Wag the Dog, Aquino style


That phrase, of course, is the truncated version of that English idiomatic expression, “the tail wagging the dog,” meaning the less important or subsidiary factor, person, or thing dominating a situation—an absurd reversal of roles.

The term assumed a slightly different and more popular meaning through the 1997 movie with that title in which a US president’s spin doctor (Robert de Niro) fabricates a non-existent war in some obscure European nation, with the help of a movie director (Dustin Hoffman) who filmed actors and actresses in tear-jerking war scenes that stoked American patriotism.

It was intended to shift the public’s attention away from accusations that the President fondled an underaged girl visiting the Oval Office, just a few weeks before Election Day, which would have made him lose his re-election bid. Hence, to “wag-the-dog” has come to mean, an operation to distract public attention away from an issue adverse to one’s client.

Aquino’s sudden pronouncements that there is a clamor for him to have a second term, his puppet House Speaker Belmonte calling for a constitutional convention to allow that, his political attack dogs urging a clipping of the Supreme Court’s powers – these are all obviously wag-the-dog strategies.

They are intended not only to divert public attention from his big crime (the misuse of state funds for political purposes, via the Disbursement Acceleration Program), but also from the nation’s deep disappointment—more precisely anger—over his failings as president of the country.

However, what comes close to the wag-the-dog plot of that 1997 movie – because it similarly involves a president stoking the fires of patriotism against a “foreign enemy” for his own selfish agenda—is his recent claims of renewed Chinese intrusion into Philippine territory, specifically into the Recto Bank, or Reed Bank. Naturally, his favorite newspaper used as banner headline his wag-the-dog move: “New China incursion hit.”

Again, Aquino’s anti-China card in a newspaper’s banner headine. Inset: Movie poster of that film.

Again, Aquino’s anti-China card in a newspaper’s banner headine. Inset: Movie poster of that film.

I actually expected that wag-the-dog move as Aquino has been pulling out his anti-China card every time he runs into trouble. It’s his most effective diversionary tactic ever since his “blame-GMA” line lost steam among the increasingly skeptical Filipinos. He certainly has given new life and deeper meaning to Samuel Johnson’s quip: “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

We certainly have very legitimate claims for our territory in the West Philippine Sea, but Aquino, ever since he assumed power, has been tackling these so incompetently and clumsily that he has only given the Chinese excuses to accelerate its occupation of those areas.

His latest wag-the-dog move was made in his recent exclusive interview with TV-5—a firm controlled by the Indonesian Anthoni Salim’s top executive Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP, as he prefers his moniker). Aquino in that interview suddenly volunteered information from the military that “Chinese hydrographic research vessels” were at Recto Bank, which is within the disputed territory and 80 nautical miles northwest of Palawan.

Aquino asked: “What are they doing there? What studies are they conducting? I hope [their presence]will not lead to increased tension between [the Philippines and China]?”

Aquino very well knew the answers to his questions, as the Chinese had consistently done a tit-for-tat for every blundering Philippine foreign policy move in the area.

As a backgrounder, which actually should be a big revelation to us, is the fact that despite our territorial disputes with China in the West Philippine or South China Sea, a major Philippine conglomerate has made a huge stake in the area.

This is the Salim-owned and Pangilinan-run First Pacific, which controls Philex Petroleum.

Philex Petroleum, in turn, owns 65 percent of the UK-registered Forum Energy, which, since 2010, was given by government exploration and operation rights in that area in Reed Bank officially designated as Service Contract 72 (SC 72). The company is betting that it contains as much as 16.6 trillion cubic feet of gas and 416 million barrels of oil, although some analysts dispute this.

China, however, way back in 2010 had warned Forum Energy and the Philippine government that they couldn’t undertake any activity in the area as it is under Chinese sovereignty. The Chinese government also pointed out that it had already granted its China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) the exploration rights to that area.

China turned down in 2012 Pangilinan’s proposal for an agreement that would, in effect, allow Forum Energy and CNOOC to jointly explore the SC 72. Therefore, Philex Petroleum’s operations for SC 72, which would have been one of its biggest investments, had been dead in the water for two years now.

Last May 20, at Philex Petroleum’s annual stockholders meeting, its chairman, Pangilinan, made an unexpected announcement: “In the board meeting today, the board decided to start preparing for a possible drilling program of two wells, which was the original plan two years ago. We were told that takes about 18 months to prepare for that, so the earliest we could do the actual drilling is sometime in the first quarter of 2016.”

“So we would seek to do that, subject to approvals of the government and, of course, I don’t have any idea how China would react to such drilling program,” he added.

While Pangilinan’s announcement wasn’t reported as big news, it was a surprise to those following the Spratly dispute.

How could Forum Energy drill wells in the area when the Chinese categorically told it that it couldn’t do so as this would violate Chinese sovereignty? Did it and the Philippine government decide to defy the Chinese?

Or did Pangilinan achieve a breakthrough in getting China’s CNOOC to an agreement to jointly explore SC 72?

But Pangilinan himself said in that same event: “There have been a number of meetings with CNOOC in the early part of last year and nothing has happened since then.”

Analysts concluded, though, that Pangilinan was simply trying to prettify Philex Petroleum’s image, especially since it was a listed firm, and was sending a signal to the market that its expensive SC 72 project, which is reflected in the firm’s stock price valuations, was not dead in the water.

This analysis had seemed accurate since Forum Energy’s permit to undertake exploration activities in the area was ending August 2014.

But then on July 9, the Department of Energy extended its permit for Forum Energy to drill two appraisal wells, with the deadline for completion extended to August 15, 2016.

