We agree with the Gulf News comment and report last week (on Dec. 8) that the Philippine government “is highly unlikely to allow the US military to use Philippine territory as a springboard for so-called freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) through disputed parts of the South China Sea” quoting Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
The Stratfor brief retelling of the report said: “Manila hopes to avoid antagonizing China, Lorenzana said. US naval vessels and aircraft sometimes stopped in the Philippines during such operations under the previous Philippine government. Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard received on Dec. 8 the second of 10 multi-role response vessels pledged to it by Japan. The Philippine president’s diplomatic agenda and unorthodox approach have enabled him to reap the benefits of multiple partnerships, but that freedom won’t last forever.”
Last October, Sec. Lorenzana was also reported to have said that “Plans for joint patrols and naval exercises between the Philippines and the United States have been put on hold.” Agence France Press reported on Oct. 7 that Sec. Lorenzana also said that the 107 US troops operating surveillance drones against Muslim militants in Mindanao would be asked to leave once the Philippines acquires those intelligence-gathering capabilities for itself. Mr. Lorenzana also said that the Philippines intends to buy weapons from other countries like China and Russia, and the Philippines could make up for a loss in US military aid.
Did our Defense Secretary make those statements after having been upbraided by the President? These later statements were, according to Stratfor, “a notable about face for Lorenzana” because “he had earlier suggested that President Rodrigo Duterte’s threats to end the Philippines’ military partnership with the United States were grounded in a lack of understanding about the benefits of the alliance. Unless the US begins to make its military aid conditional on, say, human rights improvements, the benefits of the deal for the Philippines will continue to be substantial and serve the country’s strategic imperatives in the South China Sea.”
After President Duterte’s lavishly happy visit to China in October, there was what Stratfor calls a “strategic recalibration on both sides.” And soon our two countries seem to be about to adopt a joint mechanism of control over Scarborough/Panatag shoal.
But the fact is that China has decided to occupy Panatag and has stationed its Coast Guard firmly around it to exercise control over it.
Earlier it was the Chinese Navy that had blockaded Panatag.
China has allowed Filipinos to fish in the waters around Panatag. And it looks as if things are back to normal now. But our fishermen are saying that unlike before they are able to do their livelihood only outside our shoal and with the permission of the Chinese Coast Guard.
Sooner or later the Philippine Republic will have to assert its right over Panatag because it clearly belongs to us. But it won’t act now because we don’t want to antagonize China, which is a major trading partners and a future source of greater wealth for us in tourism and greater commercial income.
So when will we be able to assert our sovereignty over Panatag?
Maybe only after dramatic events in world history have happened, and we Filipinos have become people of the Chinese province of the Philippines.