermen. They weren’t even in trouble in the area, since unlike the Marines stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre, they don’t need food supplies, as they fish themselves for their food and bring with them the usual packed food for the fishing trip. The Navy and Coast Guard were trying to provoke the Chinese to strike back, even kill a Coast Guard sailor, so it would be portrayed as a violator of international law, so Ferdinand Marcos Jr. can invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty and get the US military to fight the Chinese.

A columnist in this paper, retired general Edgard Arevalo, is in a worse delusion writing the other day, “The world, not just the Filipino people, saw with extensive clarity and detail the illegal, coercive, aggressive and dangerous attacks by agents of the China Coast Guard.” He’s dreaming; most of the world don’t care, with the more informed knowing that Filipino vessels insisted on entering a shoal that China claims as its territory. The puny Filipino vessels were blocked by the water cannons of much bigger Chinese ship.

Arevalo’s delusion that the world is behind us is due to his gargantuan ignorance. There are 193 countries in the world. Only three countries officially say China’s claims in the Spratlys are without basis — and the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan — because it is theirs.

The rest of the world’s 190 nations are neutral, not backing any country’s claims. Even the United States and its usual minions in propaganda don’t even say China has no legal basis for its claims, which are not based on the phantom nine-dash line, but on effective occupation since over 200 years ago, and their declaration and laws for such sovereignty.

The US’ vast propaganda machine simply has been so successful in portraying China as an “expansive” power, just it was successful in claiming in 2003 that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” (nuclear, biological and chemical weapons) so it had to invade it, resulting in over a million direct and indirect deaths of that hapless country’s people. To this day, not a single weapon of mass destruction has been found.

Marcos’ generals, I suspect, were also expecting that the ships of the US, Great Britain and France that were undertaking the Balikatan joint military exercises were in an area not too far from Bajo de Masinloc to come to their aid. How stupid.

If the US really believed that our Coast Guard was merely trying to supply the fishermen with supplies and were convinced that Bajo de Masinloc was Philippine territory or at least within its EEZ, why didn’t the Americans escort our vessels to reach the fishermen, or at least sailed between our vessels and the Chinese coast guard water-cannoning them?

Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao

X: @bobitiglao

My website: www.rigobertotiglao.com

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Dorina S. Rojas

    Maybe Sir RT can publish all of these writings in Filipino language for the benefit of many of our readers and also they will be able to understand and explain to others who are being deceived by local and foreign media puppets. Many of our people are willing to understand but many idiot officials and leaders choose to confuse our countrymen by deliberately using languages that are as devilish as them.

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