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Opinion

Tit for tat to defend Ayungin against China

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Match China with water cannon. Get US military air cover. Renew joint patrols with other allies. Call international attention to China’s escalating harassment. Those are among many creative ways to defend resupply missions to Philippine Marines in Ayungin Shoal.

“The Philippines can resort to nonlethal means” against China’s water-cannoning of civilian wooden boats, retired general Edilberto Adan said Tuesday. “Japan did it. They were hosed by the China Coast Guard and they fired back using water cannons as well. No shots were fired (in the Senkaku Isles). That is what we should do.”

The CCG’s water-cannoning of two Filipino boats Nov. 16 is graduated aggression. Breaking one boat’s outrigger calculatedly aborted the delivery of water, food and medicines to eight Marines in the beached BRP Sierra Madre. Delayed by a week, the reprovisioning was completed under a new Chinese condition of no Philippine Coast Guard escorts.

“The mere act of allowing but under conditions shows that China is still assertive over the area,” noted Adan, a trustee of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations. “China is showing it is still in control; it will probably do it again (water cannon).”

The foreign office immediately protested the Chinese bullying, and President Duterte a week late called it “abhorrent”. Only 100 nautical miles from Palawan, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal is within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone, well outside China’s own EEZ. Twenty miles farther China grabbed Panganiban (Mischief) Reef in 1995 and concreted it into an island-fortress. From there the CCG intimidates Filipino fishermen and oil surveyors in the Recto (Reed) Bank and nearby Escoda (Sabina) Shoal.

As China used nonlethal water cannons, “the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty cannot be implemented. It is short of an armed attack but it is not an armed attack,” Adan said.

China’s “cabbage strategy” includes wearing down Philippine resistance. “Its objective is to starve our Marines into leaving Ayungin,” international maritime lawyer Jay Batongbacal, PhD, told Sapol-dwIZ Saturday.

As counter-measure, Batongbacal suggested replicating supply runs protected by US aircraft. In 2013 CCG combat helicopters repeatedly splashed seawater into Filipino rubber and wooden boats approaching Ayungin. Airdrops were attempted. When provocations persisted the following year, the Philippines dispatched sailboats – with a US Navy P-8 surveillance plane circling overhead.

Batongbacal said steel vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard or the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources should escort the civilian outriggers. “Steel craft can better withstand water cannon.” Chinese bullying must be video-ed and presented to international bodies, including the United Nations.

Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario proposed direct talks with the US. “The matter of Ayungin Shoal as a proper subject of the MDT should be seriously considered – including the necessity of joint patrol.”

The 1951 MDT will activate in case of armed attack against Philippine or US public vessels or territory. Washington reiterated this in warning Beijing against bellicosity in Ayungin. It reminded that the 2016 international arbitral ruling upheld Philippine sovereign rights in its EEZ in the West Philippine Sea.

Japan, Australia, Canada, Germany, France and the European Union also denounced Beijing’s harassment of a humanitarian resupply mission. Like America, Britain conducts naval drills and patrols in the WPS and the rest of the South China Sea.

Del Rosario criticized the Duterte administration limiting itself to bilateral diplomacy with China, “neglecting the other tools in our box which [can] enable us to move the tribunal’s ruling to the next level.”

Talking solely with Beijing does not keep it at bay. “After more than several years, the Philippine approach of focusing solely on bilateral diplomacy to the exclusion of other policy tools, including internationalization and multilateral diplomacy, has failed to convince China to abandon its expansionism.”

Former Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio has been seeking revival of joint patrols with the US, UK, Japan, Australia and other allies. Duterte had withdrawn Philippine forces from joint air and naval exercises in the WPS.

“No country will enter into a mutual defense treaty with another that does not take its self-defense seriously,” Carpio wrote. “For a non-nuclear armed state like the Philippines facing aggression by nuclear-armed China, the only recourse to deter China in the WPS is to maintain an MDT with nuclear-armed United States. Maintenance of such MDT requires taking our self-defense capability seriously.”

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

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