But why wasn’t a US ship deployed to Panatag in 2012?


A lot of Filipinos seem to have cheered the American guided-missile ship USS Lassen’s taunt at Beijing by its act of breaching the other day the 12-nautical mile zones around Subi and Mischief Reefs which China claims are part of its territorial waters.

The Chinese were furious, accusing the US of militarizing the Spratly islands area. Indeed, the Chinese have played it smart: Its vessels at the disputed areas, even those it sent in 2012 to grab Panatag Shoal from us, aren’t warships of the People’s Liberation Army, but technically civilian vessels of the Chinese Coast Guard, China Marine Surveillance and its Fisheries Law Enforcement Command.

The USS Lassen’s journey is likely politically motivated, as the ruling Democratic Party’s Achilles heel in the presidential elections next year is its rival Republican Party’s charges that it has been weak in projecting its military power (think: ISIS’ rampage in Syria and Iraq, with Russia, not the US, now the avenging angel in the area.).

Indeed, the Republican Party can hurl the accusation that the transformation of submerged rocks and atolls in the Spratlys into a chain of islands where Chinese military airstrips and fortresses could be built in the coming years occurred under a Democratic president.

President Obama probably got worried that he might have appeared too chummy with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Chinese leader’s recent three-day state visit to the US, so he rushed some US Navy standing operation plan to challenge the Chinese in the disputed Spratly area right after President Xi left.

I hope the Chinese realize it’s all for show, and I suspect Obama himself told President Xi not to overreact.

However, former security adviser and congressional candidate, Roilo Golez, in his Facebook post hailed the US move, claiming that “China blinked.” “The US gave enough warning about this sail-by. It wasn’t a sneak sortie,” he wrote. “I surmise that the US gave China sufficient time, around two weeks, to mobilize its assets in the area, like the usual white ships, to try to stop the announced Freedom of Navigation run. The message was, I am coming, stop me if you can.’”

Spot the difference: One is a civilian ship, the other is a guidedmissile destroyer (USS Lassen)

Spot the difference: One is a civilian ship, the other is a guidedmissile destroyer (USS Lassen)

I hope Golez is right. My sense, though, is that the USS Lassen’s sail-by was unnecessary, even a blunder on the part of the US. It would backfire, with adverse consequences for us and Vietnam, the two ‘hot’ claimants of the Spratlys.

The USS Lassen is very serious stuff. It’s an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, or one of the largest American destroyers. It’s been designed for combat, equipped with guided missiles of the most advanced kind and with a structure that gives it a low radar profile and high speed in the oceans

Excuse for militarization
The USS Lassen’s pass-by, though, would be the excuse for the Chinese to militarize the area, and to build military fortifications on the artificial islands it built on submerged atolls and reefs.

The Chinese have been waiting for just such an excuse to test its PLA Navy’s (PLAN) brand-new blue-water capabilities, especially its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which was commissioned three years ago.

They couldn’t, as deploying the PLAN warships into its most logical “sphere of influence” – the South China Sea – would be met by universal outrage over such incursion into disputed territories, especially as the Philippines had filed a “court suit” – if you could call arbitration that – which seeks to nullify all of Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The USS Lassen’s voyage really accomplishes nothing, if one really thinks about it. Do you think the Chinese would stop fortifying their new artificial islands, or give up their claim over the disputed islands in the South China Sea just because of the “sail-by” of a single destroyer, even if it is one of the US’ most advanced sea-faring weapons systems?

Its only accomplishment would be to give the Chinese the excuse now to send their own navy warships into the area and turn their artificial islands into military fortifications, then tell the world, “We’re just preparing to defend ourselves if the US again sends another of its combat-ready warships, or even more.”

The reason I’ve become cynical about the US policy and actions in the South China Sea is the fact that they didn’t lift a finger when our bungling President lost Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in 2012 to the Chinese, for which President Aquino should be condemned by this nation.

