Virtual surrender of WPS to China?

POSTSCRIPT - Federico D. Pascual Jr. - The Philippine Star

Watching President Duterte’s “Talk to the People” show Monday night, we were jolted toward the end of his report when he virtually surrendered to China the West Philippine Sea, or parts of it, without the aggressive neighbor even asking for it!

Duterte said that since China is in “constructive possession” of the disputed area, it completely controls the place, and the Philippines or any force on earth cannot do anything about it short of waging war.

He said: “The issue of the West Philippine Sea remains to be a question forever – until such time that we can take it back. For me, there’s no other way but war.

“If we promote a war against China, and (involve) America, maybe it would be quick. But at what cost to us? That’s the problem. We can retake (the WPS) only by force… There’s no way we can get back what is called the Philippine Sea without bloodshed.”

Duterte continued that since the Philippines cannot win a war against China, there is nothing he can or will do to take back the WPS. To us, that looks like virtual surrender even before the first shot is fired.

As the President is the Philippines’ sole spokesman in foreign relations, it appears that his declaration has put closure, at this point at least, to the dispute over maritime areas claimed by both countries.

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Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. can keep sending diplomatic protests to the Chinese embassy, adding to the pile of documents. The dispute can also be referred to the United Nations, but Duterte said not even the UN can force China to leave.

Duterte ridiculed former Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who was with the Manila team that filed the case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, for his “paper” arguments against China’s claims.

Anyone who disagrees with the President’s virtual surrender of strategic sections of the WPS can try overturning his decision after his term ends in June 2022, or after his removal or replacement by whatever means before or after that date.

But while Duterte is the President, his virtual surrender appears to be the logical closure to the dispute. With China in constructive occupation of the disputed area, he said, no award, ruling or order, even from a United Nations agency, can dislodge the mighty occupant.

He said that war is the only way to take back the area lost. In the often tumultuous world of the 76-year-old Duterte, might is right. The President’s announcement, although rambling and marked by memory lapses, has greatly weakened the Philippine position in future negotiations.

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Duterte spent 15 minutes discussing back and forth the maritime dispute with China, but failed to clarify some key points.

He did not specify the area or areas he described as constructively occupied by China. Many times, he referred broadly to the West Philippine Sea.

One time, he talked of the Philippines having “retreated” from the disputed area, apparently referring to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal. He also cited the trouble-free replenishing of supplies for Kalayaan in the Spratly group.

So was he referring to scattered sections in the West Philippine Sea or all of it? Or was he referring only to parts of the country’s EEZ where incursions, swarming and the unwarranted presence of Chinese vessels have been documented?

Instead of ranting against critics of his pro-China foreign policy, Duterte may want to issue a well-studied and carefully worded statement. That is, if he is ready to have himself and the country pinned down to such a document.

If he is not ready to put it down on paper, what is the point of perorating on the same subject on TV? Nobody told him that the neighborhood bully was listening and probably enjoying it?

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Duterte also said that if China entered the country’s EEZ and drilled for gas/oil, he would ask if that was part of his agreement with China President Xi Jinping. If extracting mineral deposits was not in the contract, he said, he would also go into his own drilling.

Nobody in the room dared to ask what agreement he was talking about. There have been reports of alleged secret deals with Xi in exchange for loans, aid and whatever else, but no one has succeeded in accessing the details.

The people are entitled to know what patrimonial assets have been hocked to an oriental Shylock. What are the terms that will weigh heavily on future generations who know nothing about the debt burden being passed on to them and the debt trap that lies ahead?

Duterte need not ask Xi if mining operations are part of their agreement, because he should know. But judging from his spotty reporting Monday on TV he seemed to have forgotten much of those deals.

At Panatag, China’s coast guard continues to harass Filipinos casting nets in what is supposed to be their traditional fishing grounds since the time of their forefathers.

Duterte said the Philippines lost Panatag when the previous administration agreed in 2012 to a formula brokered by the United States for a simultaneous withdrawal (he called it a “retreat”) as a prelude to a return to the status ante a standoff.

But while the Philippines withdrew, China stayed and beefed up its presence in the shoal area amid reports of its intending to develop it as the western point in a triangular control zone in that part of the South China Sea.

Located 220 kilometers off Zambales (versus 980 km from the nearest land mass in Hainan, China), Panatag is within the EEZ extending 370-km from the west coast of Luzon and therefore open to mineral exploration and exploitation by Filipinos. The Philippines, however, does not have sovereignty, only sovereign rights, in its EEZ.

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NB: All Postscripts are also archived at ManilaMail.com. Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual. Email: [email protected]

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