Recently there have been several attacks against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte charging him on giving up their sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal and in doing so, he can be impeached. This is because, instead of confronting China over the issue with their international court victory, Duterte opted to negotiate with China directly, which the perennial opposition have called a sell off of the nations sovereignty. They are blaming Duterte for allowing China to occupy a handful of uninhabited rocky outcrops, atolls, sandbanks, and reefs roughly 160 miles off the coast of Subic Bay.
First, let’s retrace a few facts. China has been occupying Scarborough shoal since 2012 (that’s 4 years prior to Mr Duterte becoming President), after it drove away nearly all Filipino fishermen in the area, claiming that it is part of its territory based on its 9-Dash Line Map anchored mainly on historical grounds. A good portion of the claimed area is within the Philippine’s Exclusive Economic Zone, as mandated by the UN Convention on Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). Their basis of ownership is geographic proximity. For 4 years, what had the Aquino government done, considering its military incapability to confront Chinese Naval vessels? It lodged diplomatic protest with China. To resolve the conflict, China demanded direct negotiation with the Philippines without the involvement of outside sources. In particular, America.
There were back channel talks and then President BS Aquino even went so far as to secretly send Senator Sonny Trillanes to China on some strange mission involving business interests, in an apparent move to get something out of the stand-off. In fact, the good Senator may have possibly committed treason along with the backing of Aquino for attempting to sell off their rights over Scarborough shoal for some considerations. When they failed to get what they wanted, upon the prodding of the US, Aquino took the stand-off to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), challenging the 9-Dash Line Claim of China. The latter did not participate as it looked at the move of the Philippines as being instigated by the US. Hence, instead of standing down, China extended its presence beyond Scarborough Shoal with an apparent attempt to militarize the whole of the South China Sea, treating Philippine actions as threatening their interest in the region. The Philippines won the case in July of 2016 sans the participation of China in the proceedings. Because China never recognized the tribunal’s decision, the Philippines was now faced with the dilemma on how to enforce it. The US, UN, EU and/or any of their instrumentalities could not enforce such a decision. The move therefore did not solve the problem. It instead prolonged Philippine agony as a country and denied their fishermen the right to exploit the rich marine resources in the area.
One would wonder why the Philippines cooperated with America in filing the case at the PCA knowing that they would be facing what appeared to be a blank wall thereafter. And yet, the writing was on the wall. America and Europe for that matter, had succeeded in getting the decision from an International Court voiding China’s 9-Dash Line. A claim which effectively covers the entire South China Sea. With that decision, the west now had basis for stopping China from imposing control over that international water way and overflight thereon where $5 Trillion of global trade passes annually. It is still their business and economic interests which they are protecting at the expense of relations with their neighbor, China. It has become obvious, all these shenanigans are designed to establish a protracted war between the Philippines and China to keep the latter from establishing control over the South China Sea, and to protect the interest of the west. Clearly, the Scarborough Shoal issue was mishandled by the previous administration. What is disgusting here is the fact that those who were, for the most part, responsible for this mess, are now blaming President Duterte for China’s continued occupation in the Scarborough Shoal barely 3 months after his assumption into power. This is a grave, malicious lie which Filipinos should be more aware of. The previous administration sat on its ass regarding the issue, while allowing itself to be used by America to file a case against China. A move which yielded nothing for the Philippines but only a protracted enmity with China. Clearly, by design, this is what the west wanted.
What is deeply disturbing here is the fact that there exists this US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951 which was reaffirmed in 2011 between Obama and the Aquino administration. It provides protection by both parties in case of invasion. We also forged EDCA in 2014 which provides among others, maritime security for the Philippines. Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio recently called out Duterte and even declared him wrong when the President said that China never invaded the Philippines. He cited the incident of Scarborough Shoal itself as a form of invasion. This same SC Justice was the one who claimed that America was the only one who could protect them in a Scarborough shoal stand-off, ergo we need to keep our alliance with the US instead of befriending China.
With all due respect, this argument is preposterously ridiculous.
Given the fact that we have mentioned two treaties, America should have protected the Philippines in the Scarborough shoal invasion. The Aquino government could have asked America to drive away the Chinese naval vessels from the area and ensure Philippine sovereignty thereon in the name of an alliance and by virtue of the mutual defense treaty and EDCA. The Scarborough shoal invasion (if you can call it that) is the litmus test on the relevance of Philippine alliance with the US and sadly, it has miserably failed them. Adding insult to injury, the Americans, in a way, exploited them further by using their country to get a court decision rejecting the 9-Dash Line claim of China over the South China Sea, thereby cementing their grip over the international water way to protect the west’s interests. In short: It was the victory for the west, and no one else.
And yet, it took President Duterte a few expletives hurled against the US, a declaration of independent foreign policy and one visit to China to permit the fishermen back to the region. All in less than 4 months! Meanwhile, the idiots of the previous administration wasted four years on a long journey to the Hague, taken for a ride by America to get what they wanted and ended up with nothing for the Philippine nation. The clear message here is that the Philippines (or anyone for that matter) should not depend on America for their defense. America was simply using the mutual defense treaty and EDCA for their self-vested interests. Mind you, if tensions between China and America in the South China Sea heats up, the US will invoke the mutual defense treaty to dock their naval ships on Philippine shores so as to reinforce their naval fleet patrolling the South China Sea, protecting the international navigation way. And if war erupts, the Philippines could very well be the first logical target by China. As President Duterte once said, “We are not a country which is at war with anyone. It is America who is rivaling China in the region on the balance of power. Why allow ourselves to be used in the conflict which is not ours on the first place?”
Mr Duterte’s foreign policy direction with China has in effect abrogated its exclusive alliance with the US. But the diplomatic and friendly relations remain, with the same level as that of China. Filipino friendship with the US goes beyond the South China Sea issue. They were colonized by America for decades, fought with America and shed millions of Filipino lives during WWII defending their flag, while embracing American democracy as the foundation of their political system. In many ways, America has helped them and their families living in the US. Something for which Filipinos should be thankful for. They can never be truly anti-American, for they love them as people. What they abhor is how the American government manipulates their country for its greed, power in the region and lust for war. For the Philippines to grow as a country given the current realities, it has to be on its own, taking the path to peace and friendship with its Asian neighbors instead of continuously placing itself in the dependency shadow of an American alliance. Something of which has caused its economic and military stagnation for several decades, much less, enmity with its neighbors. They have to get out of it. This is President Duterte’s foreign policy direction. You can read this not from his foul mouth, but based on the sum total of what he wants for the country, his political persuasion and agenda, and above all, love of country. His country. Your country.
[*] Thanks go out to Jun Avelino, for giving us something to work with.