Part 1 of this three-part series came out on Sunday Nov. 1. The conclusion will come out tomorrow, Sunday Nov 8.
MOBILLIZING all instrumentalities of government – the House of Representatives, the Senate, the PDAF and the DAP, etc. – Aquino succeeded in getting CJ Corona impeached. A day after the Corona impeachment trial began, the resumption of the Mindanao peace talks in Kuala Lumpur opened.
That was January 12, 2012. On the 29th of the following May, the Guilty 20 of the 23-member Senate cast their vote of conviction of Corona against just the Innocent 3 consisting of Senators Joker Arroyo, who recently passed away, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Bong Bong Marcos.
With CJ Corona out of the way, whatever was being devised in the Kuala Lumpur talks was expected to encounter no more difficulty.
Now, as crafted by Leonen and his MILF counterpart, the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) called for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) not by the Philippine Congress but by the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) to be established according to provisions of the FAB. However, as a result of further negotiations for the annexes to FAB, the BBL became an undertaking no longer by the BJE but more correctly, and less unconstitutionally, by the Philippine Congress, and once the question was thrown to Congress, it necessarily had to undergo the tedious nitty gritty in passing a piece of legislation.
Ultimately the entire exercise of the Mindanao peace process was rendered futile and the urgency of America to reestablish military installations in the Philippines placed completely at the mercy of the one single instrumentality that killed those installations in the first place – the Philippine Senate.
From the looks of it, President Aquino has grown resigned to seeing the BBL frozen at the Senate indefinitely. But meantime, on the waterfront which is the South China [West Philippine] Sea, events were being pushed to their destined course – a development that eventually would cast the BBL question in a larger scenario.
Earlier this year, the Rand Corporation issued a report on the outcome of its study on the balance of power between the United States and China. Reputed for its authoritative insights into US military affairs, Rand gave focus in its analysis on the heightening tension between US and China in the South China [West Philippine] Sea, aptly titling the report “The US-China Military Scorecard (Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power 1996-2017).”
On the whole, the Rand report puts US still on top of China militarily, but it makes alarming assertions on the strides taken by China in this respect over the years. For instance, in Scorecard 1, the report states: “Given the importance of airpower in America’s recent wars, it is not surprising that China has sought ways of neutralizing U.S. capabilities in this area. Of greatest significance, the PLA has developed ballistic and cruise missiles that threaten U.S. forward air bases. From a handful of conventionally armed ballistic missiles in 1996, China’s inventory now numbers roughly 1400 ballistic missiles and hundreds of cruise missiles. Although most are short-range, they include a growing number of intermediate-range ballistic missiles that can reach U.S. bases in Japan.
Importantly, accuracy has also improved. Circular error probabilities have decreased from hundreds of meters in the 1990s to as few as five or ten meters today. Weapon ranges have increased from short (less than 1000 km) to medium (1000 to 3000 km).”
In 2010, China began signaling its assertiveness, if not yet aggressiveness, on the naval front by launching in the South China [West Philippine] Sea a refurbished aircraft carrier which it acquired from Russia – China’s first ever such military craft. That appeared to be the start of the heightening of the South China [West Philippine] Sea tension.
Close on the heels of the launching of China’s aircraft carrier, US State Secretary Hillary Clinton went on a chain of visits to Southeast Asian nations, culminating in Vietnam where in a speech she enjoined Asean to work out with China a code of conduct for resolving issues according to established principles of international law.
In another swing of Southeast Asian nations, Clinton reiterated American concerns on the
South China [West Philippine] Sea thus: “We are strongly of the opinion that disputes that exist primarily in the West Philippine Sea between the Philippines and China should be resolved peacefully. Any nation with a claim has a right to exert it, but they do not have a right to pursue it through intimidation or coercion.” [Note that the then US secretary of state referred to the sea by its Philippine name–West Philippine Sea.]
In about that same period, retired US Pacific Fleet Commander, Admiral Patrick Walsh, was already issuing the war alarm for the South China [West Philippine] Sea situation, which in his outgoing speech he said was inclining to escalate. Into his retirement, Walsh lost no time continuing to agitate for a more aggressive US stance against China.
With the sudden deployment of US warships around the Chinese-occupied reefs and islets in the Spratlys, the South China [West Philippine] Sea crisis appears to be escalating to that level Walsh has consistently been warning about.
Against this backdrop, we get back to our original inquiry: How has President Aquino fared?
Take it from the horse’s mouth. In an interview with foreign correspondents recently, President Aquino declared that he supported the US naval maneuvers as an assertion of freedom of navigation and as a means to balance power in the region.
Quite an echo of a now familiar assertion by the Obama administration, expressed by US Defense Secretary Ash Carter thus: “Make no mistake, the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do around the world, and the South China [West Philippine] Sea is not and will not be an exception.”
The conclusion of this 3-part series will appear tomorrow, Sunday November 8.