Should Benham Rise be DU30’s Fall?

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FRANCISCO S. TATAD

FRANCISCO S. TATAD

THE government was quicker to protest the portrayal of a fictional Philippine President (Datu Andrada) making improper advances on the fictional US Secretary of State (Elizabeth Mc Cord) in the American TV series “Madam Secretary” than to react to the presence of Chinese vessels at Benham Rise, a 13-million hectare mineral- and biodiversity-rich area in the undersea region near Aurora province, known to be part of our extended continental shelf. This was disconcerting to most of my friends. Andrada and McCord are fictional characters in a fictional TV series while Benham Rise is a real part of our geography. Had the fictional President been American, would the White House, the State Department or any reasonable American individual have made a mountain out of that molehill? I sincerely doubt it.

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In reality, President Rodrigo Duterte likes to make playful passes at pretty TV news reporters during press conferences. In that respect, he may not be totally unlike the fictional Andrada in the TV series. But even if Andrada and DU30 had identical qualities, so long as the fictional character wasn’t called DU30 or made to look physically like DU30, there can be no valid ground for a complaint. It’s fiction, pure and simple. It’s no more scurrilous than Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code which amused readers who knew the distinction between fiction and fact.

It’s a political, not military call
But why does the government want to make a federal case of it, while it is so careful not to be seen asserting its rights over Benham Rise? The area is undisputed, unlike any of the various islands, islets and shoals in the West Philippine/South China Sea, which are highly contested and seen as potential regional flashpoints. China itself acknowledges our rights to the area, except that PDU30 does not want to offend China by asserting those rights. “My order to the military,” he said, “is to tell them straight it’s ours, but to say it in friendship… Let’s not fight about ownership or sovereignty at this time because things are going great for our countries.”

The whole approach seems childish. No one is spoiling for a fight with China; but we have the right and the duty to tell them they have overstepped the limits, if and when they have, as indeed they have. But it is not for our military, as DU30 seems to believe, to tell them our position; it is for the Department of Foreign Affairs to make it clear that Benham Rise is part of our extended continental shelf. What does this mean?

Under the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)—(www.un.org), “the continental shelf is that part of the seabed over which a coastal state exercises sovereign rights with regard to the exploration and exploitation of natural resources, including oil and gas deposits as well as other mineral and biological resources of the seabed. The legal continental shelf extends to a distance of 200 nautical miles from its coast, or further if the shelf naturally extends beyond that limit.”

The extended continental shelf
Where the continental shelf extends beyond 200 nautical miles a State is required by UNCLOS (Article 76) to make a submission to the Commission on Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). This submission sets out the coordinates of the outer limits of the shelf and is accompanied by technical and scientific data to support the claim. The Commission assesses the limits and data submitted by the coastal State and makes recommendations. The outer limits of the continental shelf established by a coastal state based on these recommendations are final and binding.”

A recent statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry conceded that in 2009, the Philippine government submitted the coordinates of the outer limits of the shelf, and that in 2012, the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the submission of the Philippines. It should therefore be free to carry out exploration and development of natural resources in the area, the statement said. But it doesn’t mean the Philippines owns the whole place, the statement added.

The real problem, though, seems to be coming not so much from China as from PDU30 himself. For starters, he seems to mix up Benham Rise with the West Philippine/South China Sea, where he has decided to embrace Pax China without invoking the prudential safeguards provided by international law. On his government’s conflict with China on Scarborough Shoal, he has decided to set aside a ruling of the permanent arbitration tribunal at The Hague, which upholds the rights of the Philippines to the resources within its exclusive economic zone, and declares China’s so-called “nine-dash line”, under which it claims almost all of the South China Sea, to be without any legal basis.

Keeping everyone in the dark
DU30 appears to have granted China free access to the area without informing the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of National Defense, which have been left groping in the dark. While both departments were saying there are no arrangements for Chinese vessels to be conducting surveillance in Benham Rise, DU30 after a number of evasive comments said, to their utter surprise, that he had authorized the Chinese presence.

No document has surfaced to reveal such an agreement, so it is logical to presume that it must have been an informal oral agreement made during a secret conversation between DU30 and a Chinese official, without minutes or witnesses or need to be confirmed by legislation. This is no way to handle the serious and sovereign business of State.

This is a more dangerous version of what President B.S. Aquino III did when he abolished the civilian “chain of command” in order to launch his special operations in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, where 44 Special Action Force commandos perished, after they were denied badly needed military reinforcement. In the Mamasapano tragedy, as recorded in Sally Belosillo’s excellent documentary, “Fallen But Not Forgotten,” Aquino cut off the Secretary of Interior and Local Government, the acting PNP chief, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines from the traditional command chain, and shared his information with no one except the suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima, and the SAF commander who did not trust the military forces in Mindanao.