In April 12, 2012 Aquino thought that reality was just like the war games he plays on his X-Box, and ordered our only warship – a refurbished US Coast Guard ship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar – to Panatag Shoal to escort vessels of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR, of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources). The BFAR tried to arrest Chinese fishermen aboard eight fishing boats in the shoal’s lagoon. However, Chinese Maritime Surveillance and a 3401-class Coast Guard patrol ship – one of its biggest – arrived and blockaded the mouth of the shoal.

Warship turns tail
Aquino, for some reason, suddenly ordered the BRP Gregorio del Pilar to turn tail and return to its Palawan port. Navy Flag Officer in Command Alexander Pama told the media that the ship had “to replenish fuel and food provisions.” That was a very lame excuse: Why couldn’t those provisions be supplied by smaller ships?

The standoff lasted the whole months of April and May, with the Philippine navy ships “detained” in the shoal by the Chinese vessels blockading the exit.

Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th, whom Aquino designated as his special envoy to resolve the standoff, claimed that while he was still negotiating with the Chinese for a simultaneous withdrawal, he suddenly received a message from the President on June 4 telling him that the BFAR vessels had already left the shoal, but that the Chinese vessels had stayed put, reneging on an agreement to also move out.

“I asked him who agreed with what, since I was just hammering out the details of the sequential withdrawal, because the mouth of the shoal was too narrow for a simultaneous withdrawal,” Trillanes reported in a written account. The President told me that (Foreign Affairs Secretary) del Rosario told him about the agreement reached in Washington.”

The Chinese have not left the Panatag Shoal since, with its Coast Guard and other civilian ships now guarding it. The Chinese have shooed away Philippine government vessels, as well as Filipino fishermen many nautical miles away, from the shoal. Unknown to most Filipinos, Aquino lost Philippine territory.

A November 2014 article by an American think tank, the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), matter-of-factly pointed out:

“From its perspective, China resolved the sovereignty dispute with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal in 2012 when it established control over the shoal. Again, it is unlikely to relinquish it. The government of the Philippines is in no position to even begin to contemplate the use of force to recover Scarborough.”

Two different sources claimed that Aquino asked Washington for help through Del Rosario, who had to go to Washington, D.C. to personally deliver the message. The message was for the US to send a warship to ensure that there would be simultaneous withdrawal from Panatag Shoal. Aquino and del Rosario were simply ignored, which is the reason the standoff lasted for several weeks.

The same CNA article emphasized: “The United States is not going to become involved in any attempt to expel the Chinese (from the Spratlys islands).”

And now some people think that a US destroyer will come to the Philippines’ aid over our Spratly claims?

www.rigobertotiglao.com for past columns


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  1. John Bonifacioa on

    Philippines needs an iron hand ruler, one who is not corrupt, who will deliver a strong military to wipe out local threats (NPA, MILF, MNLFs) and command a strong naval force to protect the Philippine seas. Democratically ruled leaders are by its nature corrupted by interested and lobbyist. Throwing billions of funds to their upkeep and gain their votes. Meanwhile, the country is being swallowed by China on the Philppine seas. Chinese is not interested in conquering the mainland archipelago, only in the control of the trade that bypasses that sea. China has never gone to war with its neighbors in recent history, except with Japan (Japan attacked China). Its might is vigor of its sound economics (despite being a communist country), and it brave protection of its soveriegn borders and lands. If those islands are part of the Philippines, then it needs to protect it with military might, not run to US for assistance. US will not go to war with China, its number one trade partner and owes it trillions of dollars.

  2. John Bonifacio on

    It is shameful that Philippines is utterly dependent on US migh to protect its archipelago from Chinese power. Kicked out the military bases, approved by Senate, now begging the Americans to assuage the south sea crisis. Billions in military budget goes to Filipino corruption, stolen by the senators and congressmen, guised as PDAF etc.. Nothing to show for the billions alloted for defense. Cant even fight and kill a single terrorist (marwan), without killing 44 SAFs fine soldiers. Deplorable, shameful.

