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Be careful buying online, especially from Lazada

THE Lazada online mall has been a venue for scams, two of which I myself encountered just in a space of a month. With capital of over $1 billion, the firm, owned by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma through Alibaba, isn’t even doing anything to boot out these scammers from their website, even after being informed of these swindlers.

The author, who always thought himself to be smart, was scammed by sellers in these two popular e-malls.

One kind of scam is the sale of fake Xiaomi products and, I presume, other well-known, reliable brands at a “huge discount” prominently advertised. I bought from a seller Manila_MALL (sic) ” a “Xiaomi Robot Vacuum Cleaner 3 in 1 Intelligent Automatic Sweeping Robot” (see image).

What was delivered was not a Xiaomi but an obviously dirt-cheap product with no brand. Worse, it wasn’t even a vacuum cleaner, but “cleaned” the floor through a kind of tissue paper stuck on its bottom. The scammer certainly knew tricks to fool customers. Included in the package I received was a cheap obscure perfume. The scammer obviously calculated that a fooled buyer would not complain as at least he got something from the purchase.

I complained to Lazada, sending them images of the fake product that was delivered to me. They forwarded it to “Manila_Mall” which didn’t even acknowledge they had sold me a fake item. It had the gall to use the images I sent Lazada to claim that it cannot refund me as I already used the item. Of course I used it to see if there was some device there that functioned to suck the dirt, as a vacuum cleaner does. (It didn’t, and conked out after 20 minutes’ use.)

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Romualdez vs Duterte in 2028

SPEAKER Ferdinand Martin Romualdez’s sacking of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as senior deputy speaker has revealed what could be the likely political landscape in the coming years, to be resolved in 2028: Romualdez versus Sara Duterte in the contest to become the next Philippine president, or the first prime minister of the land.

The only logical explanation for Romualdez’s paranoia β€” enough to throw under the bus his political mentor Arroyo, most probably without getting the permission of his cousin President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. β€” is the lesson from the fate of former speaker Pantaleon Alvarez during President Duterte’s term.

Who? That’s exactly the lesson. Alvarez, one of the closest confidantes of then-President Duterte, almost totally vanished from the political firmament, when 180 of the then 292 representatives voted to remove him as speaker of the House in July 2018. Alvarez didn’t know what hit him.

The claim that only one vote is necessary to be speaker β€” that of the President β€” is hogwash, perhaps true only in a remote way if a candidate is perceived to be able to give the congressmen enough funds because of the President’s support for him. Duterte isn’t known to betray a longtime friend, but he had to respect the wishes of the independent House of Representatives. Alvarez was removed, as far as I know, not because Duterte ordered it but because 180 out of 292 congressmen were dissatisfied with his leadership and the very unequal distribution of funds under the control of Alvarez. He was also viewed as giving so much power to his friend, Ilocos congressman Rodolfo FariΓ±as, whom many in the House disliked, Leaders

Who were the leaders of the 180 representatives that removed Alvarez? Arroyo who replaced him as speaker, Sara, and then representative and current senator Imee Marcos. Now the three are not known to like Romualdez.

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Vietnam: The more serious threat?

Vietnamese Naval Commando Regiment 861 in military exercises to invade a Spratly island. PHOTO FROM NHJD.NET

VIETNAM could be the more serious threat to the Philippines’ Spratly territories because of geopolitical reasons. Yet the present Marcos administration which appears to be worried over China’s alleged aggressiveness hasn’t even bothered to look into this reality.

The US would definitely do all it can to stop China if ever it forcibly occupies the features in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) that the Philippines controls.

After announcing to the world in 2009 that the US’ euphemistically termed “Pivot to Asia” program is intended to stop China’s expansionism in the South China Sea (SCS), no American President can stand idly if the Chinese grabs other countries’ territories in that troubled sea.

On the other hand, Vietnam, if ever it finds the excuse to do so, can militarily force the Philippines out of the KIG, with the US likely to do nothing, on the ground that this is a fight between two equal-sized nations over a territorial and maritime-area dispute it is neutral over.

