Saturday, April 23, 2011

“Taken for a ride” in the SCS

“Taken for a ride” in the SCS

By Erick San Juan



After seven months since the PNoy administration reorganizes the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) there are still no concrete actions (so far) as to the status of the so-called review. And now the Palace, through its spokesperson Edwin Lacierda came out with a statement that the Commission is now reviewing the “jurisdiction” aspect of the said agreement. Meaning this jurisdiction aspect review is just a reaction to the call of Rep. Erin Tanada to terminate the VFA who is a Liberal Party member where the Chairman is the President himself.


Just recently, House Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III calls for the termination of the RP-US agreement through the proposed joint congressional resolution. This should post concern to the administration because Rep. Tanada is also an LP member meaning the call for the VFA termination is beyond party affiliation.


On the latter part of last year, Sen. Miriam Santiago also filed the Senate Resolution to amend/abrogate the VFA. For twelve years since the Senate ratified the VFA, it seems that it was more for the benefit of Uncle Sam than to the Filipinos.


It was also in November of last year when Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr., chairman of the presidential commission on the VFA defended the VFA before the legislative oversight committee on the visiting forces agreement (LOVFA). He said that “Our defense partnership with the US plays a vital role in enhancing Philippine national security, maintaining regional peace and stability and promoting economic development.”

  Translation – this statement is pure “chubibo” (spin).


But if we will analyze the confluence of events in the South China Sea, it was repeatedly noted that Beijing is not comfortable with Washington’s insistence of meddling in the disputes among the claimants in the contested area. With the reported existence of a virtual US military base in the island of Balabac (via the VFA) near Palawan, near the Spratly islands, the aim of maintaining peace and stability in the region is a big farce. The sought after

  peace in the region can never be achieved if there will be no transparency between and among the ASEAN members and China.


As for our national security vis-à-vis the country’s economic development, we can achieve this even without the VFA. It was actually a big paradox that the presence of the US troops in Mindanao for over a decade now through the VFA has brought more terrorists activities than before. It was supposed to curb such activities but after twelve years, its still the same.


It is high time to really have a genuine review of this Visiting Forces Agreement and analyze its benefits (if any). As I always say, we have been shortchanged with the secret dealings of this country’s past leaders, we just cannot afford another one. There is too much to give up – our sovereignty or what was still left of it, and a possible regional conflict and be a pawn to a proxy war that has been brewing for quite some time now.


The Joint Resolution filed by Rep. Erin Tanada is a wake up call on PNoy’s leadership to take a firm stand on the fate of the VFA for the true benefit of the country.


The rest of us must be vigilant as to what this comprehensive review will all lead us to or we will all be taken for a ride towards a war courtesy of our “friends”.

 Why  am I so "makulit" regarding this issue? Americans are our friends but just like any lover, we don't have to spoil them. They will level with us if we will be united and will have self respect. We still have patriots in the government  service. I hope and pray that they will advocate a Philippines with leaders who will talk "turkey"  with the imperialists and get what's due us. God save the Philippines!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


By Erick San Juan

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and adjacent waters.”

“China owns sovereignty and jurisdiction over the related sea area, seabed and subsoil.”


“The sovereignty of China over the South China Sea and related rights and jurisdiction are well-grounded from both historical and legal perspectives.”

The statements mentioned above are the usual pronouncement of the Chinese government when the issue of the disputed islands in the South China Sea is being raised.

If all the claimants will protest that the said contested area is theirs under historical and legal perspectives, a grim scenario is in the offing.

As in the case of the Philippines, our government filed a diplomatic protest (last April 5) before the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, asserting that the sprawling portion of the Spratlys that we are claiming — called the Kalayaan Island Group or KIG — is an integral part of our territory, and we have “sovereignty and jurisdiction” over that area.

The diplomatic protest was filed due to the reported March 2 “harassment” by two Chinese patrol boats on the Department of Energy oil exploration vessel in the Reed Bank near the Spratlys.

Furthermore, the Philippines questioned China's sweeping claims laid out in its "nine-dotted line" claim over the entire South China Sea submitted to the U.N. in 2009. Actually, Malaysia and Vietnam had earlier filed their protests against China's claim. Meaning, this "nine-dotted line" claim over the entire South China Sea by Beijing is really out of tune in the eyes of the rest of the claimants.

