First of Two Parts
Cleverly, the Chinese wouldn’t boast about it, of course, but because of the stupid bungling of President Aquino, we lost Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) – forever – to China.
This is the second time we lost territory in the South China/West Philippine Sea. Marcos’ forces on Pugad Island in 1975 lost that territory when they attended their commander’s birthday party on the nearby Parola island, reportedly lured by the prospect of Vietnamese prostitutes stationed there as promised by their Vietnamese friends. They returned the next day to find a Vietnamese full-armed garrison, their cannons aimed at whoever approached the island.
I’m not sure which is worse: Losing territory because sex-starved troops abandoned their posts in 1975, or losing territory in 2012 when China fooled the President and a Senator of the Republic.
Congress should probe Aquino, his accomplice Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario – to determine how they lost Philippine territory, so we won’t make the same mistakes and continue to lose our islands in the Spratlys one by one.
Losing our territory alone – even if that were solely because of Aquino’s ineptness – is sufficient ground to impeach him, if only we had an independent Congress that had balls.
Justice Antonio Carpio’s ancient maps proving Bajo de Masinloc, the shoal’s other name, belonged to us centuries ago may not be worth their photocopies, even if put in impressive frames and impressively hung on a museum. So far, and ever will be, “occupation is ownership” has been the real law that has governed the territorial disputes all over the globe, and at all times.
In his patriotic crusade, Carpio should, instead, use his prestige to call for an investigation by the Senate or the House of Representatives to determine how this Administration lost Panatag Shoal to the Chinese.
We don’t have just one objective analyst claiming that we have already lost Panatag but two, and more I think would come out as the surprise of the loss settles down. Already, even a Wikipedia entry on “Scarborough Shoal” matter-of-factly points out: “Since the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff, access to the territory has been restricted by the People’s Republic of China.”
The first to reveal in public what most governments already knew about the situation was a November 2014 study by the CNA (Center for Naval Analyses), a research and development center for the Navy and Marine Corps funded by the federal government. I reported on this study entitled “The South China Sea: Assessing US Policy and Options for the Future” in my June 1 column.
In that study, the 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, and the United States is not going to become involved in any attempt to expel the Chinese.”
More recently, it is a June 19, 2015 article in the respected www.thediplomat.com entitled “South China Sea: Satellite Images Show Pace of China’s Subi Reef Reclamation” by one Victor Robert Lee that makes up the second confirmation that under President Aquino’s watch, we lost Scarborough Shoal. The article claimed:
“Chinese Coast Guard ships of the same “3401-class” have recently been used by Beijing to wrest control of the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines, and to blockade the Second Thomas Shoal (also called Ayungin), where a unit of Filipino marines has been stationed.”
Victor Robert Lee – a pseudonym – has recently gained much credibility with regard to the South China tension because it was under his byline that high-definition, detailed satellite images of China’s frenetic infrastructure activities on islands and atolls it occupies were publicly released. The images could have only been acquired by top-secret US spy satellites.
Both the CNA study and Lee didn’t explain how we lost Panatag Shoal.
Although China had long been claiming Scarborough Shoal, alleging that it is within its “nine-dash line,” there had never been, before 2012, an attempt from either Chinese or Filipino forces to permanently station troops there. The competing claims were seemingly ignored by vessels from both countries whose fishermen use a lagoon in the area as a refuge from storms. This “peaceful coexistence” of sorts changed suddenly in April 2012.
April 10, 2012: Sailors from a Philippine Navy surveillance ship board eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored in the shoal’s lagoon. They try to arrest the Chinese fishermen for illegal fishing and “harvesting endangered marine species.” However, two Chinese maritime surveillance ships come to their rescue and prevent the arrests in circumstances that are unclear.
April 11: Probably itching to try his warship out, President Aquino orders the frigate BRP Gregorio del Pilar – just “brand new” as the US coast guard had refurbished it and turned it over to our navy in May 2011 – to confront the Chinese at Panatag. “What is important is we take care of our sovereignty. We cannot give [Scarborough Shoal] away and we cannot depend on others but ourselves,” Aquino blustered.
April 12: Three Chinese Maritime Surveillance Ships (CMS), eventually increasing in number to 10, enter the shoal, bringing with them a flotilla of 31 Chinese fishing boats and 50 dinghies.
