Delusion or publicity stunt, or both

  • Reading time:8 mins read

NOW what?

I would think that after several attempts by the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard to deliver construction and repair supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal, which were easily foiled by the China Coast Guard, the latest June 17 being the most violent incident, the following would be inarguably clear.

These attempts were the result of President Marcos Jr. and his military brass’ deep delusion that they could ignore China’s position that Ayungin Shoal, which it calls Rén’ài Jiāo, is part of their sovereign outlying archipelago called Nansha Qundao. This was declared as such in Chinese maps in the modern era and enshrined in their laws, among them in its 1958 Declaration on China’s Territorial Sea.

Our version of that declaration is the Presidential Decree 1596 that President Marcos issued in 1978. However, the Aquino III and second Marcos administrations have practically dropped that kind of claim and instead assert that Ayungin Shoal is encompassed by our exclusive economic zone (EZZ) under United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (Unclos) which took effect in 1994, and therefore ours.

That’s a foolish stance, since that means making a lower-level claim of sovereignty that grants us only certain rights in Ayungin, which is inferior to the Chinese claim of sovereignty over it as part of the Nansha archipelago. Vietnam has a similar stance in claiming sovereignty over that group of islands, which it names Quần đảo Trường Sa in its maps.

The Estrada government challenged (or tried to challenge) China’s sovereignty over Ayungin Shoal — 18 nautical miles from Mischief Reef which the Chinese occupied in 1995 — by grounding the BRP Sierra Madre there in 1999, covertly as our outpost there. The Estrada government, however, a few months later backtracked and committed to remove it as soon as the Navy or private ships could.


It promised that it would send food and other necessities to the marine contingent stationed there (to guard it from pirates or salvagers) but not repair it by sending construction and repair supplies that would have allowed it to be maintained in spic-and-span condition.

Succeeding administrations honored that commitment, but despite Chinese demands, had not removed the Sierra Madre.

It would only be under Marcos Jr. that that commitment was rescinded. The Chinese, therefore, have not allowed any Philippine vessels from undertaking the supply runs, except for a few cases when they were certain no repair supplies were being sent.

Still though our Navy and Coast Guard have insisted in doing as they pleased in supplying the Sierra Madre, on grounds that “what is ours is ours.” The Chinese with its bigger vessels, of course, shooed them off with water cannons and maneuvering of their vessels. Except for its usual blah-blahs on supporting us, the US did absolutely nothing to aid us.

We and China have a dispute, territorial in the Chinese view, and maritime from our perspective. No international body can rule which country has the legitimate claims. We have to be realistic and accept that the dispute exists, which can only be resolved if we and China negotiate bilaterally for a scheme acceptable to our two peoples.


Or we can go to war against that superpower, which Argentina foolishly did in 1982 to claim the Falkland Islands which was just 480 kilometers away from its coastline and 13,000 from the United Kingdom — but which it was sovereign of because of its colonization a century ago — as in the case of China vis-à-vis its Nansha Qundao.

For all their “declarations of support” for the Philippines, all governments in the world are neutral in this dispute, as is the case in territorial disputes that they are not part of.

It is absolutely useless, as many uninformed columnists here do, to argue which claim is legitimate under international law or not, as each side will not agree to the other’s position. The claim that the arbitral tribunal in 2016 had rejected China’s sovereignty claims, and therefore must be complied with is absolutely wrong, one of biggest lies ever spread. In fact, the Philippines didn’t even ask the tribunal to rule on this issue: “The Philippines stressed that it does not seek in this arbitration a determination of which Party enjoys sovereignty over the islands claimed by both of them (page 11 of the ruling).


The clever propaganda trick used by the US is that while the arbitral tribunal ruled that the Philippines EEZ was legitimate under Unclos, it did not rule on China’s sovereignty claims since Unclos deals only with maritime claims and not sovereignty issues. The issue of China’s sovereignty was not discussed in the ruling that its readers, such as several columnists here did, totally forget about China’s sovereignty claims.

Why could Marcos and his military have been in deep delusion that they could ignore the stance of a superpower, China, and insist on supplying the Sierra Madre in order to maintain it there as the Philippines’ symbol of sovereignty over the shoal?

Because they have believed that the US would militarily help our Navy and Coast Guard in defying China. The unscrupulousness of Marcos’ military leaders, which they have been hiding beneath their declarations of patriotism, is that they obviously have hoped that their vessels’ clashes with those of China would lead to deaths of their seamen, which would, as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin claimed (falsely), trigger the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.

But as Ferdinand Marcos Sr. explained 50 years ago — after demanding clear explanations from US officials — nowhere in the treaty is there a provision that the US is bound to automatically come to the aid of Filipinos under attack by a third country. The US Constitution also requires its Congress to approve a declaration of war by the president. As the elder Marcos pointed out 50 years ago in a speech before the US Press Club: “Our soldiers will be dying, while your Congress still deliberates whether you will help us or not.”

Seriously, do you think the US will go to war with China for the Philippines’ claims, which will even risk a global nuclear war?

But the US prodded these dangerous moves by our Navy and Coast Guard for another agenda: China’s responses to prevent our vessels from getting close to the Sierra Madre, in which water cannons and risky maneuvers were used to block our ships, will be portrayed as a superpower bullying a weaker nation.

This will add to the US’ overall propaganda (that even included the atrocious badmouthing of Chinese vaccines sent to the Philippines) to portray the emerging superpower as an Evil Empire. That demonization will help create an American public opinion that would support a US war against Taiwan when China attempts to take over its rogue province.

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