Phl is a ‘NATO nation’

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The video that caught the latest acts of aggression and trespassing of the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) personnel last June 17 at Ayungin Shoal was not a case of “armed attack” against our Philippine Navy men. The National Maritime Council (NMC) chaired by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin concluded after watching presumably for so many times the video footages on the encounter at the high seas. While it happened within our 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), the NMC surmised “this was probably a misunderstanding or an accident.”

As a proposed course of action to prevent or avoid the same incident, the NMC recommended “for consideration” of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) to henceforth make public in advance the next rotation and resupply (RORE) to BRP Sierra Madre ditched at the Ayungin Shoal. The NMC further recommended the future RORE missions “shall remain routinary and will be scheduled regularly.”

In short, the NMC wants our Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to announce beforehand the RORE schedule as a way of giving public notice to Beijing. So will this be the free pass the NMC expects from Beijing for their CCG to stand down during pre-declared RORE trips to Ayungin?

Just a few months ago, National Security Council (NSC) assistant secretary general Jonathan Malaya shot down Beijing’s assertions that the Philippine vessels entered Ayungin “without China’s permission.” Malaya vehemently argued: “The China Coast Guard claims that they were conducting a law enforcement activity have no, or zero basis. They also claimed that there should be prior notification from the Philippines on any supply mission. Again we ask, why should we do so?” 

“Why would we notify?” Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo also curtly retorted just two weeks ago after China repeated this demand from the Philippines. 

So what has given way after such declarations of oomph and bombast?

The NMC-prepared statement that Bersamin read underscored it was just their recommendation and is still subject to the final approval of PBBM. Presidential assistant on maritime concerns, retired AFP chief of staff Gen. Andres Centino, tried to salvage the impact of the NMC recommendation. 

“We will just inform them (China) for the best interest of both parties, to publicize the schedule of activities without giving them specifics,” Centino clarified.

“We’re awaiting guidance from the President,” Centino added as the head of the NMC secretariat. This was precisely why the NMC was convened for the second time this year, he pointed out. The NMC was created under Executive Order No. 57 signed by PBBM just last March.

Centino agreed the June 17 incident did not constitute an “armed attack” to justify the invocation of the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). The US, for its part, has repeatedly assured the administration of PBBM about its “ironclad” commitment to the Philippines under the 1951 MDT.

After they viewed this incident, the NMC deemed the CCG men wielding axes, bolos, knives and spears did not intentionally harm our gallant Navy personnel. No life was lost on the side of the Philippines but one of them lost his thumb. Bersamin reiterated the policy statement of PBBM on the WPS at the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore last month to defend every square inch of the Philippine territories against the “imaginary” nine-dash claims of Beijing in the South China Sea. At the same international forum, PBBM warned any “willful killing” of any Filipino – whether military or civilian in the country’s sovereign waters – will be close to an “act of war.” 

Though the NMC believed the CCG meant only to stop the RORE vessels, methinks our Navy men on board their two inflatable boats were still at the receiving end of these deadly tools. Why would some of the Chinese militiamen from their eight CCG fastcraft boats and ships even board the Navy boats if they have no fatal intention? Our Navy men, as we heard from the video, were yelling at them: “This is our territory.” In this case, the Ayungin Shoal where our BRP Sierra Madre sits and serves as our country’s military outpost at the WPS.

The CCG militia succeeded in destroying one of the Navy inflatable boats. They even tried to blind our WPS defenders using strobe lights directed at our troopers on board the BRP Sierra Madre. The angle of some footages showed they were obviously taken from above, or by someone on the BRP Sierra Madre trying to back up their besieged fellow troopers down below. In fact, we saw from the video splashes of water raining down on the CCG vessels ramming the Navy boats at the side of the moribund Sierra Madre.

The water splashes though seemed to be just from a pail, unlike the bursts of water cannons used against our fisherfolk and Philippine vessels. (How I wish they splashed pails of their urine instead of wasting water.)

And the worse part of this episode is that at least seven new rifles in the RORE were seized. As admitted by AFP chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., even personal stuff from one backpack and cellular phones were taken by these “pirate-like” attacks of the CCG militia men. Brawner, however, sounded pathetic in his post-incident narratives when he finally came out to report to media two days after the one-sided fracas at Ayungin.  

This brings to mind a favorite joke of former president Joseph Estrada about NATO, which is the acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Incidentally, the Philippines is one of the 18 countries designated as “major non-NATO allies” that include our neighbors like Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. However, NATO as a group has not made any statement about defending the Philippines in case war breaks out in the South China Sea.  

Our country may not be a full member of this group of US allies in Europe, but Estrada insists the Philippines is a NATO nation – as in “No Action-Talk Only.”

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