In Benham Rise, DU30 shared his information with absolutely no one. He decided to act as the full equivalent of the Republic of the Philippines. Which is why there is a demand in Congress for him to disclose the terms of his “agreement” with Beijing.

Amending the impeachment complaint
Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, who has authored the first impeachment complaint against DU30, seems to believe the President’s clandestine agreement with China, in derogation of the territorial integrity and national security interests of the Philippines, carries with it the smell of treason, even though we are not at war with Beijing. This could compel an amendment to the impeachment complaint, whose success is uniformly discounted by those who doubt Magdalo could muster one-third of the total House membership to move the complaint through the House justice committee to the Senate for trial.

But the more serious warning comes from Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who says DU30 would be violating the Constitution if he fails to uphold the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines. China has become harder to deal with after DU30 unilaterally set aside the arbitral ruling on Scarborough Shoal (Panatag) in favor of the Philippines. Having gained a reprieve from the tribunal’s adverse ruling, it became easier for China to deny its surveillance activities at Benham Rise until DU30 revealed he had authorized them. This has now emboldened China to plan the construction of new structures on Scarborough reputedly to monitor the environment. Asked about this, DU30 replied, “we can’t stop Chinese structures on Panatag shoal.”

Giving diplomacy a chance
Justice Carpio’s blunt advice is for DU30 to send the Navy to Panatag, and stop the Chinese construction. If China stops the Navy from discharging its mission, DU30 should call on the US, under the terms of the 1951 US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty, to come to the defense of the Philippines. Under Article IV of the MDT, an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety, and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes. For purposes of Article 1V, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.

This would put to the test the statement made by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, before he was confirmed by the Senate, that the US would not allow China to build structures on any of the disputed islands, and would not allow it to have access to such structures. So far there is no hard information on China’s reported construction plans. With no sufficient information on China’s activities on the disputed islets and islands, the most the DU30 government can do, and so far has been able to do, is to inquire from the Chinese government what they are doing on Panatag and be satisfied with their reply, even without any verification.

This technical capability of the DU30 government is not expected to improve soon. But if it wants to engage in serious diplomacy and achieve something ambitious for itself and for the region, the government should begin to be more creative and explore the full range of short-term and long-term foreign policy options. It should give real diplomacy a chance.

fstatad@gmail.com

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32 Comments

  1. kaya pala for six years na under ng idolo mong si panot, tinayuan ng china ang mga island sa west philippine sea pero ni gaputok, walang ginawa ang mga amerikano na ngsulsol sa abnormal mong presidente at wala din kayong nagawa sa mga maningisda na nawalan ng pagkakakitaan ng buhay pero dahil sa madiplomasyang pamamaraan ni presidente Duterte, naging maayos ang relasyon natin sa china at magsisimula na ang mga bilaeral trades at nakakapangisda na uli ang mga mamamayan natin sa karagatan dun….wag kayong mayayabang magsalita ngayun at sabihing duwag ang presidente samantalang mas malaki pa ang tapang na pinakita niya sa pakikitungo sa kalaban. alam nyung wala naman tayong ibubuga pag pumalag tayo.puro kayo hangin na wala namang naitutulong sa pag unlad ng bansa at bagkus pinapairal ang CRAB MENTALITY ng mga pinoy na ibagsak ang mga gustong umahon sa hirap…at oo, kasama ako sa mga sinasabi nyong mangmang at uneducated na mahigit 16M ng bomoto sa Presidente Duterte at I AM VERY PROUD OF IT AT HINDI AKO NAGSISISI…..

  2. Duterte is a president that hides his decisions from his cabinet members. He is very popular because he is acting like a goon, tough guy. Is he doing the right decisions? I guess yes. He is correcting his past decisions like EJK. I don’t think he will complete his term due to his poor health. He may be our best president we will ever have.

  3. Amnata Pundit on

    Is Duterte’s rise the start of the Catholic Church’s fall? Judging from the public’s indifference to the prelates tantrums thats what it looks like, and that is the real reason the author is going after Duterte like a man possessed.

    • Everyone who reads the comments on a regular basis knows you are a Duterte fanatic Amnata who will defend anything that Duterte does and will call anyone who questions his actions a yellow.

      What Mr Tatad is pointing out is the backroom deals that Duterte is making with China and no one but him knows what the deal is.

      Has Duterte sold part of the country or it’s rights to the surrounding waters to China ? Who knows since Duterte is not informing anyone else in the government of deals he has made with China.

