Tue. Aug 3rd, 2021

By Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade

Preceding this article was my long discussion on how allegations of “red-tagging” was used by the communist terrorists and its front organizations as part of their “lawfare” strategy to cover up their underground works.

They enjoyed the information war for five decades; it worked until the National Task Force to Eliminate Local Communist Armed Conflict was organized to face the issues. Now in the advent of this 1Sambayan Coalition, the narrative of the left that is driving it, will definitely cascade to an issue that has served a common ground to these strange bedfellows – our controversy with China in the West Philippine Seas.

 At this point, we need to soberly provide our readers with a broader perspective, lest I be accused of red-tagging the entire Coalition.

Ambassador Rigoberto Tiglao actually took a very interesting angle on this in his column last March 22, 2021, entitled: “China, US should thank Carpio, del Rosario – profusely”.

Here are some quotes: “Former Supreme Court justice Carpio was the brains of the ill-conceived arbitration suit against China filed in 2013. Del Rosario, a longtime First Pacific high-ranking officer before he joined government, was President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s Foreign secretary, who led the anti-China campaign.

“These two manipulated the witless Aquino into what was the worst foreign policy direction the Philippine government ever took.

“Eight years after that arbitration suit was filed in 2013 and four years after the panel handed down its decision in 2016, only the ignorant or those psychotically denying reality will refuse to see not only how useless that “lawfare” — Carpio ‘s term — was but the damage it wrought on us, which would have been catastrophic if Duterte had not reversed it and adopted a rapprochement policy with China.”

But I am going ahead of my story.

Most of what the left and the liberals wanted for us could be traced as far back as the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, and the Security Sector Reforms that destabilizers of our Republic have been offering us on the altar of National Peace Talks. 

Bottomline – they wanted a weak Armed Forces of the Philippines who can hardly defend us and our shores, and a strong New Peoples’ Army to implement the National Democratic Revolution.

How are these all related?

1992 – The Senate booted away the American bases in the Philippines. We lost the 13th Air Force, USAF in Clark while Subic, the home of the 7th Fleet was also abandoned by the Americans.

But did the Senate have plans on what will replace the ‘de facto’ armed defenses being provided by the US at that time, starting 1935? None. What was left with us are aging and decrepit war materiele sold to the AFP through the US Foreign Military Sales program.

Realizing this, on mainly hindsight, the Senate had to rush a law that would develop capabilities to defend our interests without relying on Uncle Sam. They passed the BCDA law (RA7227).

It sold our AFP Camps sitting on prime property, what is now Bonifacio Global City included, to raise funds for the modernization of the AFP. Php 330 Billion at that time could have been enough but procurement was not that quick.

The realization of the sale would not happen until 1995, and instead of spending the money for modernization, the proponents of the Security Sector Reform and CASER, instead pushed for funding health and education. The modernization fund was also used to cushion the impact of the financial recession of 1998 and kept the peso afloat over the dollar.

1995 – The Chinese started exhibiting aggressive moves on our territorial claims in the Spratlys but we did not have the capability to challenge them, much less drive them away. It wasn’t after 2014 when we started calling that part of SCS as WPS but what’s in a name?

The Chinese started building light structures at Mischief Reef saying those were just “fishermen shelter” until the Philippine Navy dismantled them. Limited as were, we succeeded because the Chinese did not have any military base in the area yet.

More importantly it was because we had the political will to do it then, if only to highlight that leadership does not emanate from the barrel of guns alone.

2013 – The Chinese started towing floating rigs in SCS, particularly in Vietnam-claimed shoals and reefs. The whole world saw it as an aggressive act which should be stopped.

Incidentally I was in Australia at that time, attending Defense and Strategic Studies after I was sacked by President Noynoy from being Army Spox. Our discussions however were focused mainly on the 9-dashed line and what the Chinese were doing in Scarborough and Bajo de Masinloc.

Was the Philippine government under advisement at all? Those were the recurring questions raised to me during discussions in class. I said I don’t know but I presumed our government was doing something about it. I was happy to tell them later that we are preparing for a case to be filed in the Arbitral Tribunal.

2014 – EDCA was signed, remember?

Upon my return from Australia I joined the General Headquarters (GHQ) to help Gen Emmanuel Bautista in the AFP transformation program and good governance, later detailed to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations J3, together with Rommel JG Ong (PN).

Because this national security issue on Chinese encroachment fell in our shop, we became privy to what has been happening in the WPS. From the very start of this Chinese reclamation in Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef), the AFP was able to cover and document it. We provided the Department of Foreign Affairs surveillance photos and waited for guidance.

But no instructions ensued, nothing. By that time China was already reclaiming another shoal but nothing was being discussed at the highest level to address it. Nothing.

