Starting today, I will open every Observer column with a section called “First Read.”
It will feature and highlight stories and issues that demand urgent commentary and publication. In style, it will be like the front-page “Good Morning” column that I used to write for a now defunct newspaper (Philippine Daily Globe), and which some readers apparently miss. So here goes:
The following story, not the state-of-the-nation address of President Duterte, made me cry (to use the lachrymose words of Communications Secretary Martin Andanar).
It concerns the discovery and revelation that while the country was howling about China’s forced takeover of the Scarborough Shoal and its land reclamations and infrastructure buildup in the South China Sea, China, with the evident consent of the Aquino administration and the collusion of local executives, bought two entire mountains in the province of Zambales to generate soil for its land reclamations in the disputed waters.
Exposed by online media
An online website and news portal, called the Maharlikan, first exposed what had happened in a report posted on November 8, 2015.
The report was headlined, “Chinese Mining Firms in the Philippines are smuggling soil to build Chinese Islands.”
The report opened with these ominous words: “Inside sources from the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) have found out that some Chinese mining firms are smuggling soil and rocks to help build a chain of Chinese islands in the West Philippine Sea. NICA agents were baffled to find out that besides the Ore and Nickel that these mining firms are exporting to China, a large amount of soil and rocks are secretly smuggled then ends up directly in one of the Chinese reclamation islands. The smuggling operation usually happens during the heat of the day so as to hide the operation as an ordinary day in the mining area.
“It’s quite saddening that the soil and rocks used in building the Chinese islands have come from the Philippines. In simple words, the Philippines itself is indirectly contributing to building the islands, to what these islands will be utilized later on as Military bases to solidify and expand the Chinese encroachment on Philippine territories.”
The Maharlikan posted the story along with pictures of Chinese ships hauling away the soil and rocks; and pictures of trucks delivering the raw materials to the ships. The photographic documentation must have been supplied partly by the NICA source. And there should be even more incontrovertible evidence in NICA’s files.
Mainstream media did not get hold of the story until now, or would probably not have been interested then, being mostly yellow media.
Toll on Zambales environment
The story finally broke into the open when a new provincial government took over in Zambales soon after the May 9 elections. Gov. Amor Deloso, the new governor, revealed in a media conference that two mountains and almost half of Zambales were sold to China in recent years and some rocks and soil were shipped to the disputed islands to reclaim 3,500 hectares.
The online website, Get real Philippines, was the first media organization to alert me to this appalling story, in an article written by the highly readable Ilda.
Ilda asked what the hell was the BS Aquino government doing all these years? How in the world did BS Aquino allow China to use Philippine soil to reclaim the disputed territory – the same one that caused the Philippines to file a case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague?
When the case was filed in January 2013, it would appear from the NICA disclosure that then president Aquino and his government already knew that Philippine soil was being used for the Chinese land reclamations, because it was the government intelligence agency that documented the earth-moving operations and the involvement of the Chinese mining firms.
Need for sweeping inquiry
Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez has promised that her department will investigate the matter.
She declared: ”This is horrible. I will find out whoever gave the permit. China can never be allowed to use our soil as their landfill. If there are DENR officials involved, they will be made accountable…Heads should roll. If the truckloads came from us, we should be aware.”
Lopez is talking only of a DENR inquiry. A bigger inquiry is needed to determine the full extent of accountability and liability in this distressing case. The inquiry should encompass the DENR, the provincial and muncipal governments, and the security agency. If the report is true, that some Chinese troops are actually based now in some parts of Zambales, then national security may have been breached.
We strain to find the words
It’s fortunate that this scandal did not blow up before the Hague tribunal reached its verdict, because had the judges known what our officials were secretly doing, they might have dismissed the case for our lack of seriousness. They surely would not have ruled so overwhelmingly in our favor as they did.
We are now so inured to venality in public office, and its ever increasing outrageousness, that we Filipinos strain to find the words to describe the new crimes and suspects.
Marcos tried calling them “ notoriously undesirable.”
Congress passed a l aw on the crime of plunder, which made plunder a non-bailable crime.
President Cory Aquino tried to teach Juan Ponce Enrile a lesson by charging him with “rebellion complexed with murder.” It was an embarrassment for her government.
We talk of crimes being heinous to make them reprehensible and non-bailable.
The rape of the Zambales environment for Chinese money is worse than heinous.
It is hideous and grotesque.
We should not balk at calling this “treason.” Or we should try labeling it as “treason complexed with government consent.”
We might miss the point
With this level of venality and audacity, we not only run risk of running out of words; we are in danger of missing the point.
What is wrong with this country is not that we don’t have the laws that criminalize such activities. It is that we lack the ability and the will to enforce the law, and apply the punishment.
We thought the coming of the punisher would end the impunity. When we turned around, we saw to our alarm, however, that he may actually be increasing the number of those who go unpunished.
This unusual Zambales case confronts us with a test which we must frankly face. Through the years we have been confronted by various forms of treachery in our public life, in times of war, and in times of peace, but we never had the institutional fortitude to resolve the cases with finality.
The forms of treason have changed in our history; but the essential crime remains the same.