Wake up! By Erick San Juan
The New York Times Sunday magazine cover story (October 27) - “A Sea of Trouble,” with the second heading “A Game of Shark and Minnow,” is actually an eye-opener for all of us especially to our leaders. Why is this so? The New York Times story cited the following: In a remote corner of the South China Sea, 105 nautical miles from the Philippines, lies a submerged reef the Filipinos call Ayungin Shoal.
In most ways it resembles the hundreds of other reefs, islands, rock clusters and cays that collectively are called the Spratly Islands. But Ayungin is different. In the reef’s shallows there sits a forsaken ship, manned by eight Filipino troops whose job is to keep China in check.
Yes what we have in the contested area is an eight-manned ship, a dilapidated one, actually “a World War II-era ship called the Sierra Madre, which the Philippine government ran aground on the reef in 1999 and has since maintained as a kind of post-apocalyptic military garrison. The small detachment of Filipino troops stationed there struggling to survive extreme mental and physical desolation.”
And this same decaying ship could be the next battleground between China and our country, whether we like it or not.
“The Sierra Madre at one time was the U.S.S. Harnett County, built as a tank-landing ship for World War II and then repurposed as a floating helicopter and speedboat hub in the rivers of Vietnam. In 1970, the U.S. gave the ship to the South Vietnamese, and in 1976. it was passed on to the Philippines. But nobody had ever taken the time to strip all of the communications gear or even old U.S. logbooks and a fleet guide from 1970.” (Ibid)
Recently, the Filipino troops manning the Sierra Madre were given a power point presentation of the real situation in the contested area particularly in Ayungin. Just imagine the magnitude of the role these men have in the whole region that will have a great impact in the confluence of events particularly in geopolitics.
Unfortunately, China through “Maj. Gen. Zhang Zhaozhong, of China’s People’s Liberation Army, said in a television interview in May, using the Chinese term for Scarborough. (That there are three different names for the same set of uninhabitable rocks tells you much of what you need to know about the region.) He described a “cabbage strategy,” which entails surrounding a contested area with so many boats —fishermen, fishing administration ships, marine surveillance ships, navy warships — that “the island is thus wrapped layer by layer like a cabbage.”
There can be no question that the cabbage strategy is in effect now at Ayungin and has been at least since May. General Zhang, in his interview several months ago, listed Ren’ai Shoal (the Chinese name for Ayungin) in the P.L.A.’s “series of achievements” in the South China Sea. He had already put it in the win column, even though eight Filipino marines still live there. He also seemed to take some pleasure in the strategy. Of taking territory from the Philippines, he said: “We should do more such things in the future. For those small islands, only a few troopers are able to station on each of them, but there is no food or even drinking water there. If we carry out the cabbage strategy, you will not be able to send food and drinking water onto the islands. Without the supply for one or two weeks, the troopers stationed there will leave the islands on their own. Once they have left, they will never be able to come back.” (Ibid)
The PLA’s cabbage operation in Ayungin is a clear sign how desperate they are to occupy the area, first in Ayungin and before we know it, the whole group of islands known as Spratlys. And the only thing we have there manning the “Dangerous Ground” (a reference made to Spratlys by navigators since the 18th century) is the Sierra Madre with our troops miserably hanging on to what was left of the vintage ship.
I just could not imagine that in the midst of all of these huge funds misused by the chosen few, there in the middle of the sea, our Filipino troops trying to survive in order to protect our sovereignty.
Any sane person will ask after reading this cover story of the NYT magazine, is the Philippines present administration numb on the plight of the eight Filipinos living (or slowly dying) there inside the Sierra Madre? And if not, why the hell they are not doing anything?
All the rhetoric and doublespeak about military modernization through the controversial Malampaya funds to address the South China Sea issue are all BS if such simple thing as this will not be resolved to save what is left of our sovereignty.
China’s cabbage op is already in place now and through this scheme, any miscalculated move will always be perceived as an act of provocation. A provocation that might lead to a regional conflict in the process. God forbid.