Then the buildings in the reclaimed area became more prominent: satellite domes, anti-aircraft pads, visible runway, transplanted coconut trees, three-storey buildings. Nothing. We gave Malacanang and DFA all those pictures and even suggested that they convene the National Security Council. Nothing.

As the AFP leadership was becoming restless, the passiveness of Malacanang and the DFA was suddenly broken – A “mini” National Security Council was convened but only six were invited. But what was the wisdom that came out of it?

“Let us not rock the boat,” or something to that effect!

It appeared that there was an arbitral case that the higher-ups were working on, they avoided any confrontation – classic reflexive action of lawyers when matters are being brought to court.

But “realpolitik” dictated a more appropriate response – politics based on practical and material factors rather than on theory or ethical niceties. The perfect time to stop the second party would have been on the first few days, when only a single dredging barge was present. The reclaimed area was no bigger than a basketball court.

Our recommendation was to drive away the ship, warn them, and fire a diplomatic protest to China, if only to show some resolve. Ora mismo!

That would have telegraphed to China that the Philippines could not be taken advantage of. That would have warned the Americans that we might invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty. That would have told the world that our “sovereignty” should be respected, and no country, could bully us as a nation.

Were the people informed about this reclamation? Or at least after three months when there were already structures in the reclaimed area? No, because the guidance was “not to rock the boat”. By the way, while all this was happening the United States just stood by and watched… and did nothing. So now we have all these Chinese military bases in the South China Seas.

The Aquino administration took a legal strategy and brought the matter to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, that was neither a court in the strict judicial sense but just a venue where hearings are heard, that was not permanent because procedures are only called ad hoc to the parties calling, that had nothing to do with the United Nations whatsoever, and that had no agency to enforce its own decisions.

The PCA was an arbitral body, engaged in the act of arbitration meant to discuss issues brought to it by at least two legal entities, subjecting themselves to rules agreeable between each other, to be bound by the decision of a third-party arbitral panel the composition of which to be mutually acceptable, and submitting to enforce its decision between themselves with both parties cooperating.  

 What loophole in heavens name could have made all these possible without China and with only the Philippines participating? The Philippine spent about a billion pesos for this exercise, represented by American lawyers, all for what?

Yes, Justice Antonio Carpio that was the story of your moonlighting on the West Philippines Sea and the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Was the Philippines awarded any territory? Nothing. Failing that, was the Philippines granted exclusivity over any economic zone in the South China Seas? Nothing. Did the PCA give us any ascendancy over the Scarborough Shoals? Nothing. Did it make legitimate the so-called West Philippine Seas? Nothing.

The PCA ruling was nothing but a piece of paper, or what is called in international relations as a paper tiger. In fact, because of it we may have even weakened all claims under President Marcos, on the basis of traditional and customary international law when the Philippines occupied the Kalayaan Island Group.

The only thing definite the kangaroo ruling manifested was that China’s claims for a nine-dash line over all of the South China Seas, has no legal basis. So, despite being nothing but a pyrrhic victory, it was only the American interest that was served.  So how can Noynoy Aquino, Albert del Rosario and Antonio Carpio say they pursued this for patriotism and the good of our country?

The matter of the nine-dash line too was also rendered moot and academic by China’s occupation of at least eight islands, because on the same basis that we occupied the Kalayaan Island Group, the Chinese had already changed the facts on the ground through traditional and customary law, which a treaty like UNCLOS cannot amend. UNCLOS has no jurisdiction over territorial sovereignty, and exclusivity of economic zones under UNCLOS is not automatic.

How is territory acquired in traditional and customary international law?

Since I went to school in Australia, Professor Carl Thayer, of the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy said, “Maps, in international law, are only pieces of information. The key to sovereignty is to demonstrate long standing occupation and administration over features in the South China Seas.”

And if I may add, “… and to defend one’s position with force if necessary!”

The President is right, we can rant all we want but it is only force that can get the Chinese out of the South China Seas. That same force can also get us out of the Kalayaan Island Group, in the same way that it is only force that can get Vietnam, that has the most claims in both Paracel and Spratlys, out of there.

It’s a powder keg waiting to blow up had President Rodrigo Roa Duterte not creatively intervened and instead of legalisms, lawfare and propaganda, pursued friendship and diplomacy with China.

We would find out much later, after Aquino had already left Malacanang that his boys were actually conducting the quarrying operations in many parts of the country, to be sold to the Chinese for their reclamation in the South China Seas.

So, my next question is not to the stooges but for retired Rear Admiral Rommel JG Ong? Why are you in that 1Sambayan Coalition at all?

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