Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

By Herman Tiu Laurel

Last November 18, 2021, the front pages, airwaves and social media were filled with reports that the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels blocked and water- cannoned two Philippine boats who were bringing supplies to 12 Navy personnel on the self-grounded and rusting BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin Shoals.

My suspicions were aroused because, for many years since PHL-China relations had improved under President Duterte, no such incident has occurred and there was no reason for China to spoil it now.

Another reason why I was skeptical:  for years on end, the twelve Filipino navy men on board the Sierra Madre had never been reported to be starving for supplies, which meant that re-supply ships had made their deliveries regularly with no problems.

The last time the re-supply run got into the headlines was in 2019 when the hysterical overacting Partylist representatives Carlos Zarate and Gary Alejano shrieked that a CCG “came as close as 1,600 yards” of the ships. 1,600 yards away is “blocking”?

IWO into the Echo Chamber

Let us be reminded that America’s IWO (Information War Operations) agents and their Amboy counterparts are always at work to create tension and misunderstanding between the Philippines and China.

Before this water cannoning report, there was also the April 2021 ABS-CBN/Ciara Zambrano tale of the fake Chinese coast guard chase at Ayungin shoals.

This was what I wrote at that time for the Pinoy Exposé Taglish tabloid:

“Philippine mainstream media had a field day exploiting the Julian Felipe Reef fish story and… a special report on the ABS-CBN-Chiara Zambrano professional hack or paid reportage job for the ‘Institute for War and Peace Reporting’ (IWPR) funded by the German CIA front KAF (Konrad Adenauer Foundation) and the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to stage a fake ‘Chinese Coast Guard chase’ of Zambrano’s TV boat at Ayungin Shoals.

 “How do we all know now that it was another media hoax? – Because efSec Delfin Lorenzana said so to Presidential Legal Adviser Salvador Panelo when asked, ‘Zambrano’s boat could never outrun the Chinese Coast Guard which could have easily overtaken her boat but Zambrano’s video showed it very far away clearly not chasing.’ Or words to that effect. Rappler, Inquirer, Philippine Star, CNN Phil, GMA7 all exploited the hoax story…”

The Zambrano escapade climaxed the script that was started on March 20, 2021 by navy men with the NTF-WPS (National Task Force-West Philippine Se who alleged that 200 Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM),  were moored at the Julian Felipe Reef; days later, the CMM became “fishing boats” in news reports. After some doubts, DFA Sec. Locsin filed a diplomatic protest. China declared that these were normal fishing boats harboring from inclement weather, which later proved true.

Like the false “200 Chinese Maritime Militia” reports, the water cannon incident exhibits all the signs of an IWO that the Philippine national media and political echo chamber have amplified with sense-surround effect.

Precedent to Water-Canon report

A scripted blockbuster event is always preceded by a “warm up” event. While the water cannon report erupted November 18, 2021  we noted a Manila Times headline on November 16 that had been prompted by a 7-page paper declaring “China winning territorial ‘war’ without firing a shot – Adan” The headline was referring to retired General Edilberto Adan,  the controversial former chief-of-staff deep-selected by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2007.

General Adan is now with the PCFR (Philippine Council for Foreign Relations), a supposed diplomatic think tank of retired military officers, DFA retirees and some civilians. The stature of the PCFR has diminished greatly since the passing of its former chair, Ambassador Joe Romero, in 2018. 

In his paper, Adan had said “A vital role played by the MDT is deterrence from more aggressive actions by China inside our EEZ and the contested areas…”

I wrote about the Adan paper in Pinoy Exposé article entitled “Xi-Biden create amity, Amboys act up.”

The Xi-Biden virtual meet had just transpired, creating a new amicable air between the two superpowers but the Amboys here were seeking to create another imbroglio for China and the Philippines. Two days after Adan’s Manila Times drama, all the major papers had the “water cannon” headlines and the usual emoting Inquirer caught my attention with its “OUTRAGE”.

The Department of Foreign Affairs account twitted on November 18, 2021 the Statement of Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin on the Ayungin Shoal incident that expressed “in the strongest terms to H.E. Huang Xilian… our outrage, condemnation and protest of the (November 16) incident.

