Frontliners no more
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Atty. Ernest Maceda (The Philippine Star) - July 4, 2020 - 12:00am

Reliance on local government units has been underscored throughout the length of government’s response to this pandemic. IATF Resolution No. 25 articulated the famous National Government enabled, Local Government Unit led, People centered strategic design. And LGUs have done their part. When it comes to the SAP-Emergency Subsidy Program, however, the national government has disabled the LGUs.

Due to “politicking and pocketing,” LGUs will now take a back seat in the actual distribution of cash aid. Their roles are limited to identification of beneficiaries. They’ve been advised to continue their initiatives for their constituents but to do so using their local funds. The DSWD will parcel out the national government’s SAP second tranche with the help of the AFP and PNP in yet another demonstration of (1) the limbo in which national and local relations find itself; and (2) the more dominant role of the military and police as against the civilian institutions under the current dispensation.

This SAP episode is emblematic of action not matching the rhetoric of letting local government lead. LGUs are tasked without being given the corresponding funding; unbudgeted COVID-19 expenditures are disrupting planned delivery of local services; the national government has brandished show cause orders if an LGU displays any initiative.

The subsidiarity principle underlies the frontliner role of LGUs, i.e. the higher authority intervenes only when the local authority is incapable. But the erratic posture of national government agencies calls into question their understanding of their own role.

From shoo to shoot. China’s long de facto Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) looks set to metamorphose into an officially declared ADIZ. Reports of China’s intention to formalize their dominance in the area continues to flood the news. If this should happen, then the consequences will be dire.

There are no international treaties nor international agencies or codified international law provisions that govern the establishment of ADIZ or the air traffic procedures to ensue when one is declared over international airspace. The 1948 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation allows the interdiction of foreign aircraft into territorial airspace. That’s about it.

When two disputants wield equal power, right may be might. But when staring into the barrel of a gun, might makes right. Here in the WPS, while China may not have officially enforced its acknowledged dominance, it has, however, treated the passage of foreign military ships as provocation. Even Philippine boats that have fished in the same waters for generations are being forced out by China’s larger fishing vessels.

Not res nullius. New US Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Charles Brown Jr. has noted the almost daily activity of China’s H-6 bombers over the water, as if to stamp a first-come, first-served claim over fly zones above still disputed territory. But they weren’t there first. The Philippines, under guidance of the US, had announced its own ADIZ (now inactive) which covered Scarborough in 1953. The Chinese “first mover” advantage here is in its clandestine construction of installations on the disputed reefs, shoals and islets which we were powerless to prevent. Even if we “took them to court” and got what we wished for at the Hague, we have rendered ourselves powerless to enforce it.

An ADIZ is not illegal per se under international law. The US established the world’s first ADIZ in 1948 and other countries such as Japan and Korea, among others, have done so. In their cases, though, the ADIZs are in areas immediately adjacent to their own territorial airspace. So much for using these previous customary practices as a baseline.

Gen. Brown bewails the disruption this would bring to rules based order and the detenté of live and let live. For now, anyone can sail or fly through what are open seas and free air for as long the contentious areas are avoided. An ADIZ will wreak havoc on freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight rights.

During this pandemic season alone, Vietnam and Malaysia have also been victimized by run ins either with China coast guard or its fishing boat armadas. Prior to that, US planes have been warned off by radio; our own military aircraft have been shot at with warning flares. US State Secretary Mike Pompeo has termed it provocative behavior. American rhetoric continues to reject China’s excessive maritime claims as stressed in its note verbale to UN Secretary General António Guterres.

The tensions have motivated President Rodrigo Duterte’s suspension last month of the earlier decision to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement. This returns us to status quo ante.

The new Cold War. But the military buildup continues. The US Nimitz and Reagan Carrier strike groups conducted naval exercises in our waters a day after the ASEAN statement that UNCLOS should continue to serve as the framework of rights and entitlements in the WPS. In the air, US Bomber Task Forces are conducting flights in the area and, under the sea, US submarines have been deployed. Right now, it’s still shadow boxing but the simmering is building up to crescendo. Accidents are waiting to happen, escalations are locked and loaded.

Our national sentinel on the WPS, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Ret. has tirelessly, year after year, explained that Panatag (Scarborough) is integral to a China ADIZ. Having put up an environmental monitoring facility which is actually a radar station, a Chinese military air/naval base on the shoal will be the last piece of the puzzle. Sec. Teddy Boy Locsin confirms that there is already a landing strip there that can accommodate their fighter jets. A base patches up the gap in its radar, missile and jet fighter coverage in the Northeast section of the WPS. Panganiban, Zamora and Kagitingan reefs – all within our Exclusive Economic Zone – already host runways and military installations.

As Justice Carpio expressed, these developments compel a national debate on how to proceed in our bilateral relations with China.

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