China’s Plan B: Binay-Bongbong
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua
It’s a high stakes poker game with China placing all its chips on the table, gambling that it can seize unoccupied islets and shoals in the West Philippine Sea — transforming them into man-made artificial islands by pumping sand onto live coral reefs and paving them with concrete, then equipping them with aircraft runways, port facilities and surface-to-air missiles while in the process of exercising total control and dominion over the entire South China Sea — and get away with it.
Across the table from mighty China is this pipsqueak pesky Philippine government, which dared to challenge China’s hegemonic ambitions by filing a case in 2013 in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, asserting the Philippines’ ownership rights over the 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone that extends from the archipelago into the South China Sea (the West Philippine Sea) as provided for by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of which China and the Philippines are signatories.
Although China boycotted the proceedings by claiming that the UN has no jurisdiction over the dispute, China did issue a position paper arguing that the Philippines’ maritime delineation/entitlement claims were merely territorial sovereignty claims in disguise. Since the tribunal cannot consider sovereignty claims, China asserted, it therefore had no jurisdiction.
On October 15, 2015, the arbitral tribunal considered China’s position paper as its legal argument and disagreed with it, holding that it has jurisdiction to resolve the dispute.
After its position was rebuffed by the Arbitral Tribunal, China declared that the arbitral judgment was “null and void” and that it would ignore any future judgments. But China cannot simply ignore the international pressure that would be brought to bear on its economy, which is highly dependent on global trade and commerce.
What is at stake for the Philippines?
“Arbitration will clarify what is ours, specifically our fishing rights, rights to resources and rights to enforce laws within our exclusive economic zone. For the rest of the international community, the clarification of maritime entitlements will assure peace, security, stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,” said a spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.
This would mean that China would have no right to prevent the Philippines from exploiting the vast natural resources of the Recto Bank (just 80 miles from Palawan) which may contain up to 5.4 billion barrels of oil and 55.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA). The EIA reports that it may also hold significant deposits of undiscovered hydrocarbons.
This would also mean that China would have no right to continue its blockade of the Scarborough Shoal and to bar Filipino fishermen from their ancestral fishing grounds. This would mean China’s massive fishing vessels, which have had free rein to scoop all the fish they want in the West Philippine Sea would no longer be allowed to do so.
According to a Reuters report published in the National Interest magazine (July 30, 2014), China has installed a Beidou satellite navigation communication system in more than 50,000 Chinese fishing boats plying the South China Sea, with the Chinese government picking up the tab for 90 percent of the costs. So if Chinese fishing boats get in trouble with foreign governments while fishing in disputed waters, they have a direct hotline to Beijing for help. According to Quartz magazine, China has 695,555 other fishing vessels, which may soon be sailing into the Spratly Islands, scooping up the fish that would otherwise feed and nourish the Filipino people.
When Pag-Asa Island Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon spoke in San Francisco last year, he was asked what overseas Filipinos could contribute to help the fishermen of his island. He said they badly need radio transmitters as they now have to go out for days to fish and many get lost at sea.
Chinese fishing vessels are connected to Beijing
The value of this Beidou communications system showed itself on April 8, 2012 when a Philippine Navy surveillance plane spotted eight Chinese fishing vessels docked at the Scarborough Shoal. When the BRP Gregorio del Pilar cutter arrived to inspect the catch of the fishing vessels, the Philippine Navy discovered illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks inside the first vessel boarded by the team. But before they could arrest the Chinese fishermen and seize their boats, Chinese maritime surveillance ships arrived at the scene to rescue them, thanks to their Beidou.
Soon 100 Chinese fishing vessels, accompanied by government surveillance ships, arrived at the scene surrounding the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar in Scarborough Shoal, which is only 125 miles from Luzon and 550 miles from China, barring Filipino fishermen from fishing in their traditional fishing grounds. Through deceit, China succeeded in getting the Philippine government to withdraw its lone ship from the Scarborough Shoal, allowing China to maintain its blockade for the last four years. China may soon finalize plans to convert Scarborough Shoal into a full-scale island with military facilities so close to Manila.
Ownership of the strategic Scarborough Shoal will be among the issues included in the Arbitral Tribunal’s decision, which is expected to be handed down in June of 2016.
But in anticipation of an adverse ruling, China’s Chief Justice Zhou Qiang has announced that China would set up an “international maritime judicial center” to protect its sea rights, a move to bolster its claim to the entire South China Sea. This is China’s Plan A. “The playbook the Chinese leadership appears to follow is if you can’t challenge your opponent’s claim based on established norms of international law, then challenge the norms,” Prof. Sebastian Maslow of the Tohoku University School of Law observed.
