‘Our strongest weapon against a big nation like China is noise’
As national security adviser to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Roilo Golez urged an aggressive diplomatic campaign to counter China’s increasing encroachment on Philippine territory in the South China Sea.
“Our strongest weapon against a big nation like China is noise,” Golez once said.
He kept making noise about China’s militarization of the South China Sea up to his last hours, in an interview on dzRH radio early on June 11.
The former Philippine Navy officer and member of the House of Representatives died of a heart attack later that Monday morning. He was 71.
He was buried at Heritage Park in Taguig City on Saturday.
Golez was a lecturer at the National Defense College of the Philippines and one of the three organizers of the West Philippine Sea Coalition.
He was also the founder and chair of the Movement and Alliance to Resist China’s Aggression.
Below are some of his thoughts on the South China Sea disputes.
“We should use multilateral forums to tell the world what China is doing.”
Golez made that statement in a radio interview shortly after he assumed office as national security adviser in 2001. “Our strongest weapon against a big nation like China is noise,” he said.
China at the time was massing fishing vessels near Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal), a rich fishing ground located 230 kilometers from the coast of Zambales province.
China eventually seized the shoal in 2012, forcing the Philippines to challenge Beijing’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea in the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which resolved the case in Manila’s favor in 2016.
It’s all about oil
“The issue in the Spratlys is oil. Lots and lots of oil. Roughly around $3 trillion worth of oil plus natural gas and other mineral resources. And China’s huge military might is apparently to clobber its tiny neighbors, including the Philippines, to dominate the vast oil deposits believed to be in Spratlys.”
As a member of the House of Representatives 20 years ago, Golez gave the reasons for China’s oil motive in “The Spratlys: Challenges and Opportunities”: “It is projected that China, previously a net exporter of oil as late as 1990, will need to import around 1,200,000 barrels of oil a day by the year 2000. China is obviously thirsting for the Spratlys’ nearly 200 billion barrels of oil believed to be deposited in the area as estimated by the Chinese Ministry of Geology and Mineral Resources.”
He added: “The [Spratly] Islands not only occupy an important strategic position, but every reef and island is connected to a large area of territorial water and an exclusive economic zone that is priceless.”
The Spratly archipelago in the middle of the South China Sea consists of more than 100 small islands, reefs and atolls surrounded by rich fishing grounds. Many of them are believed to be sitting atop vast oil and natural gas deposits.
The Spratlys are claimed in their entirety by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, while some parts of the archipelago are claimed by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.
About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
“Using their superior forces and technology, the Chinese have converted several of the reefs into garrisons and virtual minibases for their warships.”
By 1998, Golez said, China already had a chain of fortified reefs over a 223-kilometer line pointing eastward like a dagger at the Palawan Passage and encircling the islands claimed by the Philippines, as well as acting as an observation post over Recto (Reed) Bank.
“These fortified reefs include the Fiery Cross (known as Kagitingan in the Philippines) Reef, Chigua Reef [or] Johnson (South) Reef (Mabini), Gaven Reef (Burgos), etc., and the last target appears to be Mischief (Panganiban) Reef,” Golez said.
“If unchallenged, the Chinese apparently intend to construct huge concrete structures similar to those already existing in the aforementioned reefs,” he added.
Learning from Vietnam
“We can learn from the Vietnamese, who have shown persistence and fortitude in fighting for their claims.”
Golez said Vietnam, a Southeast Asian nation hardened by decades of fighting giant powers, had been engaged in near skirmishes with China in spite of the mauling its naval forces received from the Chinese Navy in 1988.
In September 1988, it was China’s turn to protest Vietnam’s grabbing a few reefs in the South China Sea.
Joint dev’t agreement
“I also hope, however bleak the prospects are, avenues will be opened for a joint development agreement (JDA).”
A JDA has been proposed as a way forward for claimants in the Spratlys. By pooling resources, all could effectively exploit their offshore resources.
“I’m worried that without outrage, if the world will not be angry, China’s next step is to go down south closer to us.”
Golez expressed this worry a few months before the May 2016 elections after reports that China had deployed surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island in the Paracel archipelago and installed radars on Calderon (Cuarteron) Reef, part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands, and that China had sent seven ships to Quirino (Jackson) Atoll, preventing Filipino fishermen from accessing traditional fishing grounds.
Golez said that without sufficient international outrage, Beijing’s next move might be to deploy antiaircraft missiles and install radars on territory closer to the Philippine mainland.
“We cannot compromise our territorial integrity.”
Just days before he died, Golez reminded the government of the importance of national security, saying “it cannot be compromised” for economic gains.
Golez’s comment followed reports that China had deployed long-range bombers on disputed islands in the South China Sea.
In an interview on ABS-CBN, Golez said this was a “clear and present danger to the Philippines” that should prompt President Duterte to convene the National Security Council to assess how to handle the situation.
Golez said the landing of bombers was too big an escalation of the tensions in the South China Sea for the Philippines to ignore and predicted that more bombers would be deployed in the Spratly islands next.
“I strongly recommend for the Philippines finally to lodge a very strong diplomatic protest,” he said. —Compiled by Inquirer Research
Sources: Inquirer Archives and ABS-CBN website
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