Francis Tolentino lost the 2016 elections based on his own merits. In 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte picked him up as part of the PDP Laban senatorial ticket, so he finally made it one among the 24 in the upper house of the Philippine Congress.
Today, he serves as vice chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, but consistently lose his pants when dealing with matters affecting affairs involving the United States and China.
Recently, he warned that China’s interest in reviving the (oil and gas exploration) deal could be a “trap” to legitimize its presence in the country’s waters.
What “could be” is a favorite sport among our senators who have nothing between their ears.
In the first place China does not have to legitimize its presence in the South China Seas. They own it. My proof? They have full control over the waters. In the words of President Duterte, “the Chinese are in possession of the area”. Nothing there happens without the consent of China.
Second, we do not have impeccable claims of ownership or rights anywhere in the South China Seas.
President Ferdinand Marcos claimed sovereignty over what we call as the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) by a 1978 legislation on the basis of the principle of “terra nullius”. But our positions there are disputed not just by China but by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and even Taiwan.
We also regard as an Exclusive Economic Zone extending from the KIG all the way to the northwestern tip of Luzon Island, as “West Philippine Seas”, but this was only unilateral under mere Administrative Order No. 29, Series of 2012 of President Noynoy Aquino.
Worse, we have not amended our baselines law. Republic Act 9522, which was passed in 2009 does not include longitudes and latitudes covering the KIG and West Philippine Seas.
Our baselines and official maps cover only the land mass of our archipelago and the territorial seas included in the Paris Treaty of 1898 between the United States and Spain, and the Treaty of Washington of 1900.
Worst, both the KIG and the West Philippine Seas overlap with the historic and legal claims of China for its sovereign territory and territorial seas.
Tolentino therefore is making his own pie-in-the-sky.
Another American in the Philippine senate conforms with Tolentino’s air castles.
Grace Poe noted “The plan to resume talks on the joint oil exploration with China comes amidst the continued presence of their vessels in the West Philippine Sea. Dozens of diplomatic protests have also been filed related to China’s incursions in our waters, which the foreign government disputes,” she noted.
The fear factor of course is encouraged mainly because we have a Coast Guard that primarily reports to the media instead of using the official bilateral mechanisms put in place by Philippine and Chinese governments.
Unrepentant about this, PCG Commandant Admiral Artemio Manalo Abu even appointed a “special spokesman for the West Philippine Seas”, in the person of Commodore Jay Tarriela, a dropout from the Philippine Military Academy and who prides himself as being close to former Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio and who loves having selfies with US Vice President Kamala Harris.
Tarriela has made public policy interpretations to media over the heads of DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo and his boss DOTr Secretary Jaime Bautista, and often freaks out in front of TV cameras when exacerbating on Chinese presence in the South China Seas. Frankly, the dropout is a loose cannon.
Johnny-come-lately Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, even joined Tolentino and Poe saying the Senate’s involvement in the joint exploration talks would allow the lawmakers to look into “all corners” of the possible agreement between China and the Philippines.
How far will President Bongbong Marcos Jr. swallow these insults?
The president of the Philippines is the chief architect of the country’s foreign policy.
That foreign policy clearly states that the Philippines and China are in agreement that maritime issues do not comprise the totality of bilateral relations between our two countries.
That was reiterated by DFA Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs Ma. Theresa Lazaro during the recent opening session of the 7th meeting on the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea.
Note that during our president’s state visit to China last January, he and China President Xi Jingpin agreed to abide by the spirit of the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development between the two countries signed in 2018, and agreed to resume discussions on oil and gas development at an early date.
By insinuating subterfuge, Tolentino insulted not just Marcos Jr but the Chinese leader, because the oil and gas cooperation between China and the Philippines could not have been achieved without long-term candid consultations between the two governments, which are a long cry away from the games senators play in their self-serving hearings in aid of reelection.
It is most serious that the two sides officially reached a consensus and wrote it into the joint statement – China can provide capital, technology and experience, which will help the Philippines solve its energy and economic problems.
Farthest from being a trap, the cooperation is a win-win cooperation.
Furthermore, most remote from Tarriela’s overt grandstanding to suit American interests of creating smokes and mirrors where there is none, this joint venture provides a good reference for countries in the region for settling disputes and carrying out concrete pro-action, so as to promote and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.
Desirable alternatives for senators
The input of the Senators, and their counterparts in the lower house, can best synchronize into serving national interest by accepting the reality of the territorial dispute and curing aspects where we can better position ourselves.
The first measure on how we can better protect our interests in portions of the South China Seas where we are making claims, is by amending our baselines law.
Under international law, legislation is an act of sovereignty that establishes territorial title.
Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza and international law experts Dra. Melissa H. Loja and Prof. Romel Regalado Bagares, have proposed a law amending Republic Act 9522, to specifically add the names and identify the maritime features (in specific longitudes and latitudes) in KIG and the West Philippine Sea, claimed or occupied by the Philippines.
This is necessary because as earlier mentioned – the West Philippine Sea, that straddles maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago including the Luzon Sea as well as the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal, was only created by executive fiat.
The Jardeleza proposed law summarily mandates that provisions of Presidential Decree No. 1596, creating the Kalayaan Island Group, Republic Act No. 3046 of 1961 on baselines, as amended by Republic Act No. 5446 of 1968, and Republic Act No. 9522 of 2009 as well as all other laws, decrees, executive orders, rules, judgments, and issuances inconsistent, shall be amended or modified accordingly.
Finally in this respect, the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) shall produce and publish charts and maps of the Philippines reflecting amended baselines, within six months of its enactment and effectivity.
Second, in the aspect of legislative oversight, there is an obvious dead herring or diversionary tactic to draw attention away from where another foreign country is subtly generating dissonance – more of the bobby trap that Tolentino, as a lawmaker, should devote more quality time to resolving.
Section 25 Article XVIII of the 1987 Constitution states: “After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning Military Bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities SHALL NOT BE ALLOWED in the Philippines EXCEPT under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”
Is there any treaty we have involving foreign military bases, troops or facilities concurred into by the Senate after the expiration of 1991? None.
Do you recall any that was ratified by a majority vote by the people in a national referendum? None.
Was there any that was recognized as a treaty by the other contracting party? None.
If so, not only the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) is unconstitutional, but the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and even the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) as well.
Abrogate EDCA! Abrogate VFA! Abrogate MDT!
The Senate is the proper forum to start the ball rolling to the direction the Presidency can realize an independent foreign policy that promotes our true national interest.
Let our lawmakers work where it counts most – in development that liberates our people from want by enrolling in forever peace and avoiding forever wars.
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