BRP Gregorio del Pilar – unexpectedly – leaves the area, according to Navy Flag Officer in Command Alexander Pama, “to replenish fuel and food provisions” in its base in La Union. However, a vessel of our Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and two Coast Guard vessels remained near the entrance to the shoal’s lagoon.
The subsequent events in June, when China tightened its hold on Panatag after the BRP Gregorio del Pilar left (fled?), aren’t clear on who to blame other than Aquino – Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario or Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th, who around that time had been appointed by Aquino as his personal envoy to China to resolve the crisis.
In his aide memoire on his “Backchannel Talks” made available to me, Trillanes put the blame squarely on del Rosario:
“PNoy directed me to work on the sequential withdrawal of government ships inside the shoal. However, on the morning of June 4, PNoy called me to inform me that our BFAR vessel has already left the shoal but China reneged on the agreement of simultaneous withdrawal of their ships, so two of them [were]still inside the shoal.
“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. The President told me that Sec. del Rosario told him about the agreement reached in Washington.
“This time I asked PNoy: ‘If the agreement was simultaneous withdrawal, why did we leave first?’ PNoy responded to this effect: “Kaya nga sinabihan ko si Albert kung bakit niya pinalabas yung BFAR na hindi ko nalalaman.” (“That’s why I asked Albert [del Rosario]why he ordered the BFAR vessels to leave without my permission.”)
“Around 10 June, PNoy informed me that the (remaining BFAR) vessel was ordered to proceed to Subic to undergo repairs and directed me to ask Beijing to reciprocate. On 15 June, PNoy informed me again that he has ordered the pullout of the 2 remaining PCG (Philippine Coast Guard) ships from the shoal, citing an incoming typhoon as the reason, and directed me to ask Beijing to reciprocate.
It is astonishing, though, how Trillanes would boast that because of his talks with this Chinese contacts, he got them to get their 2 CMS vessels and 14 fishing boats out of the shoal, and to say: “Only 8 CMS (Chinese Maritime Surveillance) vessels remain at this time.”
How dimwit can one be?
It is that “REMAINING” flotilla of CMS ships on Panatag that wrested sovereignty from us, and our vessels and even fishermen are now shooed away by other Chinese ships patrolling the lagoon’s perimeter. There is no time now that there are no Chinese vessels in and out of the shoal.
In short, we lost Panatag Shoal because Aquino was fooled by the Chinese, made possible by the fact that he bypassed the foreign affairs and defense departments and believed what his personal envoy, Trillanes, told him.
Trillanes, who probably fancied himself as the Filipino Kissinger but who had never had an experience in diplomacy nor in negotiations with a foreign power, believed the Chinese when they told him they would withdraw their ships from Panatag Shoal. And this gullible president believed him.
Laughing at Aquino
Chinese strategists must have rolled on the ground laughing at Aquino. They brilliantly manipulated Trillanes and their US contacts to fool Aquino that they would withdraw their ships from Scarborough if we did. They didn’t.
Trillanes even concocted scenarios for a “simultaneous” withdrawal. But when Aquino ordered our ships out, the Chinese stayed, and their officers and sailors in the ships on Panatag probably waived at them, smiling ear to ear, Goodbye, stupid Filipinos.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Three years later, this President also bypassed the Philippine National Police and the Defense Department to rely – as he did on Trillanes – on the suspended Alan Purisima, his bosom friend, to lead the secret tragic operation to terminate an international terrorist in Mamasapano. That resulted in the massacre of 44 elite troops.
The Panatag operation fortunately didn’t result in any loss of lives, but of our territory – forever, unless we become a military power and grab it back from the Chinese.
The Senate had over 50 hearings called by Trillanes to investigate the alleged overprice 10 years ago of the Makati government’s new building and science high school. Over a dozen hearings were conducted to investigate the Mamasapano massacre.
Isn’t the loss of Philippine territory a serious blunder enough to warrant a Senate investigation, not just to pinpoint accountability but also to learn lessons so we won’t lose any more territory as stupidly as Aquino did? I’m sure del Rosario would be raring to give his testimony.
Next week, lessons we should learn from Aquino’s Scarborough debacle.
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