SONA and the dogfight over Spratlys
The lustiest cheers that greeted President Noynoy Aquino’s July 25 State of the Nation Address (SONA) came when he declared: “Malinaw ang pahiwatig natin ngayon sa buong mundo: Ang sa Pilipinas ay sa Pilipinas; kapag tumapak ka sa Recto Bank, para ka na ring tumapak sa Recto Avenue.” (“Now, our message to the world is clear: What is ours is ours; when you trample on Recto Bank, you trample on Recto Avenue.”)
Recto Avenue lies in the heart of Manila while the Recto Bank is located in the Spratly Islands just 80 nautical miles from Palawan province within the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The President’s message was loud and clear: If China installs its $900 million oil rig in the Recto Bank, it will constitute an invasion of Philippine territory no less than if it installed the derelict on Recto Avenue.
In his SONA speech, Pres. Aquino informed the Filipino people that “soon, we will be seeing capability upgrades and the modernization of the equipment of our armed forces. At this very moment, our very first Hamilton Class Cutter is on its way to our shores. We may acquire more vessels in the future—these, in addition to helicopters and patrol crafts, and the weapons that the AFP, PNP, and DOJ will buy in bulk to get a significant discount. This goes to show how far we can go with good governance; we can buy equipment at good prices, without having to place envelopes in anyone’s pockets.”
“We do not wish to increase tensions with anyone” he added, “but we must let the world know that we are ready to protect what is ours. We are also studying the possibility of elevating the case on the West Philippine Sea to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, to make certain that all involved nations approach the dispute with calm and forbearance.”
The President’s stout assertion of the Philippine government’s determination to defend the Spratly Islands from China’s aggression was surprising given the fact that Manila’s commentariat—the opinion makers of Manila’s newspapers—have largely ignored the Spratlys issue. When it is covered, as a few Philippine Daily Inquirer columnists have ventured to do, the comments were generally cynical, dismissive and disdainful of “saber-rattling” calls to defend the Spratlys.
A few examples:
In his June 22, 2011 Outlook column, Rigoberto Tiglao described the feeble acquiescence of previous presidents to China’s encroachment on the Spratlys. But instead of encouraging spine as an alternative, Tiglao cautions that “this history should emphasize the need to go on a different tack other than that juvenile ‘just-try-crossing-my-line’ dare of the Aquino administration.” I guess Tiglao believes the adult would say, “Yes, China sir, cross-my-line anytime.”
In his July 22, 2011 Analysis column in the Inquirer, Amando Doronilla questioned the wisdom of the trip to the Spratlys by five party-list Batasan representatives. “What purpose did the intervention of Philippine congressmen, through their visit to the Spratlys, serve? On the face of it, it was no more than a flag-waving exercise. The Chinese do not respect such hollow gestures.”
At least these members of Congress are visiting their own constituents instead of the dozens of their colleagues who regularly “intervene” in Las Vegas to watch the Pacquiao fights. Besides, does China respect any Philippine gesture that asserts sovereignty over the Spratlys?
In his July 25, 2011 Sounding Board column in the Inquirer, Fr. Joaquin Bernas provides a brief history of the Spratlys dispute but arrives at a discouraging conclusion: “Only the UN can settle this controversy authoritatively; but no one wants to accompany the Philippines to the UN.” Fr. Bernas, an independent nation is not like a child who needs to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to seek redress at the UN.
In his Kuwento column on July 23, 2011, Benjamin Pimentel provides a glimpse of the people who reside on Kalayaan island—“the human faces behind the battle for the Spratlys.” He fears that “the saber-rattling, the chest-pounding, and macho-talking” of politicians may spoil the idyllic lives of the fishermen who regularly “barter coconuts for Chinese cigarettes”. He expresses contempt for “Filipinos eager to defend the Philippine claim” because he believes “it’s usually the few well-connected, and well-financed parties who have typically prevailed in a scramble to exploit an oil-rich part of the Earth.”
Even though oil in the Spratlys, according to China’s estimate, can generate $50 billion in revenues a year, the possibility that only the filthy rich of the Philippines would exploit it is enough to discourage Pimentel who also dreads “the prospect of another ecological disaster within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone”.
I guess we have no choice then but to continue to send our 10 million OFWs to slave away in the Middle East and other countries just so they can remit $17 billion a year to fund the development of the Philippine economy. Yes, Mr. Pimentel, a bright future of more coconuts for cigarettes.
But I don’t want to see war break out in the Spratlys too. In fact, I had a dream the other night about how China and the Philippines could resolve the Spratly dispute peacefully.
In my dream, China’s top officials realized that while they could easily defeat the Philippines, they feared involving the U.S. and igniting a world war. So they proposed to settle their dispute with a dog fight. The Philippines readily accepted the offer realizing that its lone cutter was no match for China’s formidable armada.
The negotiators agreed to give each side five years to develop its best fighting dog which would then battle to the death, mano a mano, with the winner taking undisputed possession of the Spratlys.
China was determined to win at all costs so it assembled its top scientists to crossbreed the humongous Tibetan Mastiffs with the meanest Siberian wolves. After five years of pumping their creatures with the most advanced steroids, they finally produced the strongest, most ferocious dog on earth.
On the day of the fateful match, the Filipinos arrived with an odd-looking ten-foot long Dachshund causing everyone in the arena to laugh and feel pity for the Filipinos.
After the announcer asked if the dogs were ready to rumble, the Dachshund waddled towards the center of the ring as China’s beast was unleashed from its chains and released from the steel bars of its cage. When the China dog lunged at the throat of his prey, the Dachshund turned and quickly opened its jaws and swallowed the beast whole in one bite.
The stunned crowd let out a collective gasp of disbelief.
In shock, China’s officials approached the Filipinos, muttering to themselves, “How could this be? Our top scientists worked for five long years to breed an incredible killing machine.”
The Filipinos smiled and replied. “Well, for five years, we have had a team of Filipino plastic surgeons from Dr. Vicky Belo’s clinic working to make an alligator look like a Dachshund.”
Then I woke up, smiling.
(For more information about the Spratlys, please log on to epeoplepower.ph. Send comments to [email protected] or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call (415) 334-7800).
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