  3. We have a weak president(Benigno Aquino 3rd ) who does’nt know anything but to hammer his political enemies.The same thing with US President Obama they both blundered by playing politics.Shame on you! you were the laughing stocks of the world.Imagine Philippines and the US are alies now what happened our country seeking help fr0m outside who are not ready to help.All Filipino-American in the US should vote the US president who is sincere and has balls and courage to declare war against China if Philippine sovereignty is at stake but now its too late the world are knocking their teeth and believed US allies can’t be trusted., so what will we do now is to strenghten our military by acquiring nuclear bombs,ships, plane and hearts plus our nationalism of bravery to fight and destroy any intruding enemies,now Filipino be ready we will fight and conquer the bullyer China. China get out in our in our sea

  4. I adore and like the American way of life, their adherence to democracy, the policeman of the world they say, naturally I envied them but I doubt they are willing to help the Philippines in recovering the islets in Spratlys. One thing sure, they are having a good economic relations with the foreign devils of the north, and as a result they didn’t want to disturb their friendship even though China has a different ideology. One thing more they owed lots of money from the once upon a time a sleeping giant and is now awaken to become an economic power second only to the U S of A. I believe then the sail-by of USS Lassen in the West Phil Sea is only a stage show or an entertainment for all their allies in the area. There is no intention to start another conflict which they can’t afford. The U S act is obviously hypocrisy. I blame this crisis on the current Filipino leadership. Scatter brains! BS Aquino 3rd, the first Phil president ever losses a territory without firing a single shot. Shame on him.

  5. All this started when the Philippines navy started arresting the chinese fishermen. Fishermen from both countries have been fishing there with no issues until Aquino started to flex his balls and destroy the harmony of the areas.

  6. Do you know that the Salim Group was the prime mover in turning these forest lands into plantations ? From virtual none, to 500 ,000 hectares in the late 80s and early 90 s then
    to 2,000,000 hectares in the late 90s…..they have probably added much more by NOW.

    Who is doing the burning,,,,,they probably pay people to do so……..all started during the
    reign of Suharto and Salim was the prime crony and and repository of Suharto’s wealth…

    Kasama na yata tayo sa Salim ? Look at the companies and the positions of their 2
    highest people in the Philippines. Why should ASEAN not blame Indonesia for the HAZE ? It was established a long time ago that Suharto and cronies were responsible !

  7. Sadly all this was under control with China up to 5 years ago. I remember very clearly China and GMA administration signing a seismic survey agreement and later to be followed by lease agreements for oil and gas drilling. In the seismic agreement, China fully recognized Philippines ownership and national control of the spratly islands. It took 3 years to write the wording properly and get signatures. The key part of the agreement is Philippines ownership.

    China acquired 60% of the data when this seismic agreement was cancelled by the Aquino administration and told them to get out, the area will be awarded to another company. Never in history can I remember any such international seismic agreement being cancelled in the middle of the survey by a host government. It is just not done. 18 months later China forcibly took those same islands after the agreement was torn up by Aquino.

    Then sending Trillanes a Navy man to re-negotiate a seismic agreement that was already cancelled by Aquino just throws chaos into the situation.

    Sadly this disturbing situation was fully under control by GMA, and could have been avoided by letting the seismic contract run to its natural completion.

  8. As a person with many beloved relatives, I do not want war to erupt which would obliterate the Philippines from the map of the earth. Some people have a death wish or are simply prepared to go and hide in the U.S., U.K., Australia or wherever else they want to hide when war erupts.

    However, millions of Filipinos do not have the means to hide abroad when war erupts or are just simply not yet ready to die. For war means deaths and nothing else. The Chinese no longer will follow the same pattern of sending waves upon waves of human soldiers to achieve their aims. What they will send are waves upon waves of bombs – barrel bombs – and other most powerful conventional bombs and, in the end, waves upon waves of nuclear weapons to forever eliminate mankind, or at least Filipinos, permanently from this planet.

    Metro Baguio, Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao will surely bear the brunt of the bombings – both conventional and nuclear.