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Vietnam’s militarization of the Spratlys (Kalayaan)

Second of 3 parts

UNLIKE the Philippines which formally claimed part of the Spratlys only in 1978 through Marcos’ Presidential Decree 1596, the Vietnamese, like the Chinese, assert that their sovereignty was actually established from centuries back, in the case of Vietnam by its Nguyen emperors (1558-1775).

Thus, as in the case of the Chinese, the Vietnamese see their loss of sovereignty over the Spratlys and the Paracels to foreign powers as part of their “century of humiliation,” as the former put it, when the West invaded and grabbed their territories.

Who occupies what in the Spratlys: Vietnam, box with star; Philippines, flag; China, yellow circle. Map by author using Google Earth

Reclaiming it therefore is essential to the strengthening of their pride as a nation recovering their past glory.

This is so unlike the case of the Philippines whose citizens are mostly oblivious of the country’s Kalayaan Island Group (KIG). After Marcos, all administrations even neglected to maintain the airport and the facilities in the biggest island it controls in the area, Pag-asa (also known as Thitu).*

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The lie-low but dangerous claimant in the South China Sea

First of 3 parts

PRESIDENT Marcos Jr.’ s report on Saturday that he wants to set talks between the Philippines and Vietnam over Vietnamese vessels’ “incursions” into the country’s exclusive economic zone was vastly under-reported. This is because Vietnam as an aggressive claimant of the Spratly Islands (Kalayaan to us), which it considers as its sovereign territory, doesn’t hew to US propagandists’ and their minions’ false narrative that the disputes in the South China Sea are essentially because of China’s “expansionism.”

Most commentators on the South China Sea have written not a single thing about Vietnam’s claim over our Kalayaan Island Group, even as the Vietnamese occupy the most number of features there, 29, compared to the Philippines’ 10, and China’s eight. The Vietnamese have erected heavily armed outposts on converted oil rigs and built military garrisons in many of the features they occupy. Several of these are so armed for war that there are tanks, reportedly, mid-range missiles β€” and amphibious landing armored vehicles in case they decide to grab a weakly armed Philippine islet. Vietnam has also reclaimed 220 hectares of land to transform several reefs it controls into artificial islands, although on a much smaller scale than what the Chinese did, which was 1,295 hectares.

So that more Filipinos will be better informed about the South China Sea disputes, I’m posting in my column, in three parts, the chapter on Vietnam from my book “Debacle: The Aquino regime’s Scarborough fiasco and the South China Sea arbitration deception.”*

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Marcos’ embrace of US worries Asean

IT was the elephant in the room at the Asean Summit held in Indonesia last week: President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s embrace of the US as the Philippines’ big brother, not just as a purported deterrent to perceived Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea, but to be a platform for the US military to defend Taiwan when Beijing invades it.

While of course the development wasn’t discussed openly nor even privately among the Asean heads of Asean state and government, at least three of them, through their officials, expressed their worry over the Marcos administration’s move β€” despite the president’s denials β€” to totally align the country with the US, in opposition to China.

“That’s really a blow to Asean’s efforts to be non-aligned, to have the two superpowers equidistant from it,” a foreign diplomat said.

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What’s the quid pro quo for EDCA?

I FOUND the following May 8 piece posted at the online publication Asia Times insightful and balanced, unlike pieces by many commentators uncritically echoing US propaganda. Several of its assertions, albeit unexplained, are intriguing.

The online magazine describes the article’s author Lucio Blanco Pitlo 3rd as a visiting scholar at the Department of Diplomacy and Center for Foreign Policy Studies of the National Chengchi University in Taipei.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and US President Joe Biden in Whitehouse. Screengrab from the Asia Times Article.

His Facebook profile indicates that he has been studying the South China Sea disputes for quite some time now in Philippine institutions’ research projects.