However, the next line that followed smacked of irrelevant, undiplomatic, boorish, juvenile bluster.

Locsin said, “I reminded China that a public vessel is covered by the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty”, a matter that is extraneous to the issue raised by the diplomatic protest on the “water cannon” hosing incident that supposedly prevented the resupply of the BRP Sierra Madre with life-essential food and other provisions. DFA’s twit ended with the assertion that “We do not ask permission to do what we need to do in our territory.”

The insertion of the line on the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) was totally out of place and its inclusion can only be construed as the real intent of the entire scenario being built up. The MDT was also the focus of the General Adan paper headlined by the Manila Times, and in news items in succeeding days about requests for additional facilities within the ambit of the VFA and EDCA agreements that were reported in print and broadcast.

The bait

In Internet language, there is something called “clickbait” where a meme, image or content is posted to attract the inordinate attention of surfers and lure them to click on it. The Chinese Coast Guard, we are now informed, were baited to use the water cannons due to suspicious behavior of the two acknowledged Philippine supply boat that had behaved in a suspicious and furtive manner.

The information reaching us is the two supply ships were “covered”, that is draped by canvass or tarpaulin, so that they and their cargo could  not easily be identified by observers.

To CG officers of any nationality, this is flash of red light that elicits a demand to be identified and be inspected. Apparently, as the DFA twit seem to indicate, the two supply boats left posthaste without further clarification.

This other side of the story has not been told by Philippine media; the facts can now only be established by a real investigation, similar to the 2019 GemVer boat accident where an investigation by both sides led to official declaration of an accident and indemnification.

In today’s water cannons case, all parties must be called to testify under oath; however, there seems to be no interest as Defense Secretary Lorenzana has already said the supply run is back to normal.

The Tempest in a Teapot drama over the “water cannon” incident crackled and popped in the Philippine media, and its politicians jumped into grandstand in the petty flea circus.

Lacson flew to Pagasa and complained about a smartphone message “Welcome to China”, which turned out to be from SMART Taiwan. Like the Inquirer, Isko, Paquiao, the forgotten Koko Pimentel, Hontiveros, and a few others, all emoted OUTRAGE!

Resupply mission completed November 23, 2021, a week after an attempted “stealth” night entry into the Ayungin Shoal. It shows that if bilateral cooperation and protocol is observed, there will be no inconvenience.

While China-ASEAN rebuilds the World

Meanwhile, the real big thing that matters, has begun in Beijing.

China’s President Xi Jinping, serving as chair of the Special Summit coinciding with the 30th Anniversary of the ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, announced on November 22, the establishment of a “comprehensive strategic partnership, a new milestone in the relations between the two sides that will inject fresh impetus into regional and world peace, stability and development.”

The highlights were:

  • Building of a “health shield” for the sub-region, through an additional 150 million doses of Covid vaccines and US$ 5 million to the Covid ASEAN Fund; the setting up of vaccine joint production and technology transfer and collaboration on research and development of essential medicines;
  • Another US$1.5 billion of development assistance in the next three years to support ASEAN countries’ post pandemic economic recovery.
  • Launch of the China-ASEAN Digital Dialogue; provision of 1,000 items of advanced and applicable technology and an exchange program for 300 young scientists in the next five years;
  • Importation of up to US$150 billion in agricultural products from ASEAN in the next five years.

China, ASEAN, and the Philippines are poised to be the region with the highest performance around the world in the post-pandemic recovery, even as the West continues into its 4th and 5th waves of Covid-19.

Yet the US and the West are intent on disrupting this historic shift to the East.

China would never disrupt the budding relations with the Philippines over a derelict tetanus-infected ship on a rock that’s submerged at high tide!

Isn’t it about time we probe Secretary Locsin’s real intentions in giving this “water cannon” outrage and bullying story line, the priority over how the Philippines can take best advantage of the upgrades Xi Jinpin has allocated for ASEAN post-pandemic recovery?

Frankly, Locsin’s cock-and-bull version of the Mutual Defense Treaty can make an aspiring diplomat fail the foreign service qualifying examinations, and without recourse to a retake, at that.

Isn’t it therefore overdue that he shuts up, or ships out?

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