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PH should resort to drone technology to neutralize China’s abusive behavior

08:33 AM March 27, 2014

China has 1.4 billion people — 19 percent of the world’s population. Its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) claims to have about 1.5 million personnel. While probably an exaggeration, according to Western sources, it’s  unquestionably the world’s biggest military establishment in terms of manpower. The PLA’s hardware consists of around 2,800 planes, 900 helicopters, 520 ships (including one aircraft carrier) 9,200 tanks and various missiles, some with nuclear capabilities.

Compelled by astounding economic progress to have a constant supply of energy, China hungrily eyes her neighbors’ vast energy resources. Unbothered by moral or legal qualms, relying on her military muscle, the neighborhood bully is blatantly claiming ownership of the whole China Sea also known as West Philippine Sea. To justify their territorial grabs, China’s leaders have shamelessly contrived an excuse for their actions: They tell the world that ancient Chinese maps (whose existence they can’t even prove) supposedly indicate that the extent of Chinese territory includes Philippine and other neighboring countries’ territorial waters.


Even if we assume such ancient maps exist, they can no longer be used as legitimate bases for defining today’s national boundaries. Can Italy now claim ownership of practically the whole of Europe because countries there were once part of the Roman Empire?

China has already grabbed resource-rich territories deep inside the Philippine’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  Despite protests by the Philippine government, China has built military structures on Mischief Reef. Chinese warships and fishing vessels have also blockaded Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoals, in preparation for building more military structures.


While China is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which states that anything within a nation’s EEZ belongs to that nation, her military oriented leaders place more value in raw exercise of military might than honoring ethical and legal obligations. Today, knowing the incapability of the Philippines to stop them, China’s warships and fishing vessels openly enter and operate within Philippine waters with impunity.

Emboldened Chinese military leaders recently announced that they intended to eventually take over other targeted Philippine oil rich areas. Next in line is Ayungin Shoal, which is guarded by a small detachment of eight Filipino soldiers holed up in a grounded rusty World War II ship named “Sierra Madre.”

Chinese gunboats have surrounded Sierra to keep Philippine supply ships from reaching the soldiers, with the end strategy of starving them and forcing them to leave. The Philippine government has resorted to supplying the soldiers with airdrops of food and water, using small planes which has its attendant difficulties. Some of the supplies fall in the water or get smashed.

In reaction to China’s territorial intrusion, the Philippines has purchased two secondhand, refurbished frigates from the U.S. Navy.  Recently, eight attack helicopters from an Italian company and 12 fighter jet planes from a Korean company were also purchased for about $500 million.  Delivery is scheduled within a year.

While these military equipment will have some use, realistically, they will have very limited effectiveness.  China can easily increase the number of ships and jet planes that it can send into Philippine territory. A confrontation between the two unequal forces can also lead to the loss of  Filipino lives. In 1988, using anti-aircraft guns, the Chinese navy massacred 64 practically unarmed Vietnamese sailors demonstrating against Chinese takeover of an island within Vietnamese territory.

Filipinos need a more intelligent way to neutralize China’s abuse of power and intrusion into Philippine territory.

First of all, the Philippines has a perfectly moral and legal right to defend its resource rich territories from a rapacious abusive invader. If China were a small nation with limited military resources, she would not have the arrogance and the gall to proclaim to the world that an entire  ocean and all the territories within including those of other countries belonged to her, treacherously proceeding to invade these territories.


China’s military leaders dishonor and do a disservice to their own people by leading them towards destructive directions. Infringing on other countries’ territorial rights and grabbing their resources will not win friends around the world for so many good Chinese people who deserve a better, more civilized more humane government.

The Philippines really has no choice but to either resist the greed and abuse of China’s leaders or to just surrender her oil rich territories.  But if the Philippines is to fight back to keep her territories and resources for her own people, she must do so intelligently and avoid the needless shedding of Filipino blood.

The strategy of turning world opinion against China’s leaders by making the community of nations aware of their dirty tricks is a good thing and will have it’s long term effects.  But shaming China’s military leaders will not be enough to stop them from grabbing Philippine real estate and resources.  Realpolitik being what it is, the Philippines needs to resort to other effective intelligent ways to neutralize the hungry dragon.

Rather than invest further in warships, attack helicopters and jet planes, which can never match China’s supply of these mobile gunships, the Philippines ought to rely on a more effective, practical and economical way to neutralize China’s aggression. Filipinos must use available modern technology to achieve their legitimate self-defense goals and also avoid the loss of Filipino lives.

What is this technology?

A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) controlled by a computer, which may be thousands of miles away, or by remote control from land, water or air. They come in a variety of designs, sizes and capabilities. They can effectively be used for attack or surveillance missions.  The US military has used them to attack terrorist hideouts in Afghanistan and other places. The CIA uses them as eyes in the sky for spying missions. Attacks and surveillance missions using drones can be very precise. Terrorist leaders hiding in specific places have been eliminated by drone technology.

Small countries like the Philippines with small armies and limited miltary hardware need an equalizer when facing well armed bully countries like China. By possessing and utilizing drone technology, the Philippiness can conduct a form of high tech guerrilla warfare against China without the loss of lives.

Perhaps understandably, to avoid a deadly confrontation with China, the U.S. has publicly declared that it would not interfere in the territorial disputes in the region. However, US officials continue to express support for a rules-based multilateral resolution of the issues. The US backs the Philippines’ rejection of one on one bilateral negotiation proposed by China, in which a giant can loom over a dwarf.

According to U.S. policy announcements, China’s invasion of atolls and islands within the Philippines’ 200 mile EEZ won’t trigger its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines as these islands and atolls are in a state of dispute. However, the U.S. must necessarily be concerned with China’s increased militarization and aggression in the region. It serves U.S. interests for the Philippines to have a credible defense and to promote stability in the region.

The Philippines should do all that it can to acquire drone technology from the U.S.  It serves the interests of both countries for the Philippines to have this invaluable defense tool. President Aquino should start talking to President Obama about this transfer of technology. This can be a main subject for discussion when Obama comes to visit the Philippines this April.   Many excellent Filipino engineers and outstanding computer whizzes can be trained to produce and control drones.

Let’s say intruding Chinese warships and soldiers again invaded another Philippine island to occupy it and build more military structures. The Philippines has a legal and moral right to defend its territory. Instead of sending troops, who will likely be slaughtered by the superior Chinese forces, the Philippines could launch a massive attack against the Chinese forces using drones carrying deadly bombs controlled by computers from a hidden location hundreds of miles away.  This kind of attack could effectively dissuade the  Chinese forces from carrying out their invasion plans. It’s like trying to stop the attack of swarms of killer bees.

And what could the Chinese do after? Retaliate against Filipinos in Manila, Cebu or other cities or towns? Then that would surely trigger the Philippines-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty. The Chinese know that they cannot match American firepower.

Filipinos, including President Aquino, are sick and tired of China’s bullying ways and need this drone technology equalizer.  With the proper weapon, the small guy can defeat the big guy. With his slingshot, the boy David brought down the giant Goliath.

Note: Atty. Ted Laguatan is a San Francisco based human rights lawyer and California State Bar officially certified expert on U.S. Immigration Law.

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TAGS: Ayungin Shoals, China-Philippines territorial dispute, drone technology, drones, military armaments, Mutual Defense Treaty, People’s Liberation Army
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