But then again, the usual line (aka rhetoric) from Beijing that they will abide by the rules of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and committed to maintaining peace and stability in the area. And that they will assure all of us of a peaceful resolution to any disputes. But why the harassment? Is this doublespeak? Just asking.

In a paid ad by The South East Asian Sea Foundation at the Manila Times dated April 18,2011 entitled "The South China Dispute: Smaller Nations need to Raise Their Game", It even advised the Philippines to join Vietnam,Malaysia and Indonesia in asserting that the Spratly's don't deserve EEZ's or continental shelves of their own or at least deserve little of these maritime zones. The nations concerned must never forget that "united they stand,divided they fall."

In a civilized world of diplomacy, we all want peace and security. No room for bloody confrontations, that is why the diplomatic protest was filed before an international body like the United Nations to resolve all disputes in a peaceful way.

The undercurrents between Beijing and the rest of the ASEAN members seems to be growing instead of easing the tensions as what is being stated in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. We are not an alarmist but this could be a wake-up call to PNoy’s administration to play his Beijing card well. Or we can all be dragged into a regional conflict of a possible proxy war between China and Uncle Sam.

As of this writing, the supposed Beijing visit of PNoy next month was put off (again?) and was set tentatively in the later part of this year. The reason was not told by the Palace and the rest of us will be in the wait and see mode as transparency is again being clouded with perceived problems now faced by this administration.

Let us all be vigilant because the old practice of secrecy seems to be the agenda of the government.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Philippines-In the Middle of a Geostrategical Fault Line

Philippines-In the Middle of a Geostrategical Fault Line
By Erick San Juan

Since the March 11, a triple disaster hit Japan, then a major fault line has emerged-the new geostrategical fault line. It is a fact that Japan is a very close and important ally of Uncle Sam in this region. Although, a year before the said disaster, tensions between Japan and the US escalated due to the relocation of the US Marine base in Okinawa that even led to the resignation of its Prime Minister. Now that the said base will be transferred completely to Guam by 2014, it would be a question of who will control the maritime supremacy in the region.

Eyes are now focused in the Philippines with Japan now coping of what was left after the triple disaster. It will take a decade for the Japanese to rise again and it will be a very costly one.

There are several factors that put us in a tight situation when it comes to our relations with both Beijing and Washington. Even if the present administration is doing a balancing act, we cannot do away with the past administration’s reported “secret deals” with these two giants.

To our regular followers, both in our writings and on the airwaves, we discussed and wrote about the importance of our country in the region’s geopolitical play. As was always written in history books, our location is strategically situated where major chokepoints transverse.

Added to this is the fact that we are one of the major claimants in the disputed areas in the South China Sea. Furthermore, this dispute over the contested area is not just among the ASEAN members and China but also of the US. Why is this so?

Geographically speaking, both the Philippines and China, and so is the rest of the ASEAN members are permanent residents of the region while the US does not. But the fact remains that there are permanent American interests in the area.

“The United States is a trading nation. One-half of our sea coast faces Asia, the site of our largest markets and some of our closest friends and strongest allies. The continued creation of American jobs is dependent on selling American products overseas. Without doubt, the importance of American interests in Asia will grow, not shrink in the coming years. We may not be "planted" in East Asia (and the Southeast Asia) permanently, but we are bound to the region by permanent interests. And for the last 100 years that has meant maintaining a tangible presence in the region-first by colonies, then by military victory, and today by invitation."

"Given these strategic considerations-time, national goals, and geography-the key question a strategist in this region must address is, Is it possible to accommodate the interests of all the major players in this region-to achieve the ends all wish to achieve-without conflict?" (Balancing Interests in the Strategic Triangle by Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt)

As what General Joe Almonte, former National Security Adviser, expressed succinctly and pointedly. He said: “given the realities in the region today, the US and China must really come to terms, not just with the evolving situation but come to terms with what they feel are their interests and that of the interests of the rest of the world. When China claimed last July that the SCS is their core interest, it means that their claim of sovereignty in the region is not negotiable like their claim of sovereignty in Taiwan and Tibet. Now, if you look at the map, the SCS is really a maritime heartland of the region. Anyone who controls that body of water will control both insular and peninsular South East Asia. And if that happens, whoever controls will have an influence, heavily, in the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific. If we are not careful, we will become a province of China.”