    The Chinese can even use new types of weapons like the so-called neutron bombs that will eradicate human beings and other living beings but not destroy structures so that, in their hope, they can still use these structures long after the Filipinos have been exterminated with extreme prejudice.

    I hope our “leaders” will not follow the “example” of Quezon and others and hide in the U.S. as a hold-over permanent “government-in-exile” while the poor millions of Filipinos will do the dying here for them – the so-called “brave heroes”.

    • Crisostomo Ibarra on

      I disagree with your cowardly remarks in regards to this issue. I was hoping that you would be one of the brave Filipinos that would help us defend the motherland.

      Additionally, if China decides to bomb the cities as you mentioned earlier, our allies are treaty bound to defend us. In any case, WW3 most likely will errupt, so it doesnt matter where you live.

      It takes bravery to stand up to a big bully like China.

      More importantly,

    • put 20% of our GDP developing nuclear bombs and then we will play the same Game vs the Chinese. North Korea is not afraid because they also have arms even though those missile can only reach South Korea,

    • you dumb0?
      the moment china attacks any country, it will be alone in fighting the world. japan has already started rearming. do you think it will just let china have its way? the US may appear cowardly right now but they are just waiting for the right moment. they will not hesitate to attach china if china starts it.it will be an opportunity for them to crush their creditor. they will be able to save on annual debt payments if china misbehaves. they will a credible justification for not paying their debts. only fools would think that china has the advantage being the US’ biggest creditor.

    • People who do not know war firsthand are the ones who want it the most. But once war erupts, they are the ones who first runs away. They wet their pants in running at the first loud sound of blast from bombs!

  9. This is not only a military poker game, it is also financial. In military terms, the Americans may have a slight advantage, but the fact that the contested area is in China’s backyard negates a lot of that edge, In the financial poker game, China holds all the cards. America owes China money that is mathematically impossible to pay. This does not include all that gold the Koumintang sent to the US for safekeeping before the Communists took over. So that single destroyer is insignificant if you look at the bigger picture. The Americans just needed to massage their bruised ego after the Russian Air Force kicked them out of Syria.

  10. this is our own fault for not modernizing our forces after the US withdrawal from Subic and Clark. when the US left, the AFP modernization should have started in full swing. In addition there were already warning signs years ahead that China’s intentions in the Spratleys but our leaders both civilian and military ignored it. Now its too late. The US have stated its neutrality in the South China sea plus it has a now stronger economic relationship with China. If the US ignored Del Rosario and Pnoy plea for help during the invasion of Scarborough shoal how much more now? this is what we get for depending too much from the US and not preparing ourselves to stand on our own. now its too late and be ready to suffer the consequences.

  11. We are fooled by US. Its an end-game maneuver by US. Indeed, China is so powerful – What is good for China is good for the world. Also remember, China did not occupy our country and we had a war with the Americans.

  12. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    29 October 2015

    The report I read in ALJAZEERA yesterday said that the USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed close to the 12 nm limit of the Spratlys archipelago, and strictly in international waters.

    So it could not really have violated China’s claimed territorial waters in the Spratlys archipelago as some pundits erroneously say.

    The US Navy is quite aware of China’s recent warning “that it will never allow any country to violate its territorial waters and airspace in the Spratlys, and the USS Lassen must have been under strict orders to stay in international waters and not violate the 12 nm limit of the Spratlys.

    If the USS Lassen had in fact violated China’s territorial waters, China would have had no problem trying to sink the USS Lassen–but all that it did was “warn the US warship that it ‘illegally’ entered waters near the disputed islands and reefs on Tuesday,” China’s Foreign Ministry said.

    Had China made the mistake of harassing or harming the USS Lassen, it knew that the US warship was ready to handle any eventuality. In fact, the USS Lassen may just have been waiting for such a muscular Chinese response. But nothing of the sort happened.

    It now appears that those Chinese threats have all been “sound and fury, signifying nothing!”