But simultaneous with its Plan A, is China’s Plan B, the election on May 10, 2016 of a Philippine president and a vice president who will support China’s position of rejecting international arbitration in favor of “bilateral negotiations.”
A year ago, I predicted that Vice President Jojo Binay would be China’s “Manchurian candidate” in the 2016 elections.
Like the title character in “The Manchurian Candidate” film, Binay also switched loyalties.
When the Philippines filed a case against China before a United Nations arbitral tribunal on January 22, 2013, Binay faithfully supported the government’s position. “The filing of the case before the UN tribunal is an expression of our desire to resolve the dispute with China within the framework of international law. President Aquino is committed to protect our sovereignty and is likewise committed to resolving the dispute with China in a peaceful manner. I am hopeful that China, in the interest of greater peace and harmony in the region, would recognize the jurisdiction of the UN arbitration tribunal in accordance with international law,” he said then.
But more than two years later, Binay switched sides. In an interview in a Visayan radio station on April l2, 2015, Binay said that there was no point in pursuing the UN venue because China would not abide by the decision of the tribunal anyway. (”Sabi ng China, kahit ano pang maging desisyon do’n sa Tribunal, hindi nila susundin,” Binay said in the radio interview.)
Binay then declared that if elected president, he would back China’s call for “bilateral talks” to resolve the territorial dispute between the two countries and that he would engage in “joint ventures” with China.
Bongbong echoes Binay
Vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. echoed Binay’s call for bilateral talks with China. In a press briefing on March 2, 2016, Marcos said: “The conflict is between China and Philippines. Only the ones who can resolve this territorial dispute are China and the Philippines, not the United States, and not any other third country.”
Marcos said that China is calling for bilateral talks: “I cannot see why we don’t do that. This problem cannot be fixed unless the two parties talked,” Marcos added. “How will you come to an agreement if you’re not even talking?”
Former Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario belied their arguments.
“We were for bilateral talks but we ran into a dead end in terms of using that approach,” Del Rosario said in an interview with ANC’s Headstart. “In the case of Scarborough Shoal, we had over 50 bilateral engagements with them and that did not work because the very first instance in every bilateral meeting with China, they will say to you ‘We have indisputable sovereignty over the entire South China Sea’, so that’s the preface,” Del Rosario explained.
Under China’s Pres. Xi Jinping, ownership of the South China Sea is an issue of “core national interest” like Taiwan and Tibet. There is no wiggle room.
Once Binay and Bongbong accept China’s pre-condition for bilateral talks, what would there be left to negotiate?
93 percent of Filipinos support PNoy government’s position on China
It is curious that neither Binay nor Bongbong are discouraged by the results of a nationwide poll conducted by Social Weather Station (SWS) from December 2013 through January 2014, which showed that “an overwhelming majority of Filipinos (93 percent) back the Aquino government’s efforts to defend the national territory” against China.
This sentiment was also covered by Rappler.com which reported that in July 2015 that Filipinos have given China “a record-low net trust rating of -45” (the unfavorable rating less the favorable rating).
Why did Binay change his mind?
In that same Visayan radio interview, Binay said “China has capital, we need money.” By “we”, he may have been referring to the Philippines as a whole but it also may have been a candid admission of his own personal motive.
Philippine presidential candidates require massive amounts of capital to fund their election campaigns with costs ranging from expensive TV ad buys to providing “gratitude money” to voters to help them with their choice of candidates
Binay became cash-strapped when the Philippine Court of Appeals upheld the order of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to freeze the 242 bank accounts of Binay and those of his immediate family members and alleged fronts like Eduvijes Baloloy and Gregorio Limlingan. The AMLC argued that the total of the bank accounts and transactions in question had reached 16 billion pesos (about $358 million) since 2008, an amount inconsistent with his Statement of Assets and Liabilities Networth (SALN).
Binay’s SALN statement showed that in 17 years as an elective official, his wealth had grown over 500 percent from P8.8 million in 1994 to P57.9 million in 2011 which were already staggering amounts for a municipal official. But they don’t explain how he could accumulate 16 billion pesos in 242 separate bank accounts by 2015. The SALN law states that if an elected official cannot explain wealth beyond his official income, then it is presumed to be the product of graft and corruption.
