Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

“Going to war with the Chinese just to drive them out is a risky proposition” – PRRD as he clarifies his foreign policy

President Duterte’s foreign policy in his State of the Nation last July 7 was brief. It was also concise because he admitted that while we have contentious claims in the South China Sea, the truth is, China is in possession of many of the islands. As a lawyer, he knows that possession is an important consideration of ownership. Taking that into account, he admitted he cannot do anything unless we take the risk of sacrificing the life of our people.

Going to war with the Chinese just to drive them out is a risky proposition. He knows that the great majority of our people prefer a reasonable understanding of the conundrum by seeking a better option than going to war even if the US swears to high heavens it would come to our side in the event of conflict.

The President also put to rest the speculation he was wavering on his decision to remove the US bases. Supposedly, the stay of the US bases ended in 1991 but somehow managed to return under the guise of visiting forces signed in 2001 and allowing them to establish permanent bases in 2015 under the EDCA with almost all facing towards SCS.

The return of the US bases carries serious implication to the hooted cry of the US for freedom of navigation. This now reinforces Mike Pompeo’s call to revive the Cold War using the Philippines as the anchorage port for its fleet in the SCS. The freedom of navigation has now become a tour de force led by the US navy and a flotilla of hodgepodge allies pressured to show support to the revived Cold War with China.

President Duterte’s thought is clear – that the presence in the Philippines of the US bases has given it the right to regularly pass the SCS under the pretext of right of way and freedom of navigation.

Without EDCA, the claim of the US to freedom of navigation would have no legs to stand on but can only be considered routine naval patrol in an area far from its territory under its arbitrary and misplaced exercise of the Monroe Doctrine.

Besides, the danger in having them here is the possibility that the US will store nuclear weapons inside those bases. Duterte said that once we allow the US to store those weapons, which they would neither confirm nor deny, the Philippines would be the prime target for retaliation with the archipelago first to be incinerated and its people put to extinction.

The idea of using the bases to pre-empt nuclear attack is devoid of wisdom and logic. Why allow our country to be sacrificed in an unimaginable nuclear exchange when both sides have the capability to reach and inflict massive destruction to each other’s territory? Besides, having the US bases here does not provide the logical purpose of using the Philippines as a defensive shield.

If the objective is to win a war, he said, many are inclined to believe that such is an unwinnable proposition. China can easily hit the US heartland in the event of nuclear war? The accuracy of anti-ballistic missile to intercept incoming missile tipped with the doomsday Cassandra is more of a wish to survive than of a desire to come out from it alive.

Duterte has foresight; he knows that reasonable minds will prevail upon our people in redefining our relations with China. Although the President left hanging our claim in the SCS, he knows his solution will never satisfy the like mind of former foreign affairs secretary Albert Del Rosario, former Supreme Court associate justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio-Morales. In fact, his formula is already being implemented but his detractors do not wish for a just settlement on the contentious issue with China to maintain the mistrust and sustain the validity of our alliance with the US.

(The) President may be fond of castigating his detractors often saying “putang *na” to his political enemies but he has shown to have more wisdom to know the problem. He knows how to apply the win-win formula to resolve the contentious issues in the SCS. He has the innate capacity to reach out that earned his government the most favorable concession compared to any of his predecessors. Most importantly, he knows that our overlapping claims with China are not of our making but a boundary made by the US and Spain in the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. This the Americans had kept silent from our people.

The Philippines was occupied by the US as a conquered colony for 50 years. While holding on to the archipelago, the US never manifested any of the maritime powers that the tiny group of islands known as Spratlys is not part of the treaty when it purchased the archipelago from Spain. After the grant of independence in 1946, the US remained silent until after it refused to ratify the UNCLOS and started ratcheting up our claim in the SCS.

The US and Spain in the Treaty of Paris demarcated the latitude and longitude of the territory sold by Spain. Those areas outside the boundary do not belong to the US and to the Philippines as successor-in-interest. Most important, when the two governments demarcated our boundary, particularly that area facing the SCS, the People’s Republic of China has yet to be founded.

It is his profound knowledge of Philippine history that allowed the President to negotiate with China not only on the basis of a win-win solution but on the more important consideration of good neighborliness which was reciprocated by President Xi Jinping.

Sad to say, Malampaya and the Reed Bank are areas outside the boundary demarcated in the Treaty. The Malampaya which is currently our source of natural gas was negotiated by the Philippines with foreign oil corporations within the disputed area. The Philippines was given a 10 percent share while 90 percent divided by Shell and Chevron, thereby violating the provision of the 60-40 sharing arrangement under Section 2, Article XII of the Constitution.

The Malampaya deal which was entered into by PNOC with Shell and Chevron appears to be internal to the Philippines although involving the extraction of natural gas within the disputed area with China. China did not raise this issue to avoid spoiling the friendly relations between the two countries.

It is doubtful whether the same generous concession will be extended to the Philippines if China could sense bad faith on our part to reach a deal for oil and gas exploration as we did in the Reed Bank. First, would China allow Philippine-based foreign private corporations to negotiate with CNOOC in a disputed area? Second, will China not question the applicability of the constitutional provision of 60-40 sharing to a Philippine-based foreign corporation in a disputed area they claim as within their territorial waters?

On November 20, 2018 secretary of foreign affairs Teodoro Locsin sat with China’s foreign minister Wang Yi to sign an oil agreement in the area known as the Reed Bank. Both sides kept silent on the issue of ownership, but nonetheless proceeded to sign the agreement. The Locsin-Yi agreement was a feat for the Duterte administration for it erased the name-tagging that his administration is pro-China. Most importantly, the agreement rectified the 90-10 sharing to 60-40 in our favor despite the fact that the exploration is within the disputed area involving the state-owned corporations of the two governments.

This column article by Rod Kapunan first appeared at Manila Standard — Ed

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