China thinks Duterte erased the red line on Scarborough Shoal



First Read
IT is important and illuminating to remember antecedents in sorting out the new situation in Scarborough Shoal. The situation is different when you view it from a perspective which includes Presidents who have already departed from office, instead of just the new incumbents. Policies change when governments change.

The twin departure of Benigno Aquino III and Barack Obama from office, and the accession to office of Rodrigo Duterte have combined in emboldening President Xi Jinping of China to undertake his new plan to build a structure on Scarborough Shoal, in a major policy shift from previously excluding the shoal from its island-building in the South China Sea (SCS).

Before this development, it was understood by all parties (China, the US and the Philippines) that there was a red line drawn over Scarborough that made it forbidden to build structures on the shoal.

China had an initial plan to start reclamation in Scarborough as early as June 2016, but it was stopped by the United States.

According to Defense Secretary Defin Lorenzana, the US military told the Philippine military (AFP) that US surveillance had monitored Chinese vessels being loaded with soil for apparent moving to Scarborough. The Americans told the Chinese: don’t build on the shoal. The US considers reclamation in Scarborough as an unacceptable change in the situation in the disputed SCS waters.

When Obama’s term ran out in January 2017, the US pivot (rebalancing) to Asia petered out unceremoniously. A new man (Donald Trump) took over the US presidency.

When Benigno Aquino III exited from office in June 2016, a loud critic of China’s actions in the SCS went silent; but he left behind him a resounding Philippine victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which rejected China’s claims over rocks and land formations in the SCS and dismissed its nine-dash line map.

When Duterte came to office and quickly declared his government’s intent to mend relations with China, and to move the Philippines closer to China, and away from the US, China started making plans for reclamation work and building a structure (an environment monitoring station) on Scarborough.

Those plans are now set for execution.

This development has impelled the Philippines to mobilize for action to protest and stop the Chinese construction.

Leading the stop–China effort are Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

The protest has been hampered, however, by President Duterte’s surprisingly timorous stand on Scarborough.

When asked by the media how he views the situation, he asked the media rhetorically, “What do you want me to do? Declare war with China? I can’t.”

On that note, Scarborough became surreal.

1. Facts about Scarborough
To avert our drowning in surrealism, we should get serious and sort out the situation, in order to sift the facts from the fears, the chaff from the grain, and the real alternatives from the bluster.

President Duterte’s reaction to China’s plans is inexcusably muddled.

Instead of proclaiming Philippine rights and interest in the shoal as part of its exclusive economic zone and by virtue of an international court ruling, he diverted the issue toward talk of war. And he compounded the mistake by declaring that the Philippines cannot afford a war with China. He raised fears of losing all our military and police and the prospect of national destruction.

This flies against the facts about Scarborough that are recognized internationally.

The Scarborough Shoal is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). But it was declared as a common traditional fishing ground for neighboring countries in The Hague court ruling in July 2016.

Under Republic Act 9522, the Philippine Congress declared Scarborough Shoal part of Philippine national territory.

Scarborough was the site of a standoff between the Philippines and China in 2012 when the Philippine Navy tried to arrest Chinese poachers in the area.

In 2015, the Philippine government expressed concern over China’s increasing number of boats present in Scarborough.

It was in this light that Scarborough Shoal became a “red line” for both the United States and the Philippines.

The shoal has been guarded by the Chinese Coast Guard since the standoff in 2012, but warmer ties with China have allowed Filipinos to fish freely again in the area in 2016.

2. Chinese interest in Scarborough
Why is China so interested in Scarborough Shoal?

In his best imitation of a security expert, Filipino Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio says the disputed shoal is a strategic location for China. If a military base is built in Scarborough Shoal, China could control the Bashi Channel and allow its submarines based in Hainan to have access to the Pacific Ocean.

Land reclamation in Scarborough will in turn allow China to have a triangle of airbases that will enforce an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea, Carpio contends.

3. Five-point plan in dealing with China
Instead of scaring ourselves with war talk, Justice Carpio suggested to President Duterte a practical five-point plan for dealing with China effectively on Scarborough.

