Commentary South China Sea: Waters of Contention

Is Duterte China’s accomplice in SCS military plans?

The PLA air force planes conducting training exercises, Nov.
19, 2017. The PLA air force recently conducted a combat air patrol in the South
China Sea and conducted training exercises after passing over the Bashi Channel
and Miyako Strait. Photo by Chen Liang of Xinhua.

Last Sunday, former Solicitor General Florin T. Hilbay tweeted, “12 July 2016 was an interesting day. I, with Justices Carpio & Jardeleza, went to Malacanang to explain to the President the decision in Phils. v. China. I received the decision by email from the tribunal. The President that we briefed was Rodrigo Duterte and his full cabinet.”

July 12, 2016 was the day the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague released the decision on the case the Philippine government filed against China onJan. 22, 2013, when the president was Benigno Aquino III.

ThePhilippines asked the Tribunal to rule on three basic issues: the validity of China’s nine-dash line map; low tide elevations (rocks or reefs that can be seen only during low tide and disappear during high tide) where China has built permanent structures should be declared as forming part of the Philippine Continental shelf (200 nautical mile); and the waters outside the 12 nautical miles surrounding the Panatag Island (Scarbourough shoal) should be declared as part of the Philippines 200 nautical mile economic exclusive zone.

The Philippines got a favorable ruling in all the three issues which immensely strengthened our claim on the features in the South China Sea which are being claimed almost wholly by China and partly by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Hilbay had to make the tweet because earlier that day, in Talisay City, Negros Occidental, Pres. Duterte repeated his own distorted timeline of the Arbitral Court decision at the groundbreaking of Vista Alegre Homes for soldiers and police officers.

He said: “Kaya itong China Sea, wala na rin akong magawa. (This China Sea, there’s nothing I can do) Do not believe in that s*** that it was during my time that this was arbitral ruling was handed down. Of course, it was not. The fate of that started two months before, three months before akong pumasok (before I came in.) Because it was already announced there was the arbitration decision. Dumating lang nga ‘yung papel sa atin, (the paper just arrived) officially it was handed to us. “

Let’s help Duterte fix his timeline: He took his oath as President of the Republic of the Philippines on June 30, 2016 “to preserve and defend the Constitution, execute the laws…”

The Constitution states that the Philippines has sovereignty over its national territory comprising “all the islands and waters embraced therein.”

He was already into his 12th day as President when the Arbitral Court handed down the decision.

Duterte complained that acting Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio kept on pushing him to assert Philippine claim on the disputed part of South China Sea which have been turned by China into artificial islands.

Carpio urged that the Philippines and other claimants in South China Sea make a united stand to oppose China aggressive action in the area, the latest of which is the deployment of nuclear-capable bombers in the Paracels which is being claimed by China and Vietnam.

A news report in Chinese newspapers attributed to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force said a H-6K bomber aircraft landed on an airport in the South China Sea during a recent exercise, marking the first time Chinese bombers have used an airport in the region.

While it is believed that it was in Woody Island at the Paracels,security experts say it’s a matter of timebefore China will also do the same in Mischief (Panganiban), Subi (Zamora) and Fiery (Kagitingan Reefs) which are claimed by the Philippines but occupied by China.

Wang Yanan, editor of Aerospace Knowledge was quoted in China Daily saying that with the deployment of the Air Force’s bombers on islands in the South China Sea, “their operational range as well as China’s maritime defense parameters will be tremendously extended, adding to existing prowess to deter any plots to compromise China’s territorial integrity from the sea.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that was more a justification of the government’s tolerance of China’s aggressive activities in the disputed seas. “While appropriate language, whether expressions of condemnation or concern, over certain developments are clearly conveyed through diplomatic channels, it is not our policy to publicize every action taken by the Philippine Government whenever there are reported developments taking place in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea, “ the DFA said adding that “ The country has gained much under the Duterte Administration.”

But what is more disturbing is Duterte’s disclosure that he knew about China’s nuclear weapons in Philippine territory all along. He said in the Talisay speech: “

‘Yung gusto ninyo makipag-giyera ako. kung mapahiya ako? ‘Di larga talaga ito. O diyan pa lang paulanan na tayo ng cruise missiles. Kalokohanan. ((You want me to got to war. What if I get embarrassed? We will rained with cruise missiles. That’s crazy.).

“And we do not — hypersonic thing and they have it in there, sa likod ng (at the back of ) Spratlys. There’s an airway there that’s where the…I know because they told me. I’ve been to China about for four times already. “

So he knew. Does that make him an accomplice in China’smilitary design in the South China Sea?