Translation - PNoy and his strategists (if he has any) must act fast but with caution when it comes to handling the issue at hand with China and the US. For a short period of PNoy’s administration, a lot of crucial events happened with our diplomatic relation with Beijing that calls for a lot of transparency in the process. We have gone through a lot of secrecy from the previous administration that we are now feeling its aftershocks. We had enough already and we cannot take another dose of such leadership style.

"At the end of the day, everything comes down to what is best for our country and our people. Absent any action and resolve on our part, other countries might well decide what is best for us." (The South China Sea disputes by Roberto R. Romulo)

PNoy should be wary in dealing with our 'friends and allies' for any mistake might lead to a situation that will take us all in a mutually assured destruction.

God bless the Philippines!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Testing Diplomacy in Contested Waters

Testing Diplomacy in Contested Waters
By Erick San Juan

It looks like the waters near the contested area in the South China Sea has been (and will be) the site for a couple of naval military exercises.

One of which was the recently concluded MALPHI-LAUT 14-11 that took place from March 16 to 26 in Palawan which is an annual naval military exercises between the Philippines and Malaysia since 1994 through the Defense Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This is a bilateral maritime training exercise that aims to strengthen the relationship and enhance the mutual co-operation between both navies through the development of combined operational doctrines, practices and naval tactics.

Now on its 14th time, our country and Malaysia have been alternately hosting the Malaysian-Philippines Laut (MALPHI-LAUT) naval exercises. This year’s venue (in Palawan) has nothing to do with the March 2 incident at the Reed Bank near the disputed Spratly islands.

According to Navy spokesman Capt. Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, MALPHI-LAUT was planned six months before. “It was way before the Reed Bank incident…it is not being done because of what happened. It’s not. The planning activity between the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Philippine Navy started second semester of 2010 then the final planning conference happened fourth quarter of 2010 and then now the implementation.”

It was good that this clarification was made for there were speculations that this year’s venue of the MALPHI-LAUT naval exercises was a reaction to the March 2 Reed Bank incident.

Actually the said incident even led the Philippine government to lodged a diplomatic protest against China, asking Beijing to explain why Chinese Navy patrol boats harassed a Philippine-sanctioned oil exploration vessel at the Reed Bank area, a disputed area in the South China Sea west of Palawan province.

The second one is the 27th RP-US Balikatan exercises, another bilateral military exercises that will be conducted from April 5 to 15. Again, this year’s Balikatan will be held in part in the Palawan area.

These two naval exercises that happened and will happen near the Spratly, near the contested areas, in the South China Sea, will somehow add to the already existing “tension” in the disputed area. Other evil-minded individuals might find it as a provocation on the part of China, a very “aggressive” claimant who insisted that the area is theirs.

But due to the existing Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC) signed by the members of ASEAN and Beijing, the effort is always there to make the South China Sea a place of peace, cooperation and friendship.

The DOC is meant to diminish the threat of war or a military clash in the South China Sea. It has important significance in creating an environment for cooperation, peace, and stability in the region and in promoting trust, confidence building, and mutual understanding between ASEAN and China. That is why Beijing is very firm on its stand on the bilateral settlements of whatever disputes which concern the islands in the South China Sea.

Whatever has transpired in the planning to include Palawan in this year’s Balikatan exercises is not helpful and actually adding some fuel to the fire, so to speak.

Or, this could be a naval exercise that will address any future conflict in the area in support to what has already been reported of the existing US “military base” in Balabac, Palawan. Added to this is the presence of some 600 US troops stationed in Mindanao for several years now from the US Special Forces as reported by Lt. Col. Randolf Cabangbang, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command.

Now that this information came directly from our spokesman from the Western Mindanao Command, and according to the news report, the US troops are “deployed in the country under the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries,” how come they are using the MDT instead of the VFA(Visiting Forces Agreement)? I smell something fishy here.

This administration had to do something about this before it’s too late. If diplomacy fails, and a regional conflict will start because of wrong foreign policy (that was not corrected from the past administration), it will be a Filifinish. God forbid!