    The USS Lassen is only the vanguard of US plans to conduct FREEDOM OF NAVIGATIONS OPERATIONS within the 12-hm limit of those disputed islands in the South China Sea [the West Philippine Sea] and strictly in international waters through which an estimated $5 trilion in sea trade passes annually. There will be more of these US warships which will be on such patrols.

    BTW, the ITLOS has just ruled that it has jurisdiction over the territorial-dispute case which the Philippines has lodged against China. The next step will be for the Philippine Delegation to go back to The Hague, this time to argue its case “on the merits.”


    • “sailed close to the 12 NM limit of the Spratlys archipelago, and strictly in international waters.”

      The reef which was dredged by China to form an artificial island according to US and most countries is not an Island as recognized by International law, the implication of which if it is not an island, then it has no 12NM territorial water. That’s the essence of USS Lassen sailing within 12 NM of the reclaimed island, its a statement saying this is not an island and the waters around it even within the 12NM is an international water.

      And if a water is an international water there is freedom of navigation, and no need to secure permission to pass over the area contrary to what China wants to impose in the area.

      Thus the claims and news locally and by al jazeera are not in conflict. Whether 12NM or as close as 1NM waters around the reclaimed area are international waters and not territorial waters of China.

  13. Its too late. Stop relying on the americans. Japan is a better ally than the US. The Philippines must look at Russia for instance and Israel for cheaper and better arms.

    • I agree, Russia, Israel, Japan, Germany, may be better and trust worthy allies and defense suppliers, not really for better weapons as that of US but weapon that may be at par with most of the world and yet cheaper.

      But truly we haven’t got any better weapons from US, all we are getting are scraps and decommissioned ships which we still buy at a very expensive price.

  14. Here are some points to ponders in relation to the south China sea dispute:
    1. Communist China’s most influential political philosopher and guru did not propose
    that Power comes from high profile/professional, civil diplomacy or democratic
    elections. Mao Zedong, a god among hard core commies taught as core doctrine in
    thought, in word an in deed that “Power comes out of the power of a gun “. The
    relevant question now for the political and milItary leaders of the countries with the
    highest stakes in the issue is how widespread this doctrine is being adhered to by
    the current inner circles of the Chinese Communist party.
    2. China keeps talking about history as it strongest basis for its excessive claims. Well,
    time was when the Great Wall of Chine was the de facto and de jure international
    border of China. De facto in that it was recognized by neighboring nations and tribes
    as the limits of the Empire and de jure in that the gates of the wall were officially
    manned as trade and Immigration check-points. Since then how many thousands
    if not million of additional square miles has the hungry dragon swallowed?

    3.Whatever happened to Tibet as an autonomous and theocratic nation?
    4.Some of the workhorses of the communist Chinese diplomatic corp based in Cebu
    City, Philippines killed their own fellow diplomats, their own flesh and blood this
    month at a social function. Could you expect a better treatment towards other
    people’s and nations claiming their rights under international law in the SCS.
    5. How were the activists at Tianamen square treated by those in power when they
    expressed dissent. Have you ever seen tanks roll over ones own civilian people in
    peace time in current history?
    6.Why is their obvious lack of trust and confidence on the part of the Hong Kong
    Chinese towards total political and economic integration into the mainstream
    7.And don’t let the world forget how the poorly armed and undermanned Vietnamese
    Marines and sailors were massacred by the communist Chinese navy in the Spratley
    in the late 1980’s.

  15. Carl Zimmerman on

    You fail to note the stated purpose of the U.S. action: to assert the right of freedom of navigation in international waters. Washington is stating through action that it refuses to recognize China’s claim that these are its territorial waters. The U.S. has not taken a position on the conflicting claims of ownership. The other claimants have not tried to exclude U.S. ships and planes from these waters. This is not a political issue. The U.S. has always been resolute about freedom of navigation.

  16. Mr Tiglao, are you not happy and elated that US called the “bluff” and somehow stop the bullying of China, showing to the whole international communities that US is ready to act at all cost to insure freedom of navigation in the whole China Sea?