Carpio’s plan, if adopted, would enable our government to hurdle the difficult questions on Scarborough without neglecting national rights and risking outright conflict.

The five points are:
First, the Philippine government should file “a strong formal protest against the Chinese building activity” if it takes place.

Carpio explained that the Vietnamese took this approach recently when China sent cruise tours to the disputed Paracel Islands.

Second, DU30 can “send the Philippine Navy to patrol Scarborough Shoal.” Should the Chinese attack our troops, the Philippines can “invoke the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty, which covers any armed attack on Philippine Navy vessels operating in the South China Sea.”

Third, DU30 can “ask the United States to declare that Scarborough Shoal is part of Philippine territory for purposes of the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty”.

To back up this point, Carpio cited a document, entitled, “The South China Sea Dispute: Philippine Sovereign Rights and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea.” The paper says that from the 1960s to the 1980s, American and Philippine militaries used Scarborough Shoal “as an impact range for their warplanes and warships.” American and Philippine authorities had issued Notices to Mariners worldwide whenever they would hold “bombing runs or gunnery exercises”.

Not country protested these military activities.

Fourth, Duterte can “accept the standing US offer to hold joint naval patrols in the South China Sea,” which will “demonstrate joint Philippine and US determination to prevent China from building on Scarborough Shoal.”

Finally, President Duterte should “avoid any act, statement, or declaration that expressly or impliedly waives Philippine sovereignty to any Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea.”

4. Failure to consult
President Duterte muddled the Philippine response on Scarborough because of his failure to consult with his national security adviser and his defense secretary before blurting it out. These two officials are military men by training and their time has been spent in preparing to deal with situations like the one facing us now in Scarborough.

No one wants war with China, and neither would China want war with us over the shoal.

DU30 seems to talk of war in the hope of ending all argument, but the fact is China’s plan on Scarborough, if implemented, will open a huge argument between our two countries, wherein Filipinos will never stop talking, just as they have never stopped talking about Sabah.

It is imperative that the President present clearly and coherently our government’s considered position on Scarborough and our intent to protect our national interest there.

The President is delusional if he thinks Philippine rights and interest can be shelved because of China’s military might.

This is music to the ears of a bully.

When Duterte was elected, Filipinos thought they finally got a tough leader as their President. They thought they got proof of toughness when DU30 cursed Obama for criticizing his war on drugs.

DU30 says he cannot stop China from doing what it wants in Scarborough. We know someone who can. Ironically, his name is Uncle Sam.


Please follow our commenting guidelines.


  1. The US is not a savior of the PH. If we believe that, then all we are doing is going back to the belief that our “Master” is good to us. We are an independent Nation. And, we must stand on our own two feet.

  2. the world is divided between weak and strong countries, we are weak like Syria that cannot defend Golan Heights, like Ukraine that cannot defend Crimea, like Argentina that cannot defend Falkland Islands. and what did the self-proclaimed policeman of the world do when these territories were taken by the stronger countries. NADA.

  3. florendo abad on

    Yung mga tanga , bulag at follower ni Duterte kahit ano pa ang gawin at sabihin ni Duterte naniniwala. parang mga kabayo diretso lng ang pananaw. Gumising kyo baka pagdating ny panahon ang apelyido ninyo ay Ching/Chong or chan. at ang pilipinas ay parte na ng China.

  4. John Chameleon on

    We have a President who’s talkative and talks without any qualms especially if it concerns our national affairs locally. The people are lucky that they got him away from the oligarchs and elites to implement what he promised during the election to fight against criminality, declare war on drugs and truncate corruption. He is determined to provide a solution to the GRAVE problem created by Aquino on the illegal drug trade which found protectors and traders right in Pinoy’s government.

    However, on the international front, Duterte displayed his deplorable weakness against the Chinese. It appears that strings are attached to him manipulated by China. Why, because of his wise reaction to American interference? Now that Obama, the wily insidious man from the brothers’ sewage, is out (Thanks God!) will he not rethink on the possible reform in the US- Philippine ally relationship? We are among the largest source of legal US immigrants which has the country receiving help, either directly or indirectly.

