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The road forward for SCS disputes: Drop sovereignty debates

I HAVE written so many columns and a book debunking the US narrative on the South China Sea (SCS) disputes — swallowed hook, line, and sinker by our elite as well as by the administrations of Aquino 3rd and even implicitly Marcos Jr. The crux of this narrative is that China is an expansionist power and intends to occupy all of the waters and features of the SCS.

This view is simplistic and contains factual errors, and upon close scrutiny, is merely intended to advance the American propaganda line of China as the new Evil Empire — with the hidden assumption that the US must continue as the hegemon in Asia to counter it. Note that in this false account, Vietnam as a militant claimant, which had occupied the most number of features and which in 1994 grabbed an islet we had occupied, is only rarely mentioned in the US accounts as this weakens the narrative China as an evil empire.

Another even more important reason to debunk this US view is that it doesn’t point to any solution to the disputes, except through an armed conflict between the US and China. I think this is what some American strategists really want, in order to prevent China’s rise as the superpower in the region.


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Ignorant senators, irresponsible newspaper

FOR two straight days, the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s banner headlines were about bringing our disputes with China to the United Nations. Its banner on June 26: “Senator backs bringing WPS case vs China to UN.” Who’s the senator? Francis Tolentino.

Yes, he’s vice chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, which, because it doesn’t have a hand in almost anything in the country, is one of the least sought-after posts in the Senate. But c’mon, Tolentino’s worldview has probably not gone beyond Tagaytay, which he has headed for 18 years, and beyond the buildings of Metro Manila as chairman for five years of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

Screaming headlines supporting a cockamamie proposal.

And then yesterday, that paper had as its banner: “UN as venue to resolve WPS row gains support.”  Who threw in their support to that cockamamie idea?

One, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, has been also a small-city mayor and hardly a thinker known to contemplate geopolitics. The other is Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who had been with the Pink Akbayan Party for years before she made a successful run for the Senate due to then President Benigno Aquino’s inexplicable, massive support.

With utmost respect, these three senators are colossally ignorant about, in general, what our territorial disputes with China are about, and in particular, what the “ruling” by an arbitral panel was in 2016 involving these issues. I doubt very much if Estrada, Tolentino and Hontiveros even read the 500-word ruling. I strongly suggest they undertake a crash course on the South China Sea disputes before pontificating on these.

Why, I don’t think they have even read the United Nations Charter, or even know what this international body with 193 member states is.


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Exposed: The US’ vaccines-for-bases demand

First of 2 parts

PRESIDENT Duterte in June 2021 recalled his order made in 2020 to end the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) as a quid pro quo the US demanded for it to immediately release the already-paid Moderna vaccines urgently needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic that was raging at that time.

Surprisingly, this was revealed by our ambassador to the US himself, Jose “Babe” Romualdez Jr., a cousin of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in an interview with the Hong Kong-based news website Asia Times by a pro-US, anti-China writer, Richard Heydarian. Ironically, this atrocious demand by the US was disclosed in the author’s obvious attempt to portray Romualdez in glowing terms, with the article titled: “The man behind Marcos’ swift shift to the US.” It was even Romualdez who convinced Duterte to restore the VFA, the article claimed.

The relevant part of the Asia Times interview reads as follows:

“Heydarian: What explains Duterte’s turnabout in his final months in office, particularly his decision to restore the Visiting Forces Agreement during US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s visit to Manila in 2021? What happened there? Was he ever really serious about his threats against the alliance? Was this all about Duterte’s gratitude for large-scale US Covid-19 vaccine donations?


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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 — enough to throw under the bus his political mentor Arroyo, most probably without getting the permission of his cousin President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. — 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 — that of the President — 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 Fariñas, 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 — 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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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 — Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia — 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 — including China — to become independent. No longer is it really independent now: one of their members — the Philippines — is now a US vassal, which will have to do the bidding of the US.


Continue ReadingAre we prepared to weather economic consequences of US vassalage?

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.


Continue ReadingEven vassals should demand bigger lease