Last August 1, 2023 the Philippine Senate passed a resolution “…condemning China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea.” Contrary to the intentions of its original proponents and a signal defeat, did not include the demand to raise the issue with the United Nations General Assembly but reduced it to an “option” as a compromise.
It is fortunate that the Senate still has truly knowledgeable members like Senator Alan Cayetano who succeeded in educating the grossly misinformed or deliberately ignorant members of the Senate on the vital nuances of the territorial and maritime dispute over the South China Sea (SCS) amongst five claimant countries.
Cayetano criticized the propensity of some senators to look at the issue through an “anti-China” prism instead of a “pro-Philippines” perspective, and corrected Hontiveros on her erroneous understanding of the “Nicaragua vs. U.S.” ICJ-UNGA case where the U.S. never complied and never paid indemnity but gave “aid” instead to a friendly Nicaraguan government subsequently.
Cayetano also stressed the point that any defeat of a Philippine petition to the UNGA will certainly weaken any significance the 2016 Hague arbitration panel “award” has accrued to the Philippine claim relative to all four other claimants, a view that is certainly wise given China’s diplomatic clout in the UN and the Global South today.
Evidence and testimonies show otherwise
The evidence and testimonies over the past decade cast very strong and serious doubt on many regular, rhythmic seemingly routinely scheduled megaphoned allegations of “harassment” of Filipino fishermen and Philippine Coast Guard ships; however, few, if any, have ever been investigated to the full and conclusive end to enable prosecution and/or meaningful diplomatic protests.
Reports of CCG “taking fish” from Filipino fishermen.
When investigations of such allegations are really conducted as in June 11, 2018 when reports of Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) “taking fish” from Filipino fishermen were made through media, the findings invariably refute the allegations.
Then Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque presented the fishermen who clarified that there was “no harassment” and only “barter” and “difficulty understanding each other” as the CCG exchanged goods like alcohol and noodles for fish with them.
2021 BBC reports of harassment.
In July 2021 spokesman Harry Roque investigated the media reports of Filipino fishermen “allegedly barred by Chinese ships from fishing in the Scarborough Shoal,” he invited the BBC reporters Howard Johnson and Virma Rivera (who never showed), PCG Commodore Armand Balilo, ship owners and Zambales Mayor Arsenia Lim.
Balilo had never received any report of CCG barring fishermen, Mayor Arsenia Lim “said fishermen in her town continue to fish” and sip owners denied they were barred.
Fisherman Sofrinio Lopez denies harassment ever.
On July 27, 2023 a Philippine Coast Guard vessel with media on board picked up Filipino fisherman Sofrinio Lopez apparently to interview about reported harassments, Lopez loudly wondered why they are being asked why they are in the “hot” WPS “due to China” to which he said “bakit? …wala naman pong nangha-harass sa amin” (why? No one has been harassing us).
The June 30, 2023 “blocking” of PCG ships.
The case some senators are agitating over is the June 30 PCG resupply mission to derelict ship BRP Sierra Madre in AyungIn Shoal (Second Thomas) used as anchor for the Philippine claim to the area. The reported CCG and “militia” engagement and pursuit of PCG vessels BRP Malabrigo and Malapascua escorting a small resupply boat.
Again, the report came from a U.S. source, ex-US Air Force Raymond Powell while PCG spokesman Balilo when asked said he was unable to confirm the incident.
Since Commodore (now Vice Admiral) Balilo has been straightforward in answering inquiries the U.S. assets had to establish a new spokesman for the issue, upon recommendation of U.S. ex-justice Antonio Carpio, Commodore Jay Tarriela was designated as WPS spokesman to speak on this incident who claimed the CCG “blocked” the resupply boat yet says, “Wala naman naging escalation” (There was no escalation) and “were able to complete the mission (to reach BRP Sierra Madre and resupply) – so, they weren’t blocked!
From ex-US Air Force Raymond Powell’s perspective, the CCG were in a “position to interdict” which strongly suggest the CCG ship was positionally stationary and it could be seen as the PCG ships and boat heading towards the stationary CCG with the cameras rolling and veering at the last moments away to “accomplish the mission” of delivering the supplies while getting footage to pretend Chinese “harassment.”
The 2021 April ABS-CBN Chiara Zambrano fake news video.
In April of 2021 then Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana and Duterte legal counsel Sal Panelo exposed a media stunt of ABS-CBN reporter Chiarra Zambrano for staging a fake “Chinese Coast Guard chase to splash on TV and social media.
Chiarra Zambrano was awarded by the AFP under Gen. Cirilito Sobejana for this fake news “In her faithful commitment to the tenets of responsible journalism…”
The important point in citing these cases is that when investigations are seriously done the harassment issue evaporates.
