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Height of immorality to use civilians as cannon fodder, sacrificial lambs

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IT is the height of immorality for President Marcos Jr.’s Navy and Coast Guard to use civilians — in this case poor fishermen — as cannon fodder, even sacrificial lambs, in the maritime-area dispute with China in the South China Sea.

For planning and undertaking such a profoundly depraved scheme, those involved in it, and their bosses, especially Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Jay Tarriela, who sources say planned it, should be fired and dishonorably discharged.

I am referring to the operation by a dubious group called “Atin Ito” launched the other day for a number of fishermen and activists, prodded, paid or fooled by former communist leader Edicio de la Torre and Akbayan head Rafael David’s outfits, to sail on their fishing boats to “swarm” Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal).

President Benigno Aquino III’s officials abandoned that shoal, fooled by an American diplomat during the so-called Scarborough stand-off in 2012, which cemented China’s claim of it as part of its sovereign territory called Huangyan Dao (island). (I have detailed this episode in several columns, which no official in the Aquino government has denied).

Did they join the fishermen? Organizers of plot former communist de la Torre and Akbayan president David. SCREENGRAB FROM ABS-CBN ‘ATIN ITO’ PRESSCON ON YOUTUBE

The “Atin Ito” operation is undoubtedly a plot thought up and undertaken by the Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), particularly by Tarriela, who claimed in his X account that it is merely the fishermen providing “humanitarian aid” to other fishermen in Bajo de Masinloc, and “by the way,” asserting the Philippines’ right to its exclusive economic zone.

Tarriela

Tarriela thinks we are fools. Since when do small Filipino fishermen — among the poorest in the country — provide aid to and “resupply” other fishermen doing what they do as their livelihood income, which is to fish?

The real intent is a shameless, depraved version of the Philippine Navy and PCG’s tactics in the past months in Ayungin Shoal. This was to provoke China into defending what they think is their territory by water-cannoning and shooing away Philippine vessels attempting to supply the BRP Sierra Madre with repair and construction materials. For the Chinese, this violates the agreement made with President Estrada’s administration not to supply the Sierra Madre with such materials that would make the vessel a permanent outpost.

While hogging the headlines for several days with its dramatic video clips and portraying China as a Goliath bullying the Philippines as a heroic David in Ayungin Shoal, that drama has fast receded from public consciousness, and with the Chinese Embassy’s explanation on the incidents.

The Chinese Embassy released the transcript of a telephone conversation between a Chinese diplomat and the military’s Western Command head Gen. Albert Carlos., which confirmed what they have been saying all along: That there was an agreement (an updated one since the Estrada administration) that all they can bring to the Sierra Madre are food living supplies and not repair materials that can be used to turn the grounded vessel into a permanent outpost.

Agreement

Knowing they would be violating that agreement, the Navy and PCG hoped that China’s reactions would result in Filipino casualties, which would have created international outrage against China and possibly invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty, which would be triggered at least, according to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s recent unthinking statements, if a single Filipino is killed in clashes with the Chinese in the disputed waters.

But that didn’t happen: the PCG’s steel-hulled vessels, of course, wouldn’t sink even if hit by the most powerful water cannons, and their sailors, of course, have such well-tuned survival instincts they’d evade the water blasts to survive unscathed and not be thrown overboard.

I bet Tarriela thought he had a brilliant idea: “Instead of Navy and PCG vessels, send to the Chinese-controlled Bajo de Masinloc this time a flotilla of fishermen and bleeding-heart activists fooled by the ex-priest, ex-communst de la Torre, who probably needs extra funds as he had long-lost Communist Party allowances, with his Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement he claims to be president of, years ago a dead, penniless outfit. Marcos’ staunch ally, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, of course, could be asked or directed to order her longtime “Pink” (i.e., namby-pamby former Reds) organization Akbayan to provide the warm bodies for that operation.”

“Those fishermen’s small boats wouldn’t stand a chance: they’ll sink when the water-cannons blast them, or even when the wake created by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel hits them, and they sink with the fishermen drowning helplessly,” Tarriela must have thought. The Philippines and the world will be outraged and condemn China. I can imagine Tarriela’s eyes light up, and rush to the PCG head to present his brilliant, diabolical plan.

Tactic

De la Torre of course, who was a leader of the communist-led National Democratic Front in the 1980s, would be familiar with such tactics. Communist-led demonstrations during the late dictator Marcos’ time were intended to provoke such police brutality that demonstrators were killed, increasing the loathing against that dictatorship. This was the template created by demonstrations in the 1970s that Jose Ma. Sison called the First Quarter Storm.

This Atin Ito/Tarriela plot is an abomination. At least earlier operations in Ayungin Shoal were undertaken by the Philippine state’s armed components — the Navy and the PCG. In contrast, this Atin Ito/Tarriela plot will involve unarmed, helpless civilians, and the poorest ones at that — small fishermen — who have nothing to do, and even probably disagree, with this government’s belligerent stance against China, who just want to be left alone to make a living. It is indeed preposterous to believe Tarriela, de la Torre and David’s claim that the fishermen volunteered to swarm Bajo de Masinloc as their patriotic duty to defend the Philippines’ EEZ.

This diabolical plot will hurt our fishermen. Duterte had actually convinced China to agree to revert to the status quo before the Scarborough standoff, which is to allow small fishermen, including those from the Philippines and Vietnam, to fish in the waters adjacent to Scarborough and seek refuge in its lagoon to weather a storm. I think China will change its policy in reaction to the Atin Ito/Tarriela plot, and totally ban Filipino fishermen from fishing in the area.

NOTE

The news agency Agence France-Presse reported at 11 a.m. yesterday that Atin Ito organizers “abandoned plans to sail closer to” Scarborough Shoal.” The group’s spokesman, Emman Hizon, however told reporters that an “advance team” had already distributed fuel and other assistance to Filipino fishermen last Tuesday. The AFP also reported: “A government aerial reconnaissance flight saw 19 Chinese vessels including a warship and eight coast guard vessels patrolling around the shoal on Wednesday, the Philippine Coast Guard said. The Filipino convoy consisted of four wooden-hulled fishing boats and a coast guard escort, and was 108 kilometers southeast of Scarborough Shoal.”

A source claimed that when the fishermen saw the Chinese vessels, they must have realized they were being used as cannon fodder, and on their own turned around to head home, surprising the “Atin Ito” organizers, who panicked and proceeded to give media conflicting explanations.


Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao

X: @bobitiglao

Website: www.rigobertotiglao.com

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