A SPRATLY PLAN OF ACTION

Use ‘BBL’ and CCT funds to defend our Kalayaan sovereignty

14

Fourth of a series on the Spratly crisis

First Part 1: Congress should probe Aquino, Trillanes and del Rosario

Part 2: China reclaims, fortifies territories; What does Aquino do?

Part 3: Aquino gave China reason for reclamation


My past three columns on the Spratly issue argued the following:
• We cannot rely on international law, much less on an “arbitration” case as pursued by President Aquino’s government, to uphold our sovereignty in what we call the Kalayaan Group of Islands. Never has international law determined disputes over sovereignty. Neither have maps.

• Vietnam’s capture of our Patag Island in 1975 (Đảo Song Tử Tây to them now) and Aquino’s bungling loss of Scarborough Shoal to China in 2012 demonstrate starkly the rules of the game in this territorial contest, which are, first, that “occupation is ownership;” and second, in this day and age, a country grabbing territory can only do it without firing a shot.

With these two conclusions, the most important thing we have to do is quite obvious, which astonishingly appears not to have not even crossed Aquino’s mind: Secure and fortify the seven islands and two shoals that are under our control.

I am not saying we build fortifications on the level of China’s. What we need to do is fortify our islands that they would have some credible deterrent effect that an attempt by Vietnam or China to capture them would have to be through a major firefight. Cruel as that may seem, that is and has been the reality of the world of competing nation-states.

We don’t have funds? But Aquino and his budget secretary could easily commit to provide the would-be Muslim substate called Bangsamoro P529 billion in grants from 2015 to 2020, and that’s according to his ally Senator Ralph Recto’s figures.

Above, before-and-after photos of Taiwan’s Taiping Island in the Spratlys, showing massive infrastructure work. Below, our Pag-asa Island in 2008, and at present, showing runway has been eroded. (Images from Google Earth.)

Above, before-and-after photos of Taiwan’s Taiping Island in the Spratlys, showing massive infrastructure work. Below, our Pag-asa Island in 2008, and at present, showing runway has been eroded. (Images from Google Earth.)

We don’t have funds? But Aquino’s dole-out program called the Conditional Cash Transfer, which hasn’t made a dent on alleviating Philippine poverty (how could it, as the program doesn’t provide the poor any new skill nor productive asset?), has cost us a staggering P227 billion.

We just have to set our priorities and give up programs like the CCT and BBL, which, in reality, are intended to buy people’s (and Muslims) support for whoever Aquino endorses in the 2016 elections.

Half of that planned BBL grant if the law is enacted and the CCT’s 2015 budget – roughly P50 billion – is more than enough to start strengthening our sovereignty in the South China Sea. This would be done by building up our fortifications on the islands we occupy, stationing enough troops and civilian populations there, arming our garrisons adequately, and buying vessels to patrol them and to swiftly transport troops, materiel and supplies.

A law must be enacted so that these programs can be implemented through succeeding administrations, with an innocuous title like “Kalayaan Island Group Development Program Act.”

I’m sure we can be innovative in developing our Spratly islands.

Like getting our taipans to pitch in to transform Pag-asa Island for instance into some kind of Amanpulo and Balesin island resorts, as Malaysia had, in fact, done with its Swallow Reef (Layang-Layang), which has become a three-star dive site. That, in fact, had been former President Fidel Ramos’ proposal in the 1990s.

Or maybe Phil-Am billionaire Loida Nicolas, who has been leading a boycott-China-products movement in the US, could put her purse where her mouth is by committing her Beatrice Foods’ profits just for a year to replace the rusting ship on Ayungin with a proper bunkhouse on stilts, like those the Chinese had built on their reefs. Or maybe former Congressman Roilo Golez, another high-profile boycott-China-products advocate, could start a program for public figures like him to live in and man Pag-asa Island for three months as a deterrent to foreign invasion. For losing Scarborough Shoal, maybe Aquino should express remorse by living on Pag-asa after he steps down.

