Now it’s Phl bullying China in sea dispute?

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

“Stop illegal provocations,” China begged Manila last week. The Philippines “infringes on China sovereignty and security,” it cried. That’s only because of Manila’s normal airlift of supplies to Pagasa islanders in the West Philippine Sea.

Beijing’s foreign ministry is cunning. A reporter had asked about Manila’s diplomatic protest against Chinese sea aggression. Specifically China warships had harassed wee Filipino fishermen and aimed weapons unprovoked at a Philippine patrol. At once the ministry spokesman resorted to propaganda and feigned that puny Philippines was victimizing the nuclear-armed giant. No different from a bully mockingly wincing that his knuckles hurt from punching the weakling.

But don’t get fooled. Beijing’s playing the victim is meant for its citizens and few global allies. For the Philippines it has a different script – that of incessant intimidation and opportunism. In recent weeks Chinese have stepped up illegal exploration in oil- and gas-rich Recto Bank, within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and well outside China’s.

Recto Bank is where last year a Chinese maritime militia steel launch rammed an anchored wooden fishing boat and abandoned the 22 Filipinos thrown overboard. It wasn’t, as certain Filipino officials claimed, an ordinary sea accident. China coastguards machinegun and water-cannon Filipino fishermen away from Panatag Shoal, also within the 200-mile Philippine EEZ and 800 miles beyond China. There Hainanese poachers endangered giant clams, sea turtle, fan coral, and shark. China gunboats routinely zigzag Philippine 12-mile territorial seas. More fishing militia vessels surround to prevent Filipinos from landing on Sandy Cay, three miles off Pagasa, part of Kalayaan, Palawan.

In all China steals 1.2 billion kilos of fish a year from Panatag and Panganiban Reef. Another 1.9 million kilos of fish are killed per year by its concreting of seven Philippine reefs into island-fortresses. By grabbing the reefs, China deprives Filipinos of other marine wealth like fuel, rare metals and new medicines. Value: at least P231.7 billion in seven years of reef ruin by China since 2013. Unable to fish in the WPS due to Chinese menacing, Filipino fish catch has dwindled.

All those are in breach of international maritime laws. Why does China do that? Because it can.

China knows the score too well. Already weak, the Philippines has further enfeebled itself. As Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana admitted recently, Philippine naval and air forces are “under orders” from Commander-in-Chief Rody Duterte to not join sea exercises with allies in the EEZ. In the name of peace, they are to limit themselves to territorial waters. China has free reign in the WPS. All that because, “at China’s behest, Duterte has turned his navy into a beach patrol,” Tom Rogan wrote in Washington Examiner, Aug. 4.

China respects strength and abhors weakness, China scholar and former Australia prime minister Kevin Rudd said. To which geopolitics expert Dr. Renato de Castro adds that the Philippines is bullied because it lets China get away with it. The Hague arbitral court has outlawed China’s expansive SCS claim that encroaches on the EEZs of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Those other ASEAN states use the court verdict in asserting their sea rights and filing for extended continental shelf. But Duterte sets aside the ruling in the vain hope of getting Chinese loans and investments, de Castro says. There was no Chinese militia ramming of Filipino boats during the previous assertive admin, he notes.

Filipinos don’t accept it. Nine in ten oppose China sea aggression. Nine in ten also want the government to do something about it. Eight in ten want the issue brought to the UN General Assembly.

Last week a seemingly bad joke about China domination fired up Filipino nationalist passions. Netizens decried a Chinese hair treatment distributor for stating its address as “Manila, Province of P.R. China.” Officials acted swiftly. Rep. Jericho Nograles asked the trade department to investigate. Manila Mayor Isko Moreno swiftly had the Chinese firm’s outlets padlocked. Immigration men are contemplating deportation.

Chinese propaganda goes on to weaken Filipino resolve. Weeks ago its embassy in Manila unveiled a supposed song of friendship of the two countries bound by one sea. That sea China wants for itself. Unacted on is Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s exposé that 3,000 Chinese spies are on immersion in Filipino communities.

Moreno looked beyond the angles of business permit, consumer protection, and insult to the capital city that he heads. It may be sly conditioning of the Filipino mindset to accept China subjugation, he warned. Does it help that the President no less jokes to the Chinese ambassador to make Philippines a China province, as in this video: https://bit.ly/3grBQJV?

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CORRECTION. In last Monday’s Gotcha, I inadvertently wrote that former Chief Justice Hilario Davide headed a 2018 study of constitutional revisions. Jt was former Chief Justice Reynato Puno who chaired that Consultative Committee. Davide was a framer of the 1987 Constitution. Apologies to the esteemed magistrates and our readers for the confusion.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/Amazon-Exposes

Paperback: https://tinyurl.com/Anvil-Exposes or at National Bookstores

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