China’s hooks on Chinoy and non-Chinoy billionaires
It is not just direct Chinese capital that Binay wants but also the financial backing of the Chinoy (Filipino Chinese) billionaires who all have extensive investments in China. Taipan Lucio Tan, for example, owns the Eton Hotel in Shanghai and dozens of buildings in Beijing and he certainly understands that whoever China supports, the Taipans will have to support as well in order to protect their investments in China.
But China even has its hooks on non-Chinoy billionaires. The Ayalas have massive investments in China and Enrique Razon’s main partner in his Solaire Hotel and Casino is Kim Wong, the star witness in the senate investigation into the $81 million stolen from the Bangladesh Central Bank that somehow ended up in Solaire.
When Binay addressed a luncheon of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. on Feb. 15, 2016, he made a public pledge to remove Kim Henares, the current Bureau of Internal Revenue chief, immediately upon assuming the presidency. (“Sa loob ng trenta minutos … wala na kayong Kim Henares”). This promise was met with lusty cheers by businessmen who complain that Kim Henares cannot be bribed.
Binay also craves China’s “technological expertise”
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will conduct the 2016 national and local elections in May of 2016 by using the automated election system (AES), the core of which is the election management system (EMS), which sets up the automation of the polls and manages election-related data. The EMS inputs the data files and prepares the ballot templates for the election results.
As Rappler’s Michael Bueza explained (“How does the PH automated election system work?”, May 15, 2015): “The ballot designs and configuration files are created by a program called an Election Event Designer (EED), while an Election Programming Station (EPS) loads the configuration files into compact flash (CF) cards and “iButton” security keys. These “iButtons” are used by the BEIs to activate the most widely-known component of the current AES: its voting machine, popularly known in the Philippines as the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine…The PCOS machines are operated by a software provided by Dominion Voting Systems and have been licensed to Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) Corp since the 2010 polls.”
The P7.1 billion peso computerized election system set up by the Comelec can be easily hacked and manipulated by China.
China’s People’s Liberation Army hackers
In 2013, a New York Times investigation uncovered a group of Chinese hackers as the source of a major on-going attack on the newspaper. The US government determined that China’s People’s Liberation Army hackers were the culprits in a series of recent cyberattacks on US media.
The New York Times also reported on July 9, 2015 that “the Obama administration revealed that 21.5 million people were swept up in a colossal breach of government computer systems that was far more damaging than initially thought, resulting in the theft of a vast trove of personal information, including Social Security numbers and some fingerprints.”
“The agency said hackers stole “sensitive information,” including addresses, health and financial history, and other private details, from 19.7 million people who had been subjected to a government background check, as well as 1.8 million others, including their spouses and friends. The theft was separate from, but related to, a breach revealed last month that compromised the personnel data of 4.2 million federal employees, officials said. Both attacks are believed to have originated in China,” the New York Times added.
As Businessinsider.com reported on June 5, 2015, “the China-based hack on US government computers is worse than anyone realizes.” Among the disclosures was one from a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contractor who reported that the cyber breach had affected the private files of more than 25,000 DHS workers and thousands of other federal employees.
Comelec no match for PLA hackers
Essentially, China’s People’s Liberation Army hackers can penetrate and manipulate the most sophisticated and securely encrypted US government computers. The Comelec would be “chicken feed” for the Chinese PLA hackers. If they want to manipulate the Comelec’s computer results to show Binay and Bongbong as the winning candidates, they can make it done easily.
With less than a month to go before the elections, the latest Social Weather Station (SWS) polls show Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte surging to the lead over Sen. Grace Poe in the Philippine presidential elections with Binay and Mar Roxas trailing.
In April of 2015, when he was still mulling a presidential run, Duterte advocated for the mandatory return of the ROTC for all college males to instill “discipline, nationalism, and the patriotic duty” to prepare them to defend the Philippines should China become more aggressive in claiming maritime territories that the Philippines.
But a year later, while campaigning in Palawan, Duterte declared that if elected president, he would abide by China’s insistence on bilateral or country-to-country talks to resolve the South China Sea dispute rather through international arbitration. “I have a similar position as China’s. I don’t believe in solving the conflict through an international tribunal. China has said it will not abide by whatever that tribunal’s decision will be. That’s the same case with me,” Duterte answered in reply to a question during a press conference.
In order for Duterte to have a real chance of winning the elections, he can only hope that Beijing heard his answer as well.
Looks like China’s bets are all covered.
(The author hopes that Filipinos who picketed Chinese consulates with signs that said “China hands off West Philippine Sea!” will also demand “China, hands off PH elections!” Please send your comments to [email protected] or mail them t the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).
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