Above, before and after: how the Vietnamese built an artificial bay and developed what had been our Pugad Island. (From Google Earth). Below, the World War II rusting landing ship we grounded on Ayungin Shoal to serve as our outpost.

Above, before and after: how the Vietnamese built an artificial bay and developed what had been our Pugad Island. (From Google Earth). Below, the World War II rusting landing ship we grounded on Ayungin Shoal to serve as our outpost.

Thanks to Marcos who claimed it in the 1970s, our islands actually make up a prime piece of property in the South China Sea. But we are neglecting them, that they have become easily vulnerable to a takeover by China or Vietnam.

Pag-asa Island is the second biggest island in the Spratlys, while Likas and Parola are the third and fifth biggest isles. Next to Vietnam, we actually had the second biggest lands in the Spratly, before the Chinese went on a reclamation frenzy that converted their shoals to artificial islands.

What was obvious to other countries that have occupied islands in the Spratlys, escaped our government’s understanding: We have very foolishly neglected to fortify our territories.

What islands and reefs occupied by what. Numbers before island names refer to their ranking in terms of land area. (See internet versions for better resolution of images in this article.)

What islands and reefs occupied by what. Numbers before island names refer to their ranking in terms of land area. (See internet versions for better resolution of images in this article.)

The rusting World War II vintage landing ship grounded on Ayungin Shoal as our makeshift outpost is the pathetic demonstration of how little priority we have put on defending our sovereignty.

Marcos’ building of an airstrip on Pag-asa Island in the mid-1970s, which required some reclamation work on each side of it, was the last infrastructure work there.

A 2014 book (Yale University) by Bill Hayton, “The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia” reported the sorry state of Pag-asa Island:

“The runway… is now only usable with the utmost care. In the words of the (AFP) Western Command’s in-house magazine Kanluran, the “runway is about to be completely detached due to erosion by the sea. In early 2011, a Philippine Navy ship delivering materials to repair it ran aground on the surrounding reef. The armed forces declared that they didn’t have the resources or the skills to complete the job and appealed to the government to fund the repairs by a civilian contractor. Pledges have been made but the waves are still eating at the runway.”

I have been to Pag-asa (1996), and looking at the 2015 photos taken by journalists who recently visited it, nothing has changed on the island. I couldn’t even see radio antennas and cellphone cell sites in the photos.

Taiwan’s Taiping
In sharp contrast to our neglect of our islands are Taiwan’s development of its Taiping Island, the biggest in the Spratlys, which is closer to Palawan than our Pag-asa, and Vietnam’s infrastructure work at Southwest Cay (Pugad Island to us), which it grabbed from us in 1975.

Taiwan started to build an airport in 2006 on Taiping, the largest island in the Spratlys, which is closer to Palawan than our Pag-asa. It was completed in 2008, and is long enough to accommodate Hercules C-130 aircraft. In 2012, Taiwan started a $110 million project to be completed this year that would build two new deep piers, improve the runway, and install high tactical air navigation facilities, anti-aircraft guns and mortar units. That $110 million is “just” P5 billion, a fraction of the budget that was being earmarked for the Bangsamoro.

Vietnam, a country a lot poorer than us, has even changed how Pugad Island looks from a satellite. Where there was no port at all is a rectangular bay that serves as refuge for its fishermen and navy vessels.

So what does the Aquino government think of this?

At a Senate hearing on the 2015 budget, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said: “There is a Palace-ordered freeze in infrastructure work – including repairs – on military and air facilities on Pag-asa island.” The freeze, Gazmin told the Senate finance subcommittee, was meant to keep the Philippines on a “moral high ground” in its arbitration case against China. Aquino’s spokesman, Herminio Coloma, more recently echoed this absurd stance: “The repair has been stopped because we uphold the principle of keeping the status quo in the areas involved” … “This is part of our strategy for a rules-based and diplomatic approach where we have filed an arbitration case,” he said.