      When the PH government first learns of Chinese ships in Benham Rise that have been in the area for a month Duterte issues this statement.

      “We are now improving the economy because of the help of China said Duterte. Why will you be so shameless just because they are passing by?

      “So what if they stop there? They admit it is within the territory of the Philippines. That does not satisfy you?”

      He described the complaints against China as “nit-picking.”

      DU30 appears to have granted China free access to the area without informing the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of National Defense,.
      While both departments were saying there are no arrangements for Chinese vessels to be conducting surveillance in Benham Rise.

      Turns out that there was a arrangement, Duterte admitted finally that he had authorized the Chinese presence.

      In exchange for what is now the question.

    • Amnata Pundit on

      Gotcha, FYI. Now will the Vatican tell us what the Fatima’s third secret is, or are the standards you want to hold up Duterte for does not apply to the Vatican?

  4. Let us make it simple. Greedy China does not respect international law when it comes to their intent to occupy space that they are not entitled to. If that SOB China already violated the law re. West Philippine sea, tell me a logical reason why that fu.king China will not violate the law re. East Philippine sea? The USA with the cooperation of South Korea, Japan, Australia and Taiwan must solve this illegal invasion of that bul.sht China. Why prolong the agony? It is like an abusive neighbor is violating the law of a community, all neighbors have the right to stop or kill him if he fights back. The Philippines alone can not solve these problems. Furthermore, North Korea must be obliterated. General D. MacArthur could have obliterated China during the Korean war.

  5. Si Digong takot kay Carpio kasi lagi tama sinasabi ni Carpio… ngayon may sinasabi si Digong na maapektuhan daw ang freedom of navigation sa South China Sea pag tinayo ng China mga structures sa panatag. Noong sinabi kasi ni Digong na WALA TAYO magagawa sa WPS, eh siguradong IMPEACH si LOLO. Dahil pag tataksil mga salita nya. Sec. Lorenzana, paki batukan nga si Digong baka high pa sa mga gamot nya.

  6. ‘This was disconcerting to most of my friends.., ‘others said’, ‘my friend told me’, ‘i heard in the coffee shop’….hay naku Tatad i know you know more than that. Don’t fool us…never again Kit, never will we give up the fight to your own kind.

    • never will we give up the fight to your own kind.
      —————————————————————

      What kind would that be ? A person with some common sense and a education ?

      There are millions of uneducated masses in the country, you’re just one more Mike.

  7. pablo sanchez on

    Dear Sir Tatad,

    THE government was quicker to protest the portrayal of a fictional Philippine President in the American TV series “Madam Secretary” than to react to the presence of Chinese vessels at Benham Rise – did you write an article when Fake VP Leni reacts to buntis and trolls but never heard her deny nor admit the NAGALEAKS?

    In Benham Rise, DU30 shared his information with absolutely no one. He decided to act as the full equivalent of the Republic of the Philippines. Which is why there is a demand in Congress for him to disclose the terms of his “agreement” with Beijing. – did Trollanes tells the senate on what he is doing in a backdoor meeting for several times in Beijing before the chinese started reclamation in WPC?

    and my question to you is HOW WELL DID YOU KNOW THE PRESIDENT? are you smarter than him? why do you want to rush things up and make the Benham rise a bigger issue? I know that it is our extended continental shelf but it not give us the right for exclusive navigation

    can you please respect us for choosing him as a President and dont rush things to unseat him?

    give him time and he will prove that he is for the greater good and dont worry, what happen in WPC will surely won’t happen in BENHAM RISE.

    • How sure hindi mangyayari yung sa Benham Rise sa nangyari sa WPS? and my question to you is HOW WELL DID YOU KNOW THE PRESIDENT? nasabihan kb nya sa plano nya? share mo naman.

    • He had all the nine months to think for the good of our republic vs the Chinese. But he valued the Chinese leaders word than his own adviser. Quote on quote, we can not go to war against China. Its Du30’s simplistic thinking, that the quickest way to settle a conflict is by killing the enemy. What a pity, being a leader of a country, diplomacy is not in his vocabulary.

  8. If China stops the Navy from discharging its mission, DU30 should call on the US, under the terms of the 1951 US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty, to come to the defense of the Philippines. – Meaning let’s tempt the fates and see if the US will actually come to aid? Why would we want to do that?

  9. kirikiri togo on

    hahahaha!!!! sa kay Pnoy tuwid or tuwad na daan….sa kay DU30 bulok at baloktot na daan… saan na ngayon ang paniwalaan ng mga Pinoy?