Vietnam, the serpent in the sea
While some senators bark up the China tree they miss the major threat to the Philippines’ Spratly’s claim, Vietnam, which has occupied at least 25 features and rocks of Spratly’s where the Kalayaan Islands Group (KIG) the Philippines claims. In 1975 Vietnam grabbed Parola, one Philippine Marines occupied island away from the Philippines and replaced the detachment of Philippine Marines with Vietnamese soldiers and who are still there today.
On July 27, 2023 the Manila Times reported Vietnam’s “aggressively building permanent structures in contested West Philippine Sea” features based on a document of the commander of the Vietnam People’s Navy dated March 27, 2023. The Vietnamese claim overlaps almost the entire Kalayaan Islands Group of the Philippines yet the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo dare strike a strategic alliance with the aggressive rival claimant.
Vietnam will show its fangs if China were not involved in the dispute of the five countries, having had clashes with China over the claims and found themselves wanting in naval capability Vietnam sued for peace with China and has become its top trading partner. But once China is out of the picture there is no doubt Vietnam will no show restraint with the weaker Philippines in asserting its claim for the entire Spratlys, including the Kalayaan Islands Group now controlled by the Philippines.
Note that the same 2016 PCA arbitral tribunal that invalidated the nine-dash line according to UNCLOS, also invalidated our claim to the Kalayaan Island Group as an archipelago. If we insist on adopting American propaganda lines, we also lose almost all of the 230 sqkms of what Presidential Decree 1596 and 1599 that Ferdinand Edralin Marcos Sr. claimed in 1978 as a regime of islands constituting a single unit.
The current bipolar Philippine government’s strategy with Vietnam smacks of the double standard it is practicing with regards to the different claimants over the disputed areas of the South China Sea, no doubt in accordance not with Philippine National Interest but with the U.S. strategy of encircling China and dividing Asians for the eventual proxy war in the region it is preparing for.
Vietnam is also one of the major “swarm” of fishing vessels roaming the SCS and doing the most poaching in the Philippine waters.
Sadly our senators are collaborating with the US in using Filipino fishermen as propaganda fodder.
Instead of working to serve the welfare of Filipino fisherfolks, fishing communities and the fisheries sector of the country, some senators only remember the said fishermen stakeholder only when they need cannon fodder in the anti-China campaign of the U.S.
Oceania Philippines, an international ocean protection NGO, had something to say about the neglect of the Philippines fishery sector.
Oceania Philippines Acting Vice President Rose Liza Eisma Osorio complained of “years of government neglect to safeguard our biodiversity and to restore our fish stocks, across all regions and across major species of fish caught in our archipelago… suspension of the Fisheries Administrative Order No. 266 requiring installation of vessel monitoring measures in commercial fishing vessels… failure to deter illegal fishing… intrusion of commercial fishing inside municipal water…”, mostly internal Philippine fisheries issues.
The Senate should be spending its very costly time, what with the senatorial budget insertions of hundreds of millions, in investigating and working out resolutions to solve these fisheries and fisherfolk problems than all these wasted time on the South China Sea false alarm issues. Not once did Oceania mention the West Philippine Sea or its contentious disputes, only the “foreign vessels fishing in Philippine waters” which recalls Lorenzana’s indictment of Vietnam.
Dialogue and negotiations onto Win-Win solutions
Politicians engage in loud, overcharged megaphone diplomacy not to solve issues but to grandstand and splash themselves in the media, while this propensity is exploited by the warmongering propagandists of the Western defense-congressional-plutocrats complex in the U.S. and in the Philippines.
The South China Sea dispute amongst the ASEAN claimant members and China is a very minor issue in the gamut of positive developments in and for the region which is recognized as the 21st Century’s epicenter of growth.
The oil-gar joint development deal between China and the Philippines almost consummated in the time of President Rodrigo R. Duterte is a prime example of how the Philippines could have leap-frogged into a Middle-Income nation in less than a decade with the estimated $ 19-trillion worth of fossil fuel to be extracted from it and shared, at that time, 60-40 in favor of the Philippines.
The financial cartel of the Salim group backed by the U.S. is the key party blocking this for its corporate interests.
The “China harassment in the SCS” narrative is the key component in the “narratives war” being waged by the Salim group with the Americans and its vast network of entrenched assets in the traditional ruling political clans and cabals, the local oligarchy that control its “presstitute” and the growing crop of ”jukebox” scholars.
The Anglophone global media plant the harassment stories that all levels of Philippine media controlled by the oligarchy repeat incessantly and would finally be buttressed by slanted polls condemning China.
There is hardly any real case of harassment of Filipino fishermen to be found in the Philippine claimed areas of the South China Sea, and or as a heads up to the Filipino public – China has absolutely on policy of harassing Filipino fishermen.
Encounters of Chinese Coast Guard and Philippine Coast Guards vessels are routine rituals of assertion by the Philippines of sovereign rights confused with China’s sovereign claims – but it is not beyond possibility that there are many provocations in aid of media sensationalism to support the narratives for war.