Asia Times is based in Hong Kong and owned by a Thai publisher and purportedly aims to provide its readers with an in-depth “Asian view.” A New York Times article described it as “one of the most prominent of the regional publications.” A few of its editors were from the Far Eastern Economic Review, where I worked as a bureau chief from 1989 to 2000. I was invited to write articles for it years ago.

Pitlo’s article is titled “As US-China rivalry boils, Manila should play its cards well.”

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Are we prepared to weather economic consequences of US vassalage?

THIS administration has decided for the country to become a US vassal, taking advantage of the American-created hysteria over an imagined Chinese aggressiveness. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s economic managers should brainstorm ASAP on how our economy can weather the economic consequences of our belligerent stance against the new military and economic superpower in the world, China.

It is astonishing how our officials can say without laughing that the bases we are allowing the US military to use under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) are meant mainly for disaster-relief operations.

Everyone knows those in Cagayan province are obviously for quick development of American forces to Taiwan to prevent China from reclaiming its rogue province. The one on Balabac Island in Puerto Princesa, on the other hand, is quite obviously intended to be a platform for US forces to attack Mischief Reef where China has an island-fortress.

Four of the Asean countries β€” Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia β€” have claims disputing those of China in the South China Sea. Vietnam even fought two battles with the Chinese over territory during which it lost more than 100 sailors and marines. None of these nations have given the Americans their platforms for war. Asean has resisted all efforts for any other power β€” including China β€” to become independent. No longer is it really independent now: one of their members β€” the Philippines β€” is now a US vassal, which will have to do the bidding of the US.

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Pilferage of seized shabu or the drug cartel’s revenge?

I DON’T think the Philippine National Police’s image has been so tarnished, its ranks so demoralized as never before, because of events in the past several months.

In October, Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr., who supervises the PNP as chairman of the National Police Commission, boasted that the police had seized 990 kilograms of the mind-destroying, addictive shabu with an estimated street value of P6.7 billion. He said this was the biggest drug haul in the country.

Out of the blue, on April 10, Abalos claimed that there was a “massive attempt to cover up” the involvement of Police Sgt. Rodolfo Mayo, in whose lending-business office in Manila the huge shabu haul was discovered and seized. Worse, Abalos claimed that about 42 kg out of the haul had been pilfered, which would have a street value of P250 million.

Soon after that, CCTV videos circulated among congressmen, and eventually to media, showing suitcases β€” presumably containing the pilfered shabu β€” being brought out from Mayo’s office. It also showed ranking police officials first taking Mayo to a vehicle in handcuffs, and then bringing him out of it without.

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Even vassals should demand bigger lease

IF we as a nation have really decided to be the vassal of after all still the most powerful nation on Earth, the United States of America, we should have some dignity to demand that our country’s transformation into its staging post for its war against China gives us more resources to grow our economy.

Whether we call it economic aid, or rent, or remuneration for agreeing to be a vassal, we should demand that the US extend to us bigger official economic assistance for agreeing to have nine platforms-for-war located throughout the archipelago, from the tip of Luzon to the outermost island of Palawan.

From 1947 when the Military Bases Agreement allowed the US to maintain and expand its bases here, to 1992 when the Senate aborted the treaty, the Philippines received an average of $570 million per year (in 2020 dollars) in economic and military aid from the Americans. With the Philippines becoming less useful for the US with the closing of their Clark and Subic bases in 1992, official aid was gradually reduced, so the average per year was just $236 million.

We will be such a pitiful vassal if the US doesn’t increase its economic assistance to the Philippines to the level of the $570 million in that era when the American bases here were crucial deterrents against the USSR during the Cold War and strategic bases during the Vietnam War. The justification for the nine bases under the so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was that these are deterrents to China’s expansionism.

The US president’s budget message calls for only $154 million economic and military aid for the Philippines for this year. Will he make a startling call for the economic aid to be tripled to approach the $570 million average during the period when the US had bases here? Unlikely.

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