Pathetically inane.

This President must go, and the replacement can’t be an Aquino 2.0 or we will lose all our Kalayaan islands before we know it.

Part 1: Congress should probe Aquino, Trillanes and del Rosario

Part 2: China reclaims, fortifies territories; What does Aquino do?

Part 3: Aquino gave China reason for reclamation

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14 Comments

  1. Why on earth would the BBL fund used for this? They also need funding herr especially during its implementation. If the funds for the BBL are used what will remain if it? Edi madedelay lang kasi wala ng pera para rito?

  2. Darling Lapreza on

    BBL is a breakthrough, it is not perfect but it is the best we’ve ever come up with a product of hundreds of consultations. sayang kung ibasura. But its just like us crab mentality Filipinos to ruin a good thing.

    • Andrew Atienza on

      Breakthrough
      ????? wake up sister, this is not the first time we trade peace with these muslim rebels and time and time again we could not let them stay within the agreement, we should make them submit to the rule of law that we filipino do, almost everybody hates the government, but do you see us behead a filipino for it?? kidnap a person???? wake up sister they are terrorist and they must be punished for it, no one is above the law, the only time mindanao was in peace was when they was forced out using force before the only thing these rebel respect is power,

  3. In the guise of “perfecting the BBL” Bongbong Marcos has plainly sat on the aspirations of Muslim Filipinos and done NOTHING. He has ignored a substitute bill that has already addressed the concerns regarding constitutionality in the original draft. Like the empty slogans of the Anti-BBL movement, Bongbong has not done anything to advance the cause of Peace in Mindanao. Malayu kasi kayo sa problema sa Mindanao. Siguro okay sa inyo ang status quo dito sa Luzon. Sa Mindanao, status quo means the sound of gunfire disturbing peace any and every hour of the day. the status quo there is hunger.

  4. rick flores on

    Thanks to Marcos who claimed it in the 1970s, our islands actually make up a prime piece of property in the South China Sea. But we are neglecting them, that they have become easily vulnerable to a takeover by China or Vietnam.

  5. norvin mallonga on

    The armed forces declared that they didn’t have the resources or the skills to complete the job and appealed to the government to fund the repairs by a civilian contractor

  6. Genesis Ocampo on

    The repair has been stopped because we uphold the principle of keeping the status quo in the areas involved .This is part of our strategy for a rules-based and diplomatic approach where we have filed an arbitration case..

  7. What we need to do is fortify our islands that they would have some credible deterrent effect that an attempt by Vietnam or China to capture them would have to be through a major firefight

  8. marion shao on

    Sa totoo lang na uubos lang oras nila sa pag tatalo lang sa issue ng BBL inaabot na ng ilang buwan at di natin namamalayan unti unti na tayo sinasakop ng TSINA….

  9. juancho ramas on

    use the BBL and CCT funds? aquino would rather lose kalayaan than lose the support of his allies thru bribery with BBL and CCT funds!

  10. What we should do is replace Voltaire “Betcha By Golly Wow” Gazmin as Defense Secretary. He is an ineffective and useless Defense Secretary and he must go pronto.

  11. “Taking the high moral ground by maintaining the status quo on the disputed islands.”

    Status quo is that the Philippines own these islands and therefore the high moral ground to be taken is to proceed to occupy the same and develop the islands.

  12. tama yon dapat mg bulid din tyo ng fortification building kgya ng tsinese at vietnam kya minamaliit tyo tingnan nyo naman outpost natin diyos ko dapat mas malakas na outpost hindi ganyan lng paano mangingilag ang mgtatangkang pumasok sa teritoryo natin…kung ganyan bulok at kakarag karag ang bantay..

  13. Amnata Pundit on

    They should give that pathetic looking ship a fresh painting everyday of the year, that will give those bored soldiers something to do. And our navy should buy a dozen seaplanes to use in that area.