    Lately, China revealed that is planning to build monitoring station suspected to be radars in the six man-made islands of China that was built out of aggression and bullying with the HELP of OBAMA who flaunted that America won’t interfere in the South East Asia territorial dispute. Actually, Obama’s words were interpreted to gave hint to the Chinese to continue fast their construction of the islands which actually was. Such a wicked imp!

    On the part of the Philippine, Duterte despicably surrendered to the Chinese by saying that he can’t wage a war against the “powerful” China. Irresponsible Duterte is doing an Obama abominable wit. He’s indirectly giving hint to the Chinese to do what they can because there will be no opposition from the Philippines! Is the Phil8ippines now caught in a deal between Duterte and China? We could not say anything yet as there is a report that the Philippines will file a protest once there will be a construction started by the Chinese, a report that could be true or false.

    What is clear now is that Duterte needs to learn what statesmanship is. His prone to talking rubbish can’t be done unintentionally. This could be attractive to the Pilipinos but not to the international community. His words being the President of the Philippines are policy statements!

    Challenging Alejano, the impeachment author, to go ahead lead in a war against China is purely childish that is so preposterous for a President to even think. Of course, with a popularity of 86%, impeachement is already dead before it can even start.

  5. yes uncle sam can match the military power of china… ironically the philippines will be the battle ground, bombs will drop not in china or us of a main land.

    • florendo abad on

      Isa ka pa na duwag. Lumayas ka sa pilipinas kung nde mo kayang mamatay para sa mga kinabukasan ng mga anak mo.

  6. “This is music to the ears of a bully.”

    Unfortunately, that’s how the mind of this President works because he himself is a bully.

  7. Bonifacio Claudio on

    The “IF” has not happened yet and still being verified. Yet these idiotic anti-DU30 Yellows are already harping on how DU30 should ACT if the “IF” happens, thus pre-empting future moves of DU30. They don’t see the wisdom in the reason why DU30 thru Lorenzana had written a letter to China for verification if there is really the intent to do the “IF”… Carpio, Leni, et al have taken the position of the president by pre-empting DU30 future moves to solve the problem to the best interest of the FILIPINO. NAGMAMADALI nga pala kayong maging Presidente ng Pilipinas sa mga tiwali ninyong HAKA-HAKA. Listen to DU30 — “Why am I here. I am here because I love the Philippines and I love the Filipino”. Jibe his words to his unrelentless patriotic acts to see nationalistic fervor ON THE MARCH. Is it really hard to see that our heads are now popped out from the suffocating quagmire of graft & corruption, crime, drugs that have accumulated since EDSA 1986 ?!!! GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE, not GRAB it — dude !!!

  8. Amnata Pundit on

    This entire article is based on the assumption that China is going to build structures there. But we “know” about this only because the Americans said so, the same Americans who said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Duterte is trying to build stronger and more productive relations with China so of course we should expect your Uncle Sam to try and thwart that. Like a giant octopus they have tentacles all over this country that can sabotage Philippine- Chinese relations, and these illusionary tempests over Scarborough and Benham Rise is testament to what these tentacles can do. Duterte should kick out all these American agents in his government and replace them with people who are not always trying to undermine him every time they open their mouths. Let us all pray for Duterte, he is the country’s last chance.

    • Myra Hollerich on

      It is not only the Americans who said that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. The Brits said so too.

  9. Uncle Sam cannot afford to fight China in China’s own backyard. That’s the truth of the matter.

  10. Phil will sent navy ships to confront the Chinese coast guard ships which are civilian in nature, who would appear to be provoking then? Remember the reason why China came into control of the shoal is because that abnormal president Aquino allowed himself to be dictated by that amboy Del Rosario to sent those navy ships to arrest the Chinese fishermen giving China the reason to occupy it. Since then the Chinese can not be dislodge there even during the days of Obama. Dont expect China to withdraw like Israel with respect to the Golan heights

  11. What else do we expect from an inutile, arrogant, low IQ, poor English/Tagalog communicator and corrupt Duterte. From the 16M voters of Duterte, expect yourself and your children to be Chinese citizens soon. You will soon join Duterte, his family and Alvarez as refugees in China once the administration of Duterte is finished in less than 2 years.