  10. Mr. Tatad seem to also secretly hoping for the removal of Duterte. May be he is still dreaming of that Transformation Council that they have jumpstarted in Lipa City in 2015 to materialize. The people have spoken, and the overwhelming support continue to snowball, and this must be the reason why until now, Pulse Asia and SWS cannot release any survey as regard the continuous popularity of Pres. Deuterte.

  11. Pax sinica better than pax china. What did the Chinese ship did in the Benham rise vicinity? Did they exploit the underwater resources there? From the look of it is they just tranverse the area which is allowed under UNCLOS. Regarding Scarborough shoal, the Chinese already controlled it, what can we do? Declare war, dragged US to fight the Chinese by using Phil navy crafts against Chinese coastguard ships which are civilian in nature? Who will appear in the eyes of the world that provoke the war which might evev lead to WW3? Israel even occopied tge Golan height amid the protest of the UN, what happened, did it withdraw?

  12. Basahin nyo po ang 1st island chain at 2nd island chain na strategy ng CHINA para malaman nyo bakit gigil na gigil sila sa mga bahura natin at benham rise.

  13. Rene Evidente on

    There he goes again with a question. Are you not sure of yourself? Starting with a question is nothing but intrigue!

  14. DUTERTE is an ENIGMA. He is the master of DOUBLE TALK. In the end he will fall VICTIM of his own FOLLY.

  15. I notice that tatad is becoming soft with his tirade against the president. That’s from the time he was told that he is being wiretappped.

  16. eto ka nanaman Tatad! wala ka na bang ibang isusulat kundi malice at intrigue kay Duterte? Wala naman ni isa ang tumama. Imbes na tumulong puro ka puna

    • Ano ba ginawa ni duterte sa Panatag? na san na yung jetski na sinasabi nya? Yung panatag SA ATIN yun!!! kaso pinamimigay na nya sa China, pati ang Benham Rise na sobrang layo na sya China pinamimigay na din nya… PAGTATAKSIL ang ginawa nya at grounds to para ma-impeach si Lolo. KAWAWA naman mga mangngisda natin, sayang ang langis na pwede natin makuha at higit sa lahat mas ligtas tayo kung wala mga base ng China na malapit sa atin. DUTERTE TAKSIL!!!

    • Well it is because it is a well known fact that Duterte and his stupid allies (especially Alvarez) do not accept any kind of criticism. Give them a negative criticism and they will try their best to eliminate you. I hope that Alvarez will soon befall on him his END.

  17. Jovelyn Rojas on

    Mandamus would lie to compel the President to seek the enforcement of the ruling of the Arbitral Tribunal. The SC should issue the writ in light of his refusal to act in the best interest of the country.

  18. Blame the 16M voters who voted for a lunatic and stupid president. There’s no doubt in the Filipino minds that Duterte and his allies (including the cabinet members) got billions of dollars from China in exchange for Scarborough schoal and Benham rise. Let us all Filipinos rise and pray to save the Philippines from Duterte and his allies. May they all get the punishment from GOD to have incurable cancer (including their children and grandchildren).
    Also burn to hell all those abusive children of rich Chinese families.

    • Lord Neiox Jumangit on

      @Bhing Go

      Well, I am part of the 16M who voted for this lunatic and stupid president, and I have nothing to regret about that. His work is just getting started, and its still a long way. All I am praying and hoping is for the betterment of my country. Also, I am an ordinary people, and to say it, in our community, we can feel the improvement in just a matter of months. Please, don’t include HIM in any opinions you have.

      Regarding the Benham Rise, we don’t still know the reason why China is exploring it. And hearing that this lunatic and stupid president have a go signal for them to do it. Maybe, and maybe, there is something that is being cook.

    • Got any proof? Kinfly present it or at least mention where you got your info so we readers will at least not suspect that you are just spreading unproven allegations

    • pablo sanchez on

      blame the 16m voters who voted for Digong? Asided from winning the arbitrary case what else is the achievement of your Pnoy? did he pass the FOI? did he started the LRT to Cavite? compare past admins 6 years achievement to the achievement for 10 months of this admin before you complain.

    • @PABLO SANCHEZ

      LRT to Cavite was initialized in the PNOY admin, pati yung MRT 7 sa Commonwealth, yung mga toll sa NAIA, yung isa pang toll sa Cavite, yung pagbili ng 12 FA 50 Jets sa Korea, pag gawa ng mga tulay at kalsada sa Probinsya. Yung mga sinasabi mo dyan si Digong lang umattend ng ground breaking pero yung plano sa past admin pa.. FYI lang po.. nakakahiya ka kasi. well ganyan naman mga Dutards gaya ni Mocha, mga nakakahiya