Naturally, the next day Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei in a press conference in Beijing declared: “Without permission from China, oil and gas exploration by any foreign companies in waters under China’s jurisdiction is illegal and invalid.”

You judge for yourself.

Did the government think that China would not back up its words by sending immediately its ships to Reed Bank, after Pangilinan announced his company would start drilling two wells there, in effect, saying that he doesn’t care “how China would react to such drilling program?”

Or was Pangilinan’s announcements of starting drilling operations at the Reed Bank and the energy department’s move to extend its permit merely part of Aquino’s wag-the-dog move to provoke a “new Chinese intrusion,” intended to divert attention from the political disaster that was the Supreme Court’s July 1 ruling against the DAP and the rising resentment of the nation against him.

However, this latest of Aquino’s wag-the-dog moves will cost the Philippines dearly.

With his government in effect announcing to the world that it has authorized Forum Energy to start its drilling projects at Reed Bank so it could meet the 2016 deadline, China would most likely order its CNOOC to do its own drilling, claiming that it has no option since the Philippines moved first.

And guess which navy has the might at this time to defend which company’s vessels in the disputed area?

Aquino just gave China an excuse to occupy Reed Bank with CNOOC ships and, of course, with naval escorts.

There is one mystery, though. Pangilinan is a very intelligent man, one of the few Filipino business executives who have, because of First Pacific’s international engagements, a grasp of geopolitics.

Why would he make such an announcement that his firm would start drilling operations at Reed Bank, which he knew full well would ruffle China’s feathers and spark fresh tensions at the Spratly islands?

That question I’ll discuss on Friday.

FB: Rigoberto D. Tiglao


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  1. I agree Pnoy is inept, incompetent and stubborn ass! His “straight path” policy of governance has been partially achieved with the incarceration of GMA, Abalos, impeaching Corona and now indicting and detaining Enrile, Estrada and Revilla on PDAF corruptions! If Pnoy is true and sincere to his anti-corruption policy he should prosecute and detain all his allies involved in PDAF and DAP graft activities as exposed by COA (24 Senators and 204 Congressmen), like Drilon, Cayetano, Pimentel, Villar, Escudero, Trillanes, Sotto, Guingona, Lapid, Loren Legarda, Recto, Honasam, Edgardo Angara, to name a few in Senate and 204 congressmen like Tupaz, Gonzales, Abigail Binay, et.al. After this indictments Pnoy now can devote his time in finding solutions to power shortage, price increases of basic needs, fuel, peace and order and spike of crimes, Yolanda rehabilitation efforts and other major problems facing the country. Pnoy should not meddle in 2016 politics and party issues which he can delve into it in 2016! Pnoy must not be obsessed with his legacy and alleged pursuit of his reforms after his term.
    The irony of lack or incompetent leadership is the due to people lack of intelligent and honest choices of national leaderships! Though there is real scarcity of honest and competent leadership, the people however must unite to elect an honest and clean person! I cannot recommend VP Binay for his dubious and devious character. Neither do I push for Villarreal for his land grabbing and unscrupulous activities. Estrada is out as a convict plunderer. Drilon is good only as clinger to Aquinos coattails and a sycophant subservient politician. Cayetano is another loudmouth and holier-than-thou politician but engaged in dubious conjugal activities. Escudero is an ambitious and pretentious politician with unproven leadership! So at the moment Pnoy will do and is as good for nothing, yet we must prod him to act.

  2. From the very beginning of the statement regarding the term extention, I suspect that it is just a way of diverting the attention of the public from the very explosive DAP issues. We should not be distracted as they want us to be. Focus on the many sins of PeNoy, aBAD, BiLmonte,drilon and now abaya and the rest of their minions like oscar rodriguez of 3rd district of pampanga. Thank you Mr. Tiglao for giving us these reminders always.

  3. Atty. Roslee M. Formoso on

    It appears that there is lacking substance as to Noy Aquinos’ behavior and declaration of his intention to extend his term in office. His mother cory Aquino before the Pilipino People cried out for democracy and freedom hurlding words of resentments to Ferdinand Marcos as if Marcos can never be forgiven for overstaying in Malacanang. All of a sudden, the disguise of Noy Aquino is shedding out, and to all dismay he looks or he appears less than Ferdie because, Fred was the original dictator consu martial Law with AFP brutality. With Noys’ insinuation of extension, please he just couldn’t look and appear like “The Marcos Dictator”, but he sounded more of someone, realizing that he had not performed well on his term and on about closing time he saw or heard something that might be a game changer.

    About cha cha if the Pilipinos like to go broke, like they say, “there might not be a second chance”, disconnect is permanent.

  4. This cha cha is a ploy of Pnoy. If they can destroy Binay on parking building this week, the term extension will no longer be discuss, however, if the investigation will result to a blunder they will pursue plan b on term limit extension by all means. Mar Roxas should better resign to his presidential ambition that even he can eliminate Binay thru this senate investigation another opponent will surface to topple him next election. Mar’s name has been so bad that even an askal can beat him in 2016.

  5. Bert O.Romero on

    A potentially explosive situation involving as it does the fragile relations between two asymmetrical states. And in the face of it, what does Foreign Secretary del Rosario under whose responsibility promoting cordial relations between the Philippines, the weaker state, and China, the dominant state, fall do? Nothing except to go to Malta for a two-hour stay ostensibly to supervise the repatriation of OFW’S from Libya but factually for domestic publicity stunt. How pathetic the Department of Foreign Affairs has become by allowing itself to be used by allowing its Secretary to engage in a similar ” wag-the -tail” scenario – on hand supervision of repatriation – at the expense of the broader national security interest of the country – managing the rapidly deteriorating relations with China. For some observers this distorted gesture speaks volumes on the growing perception casting doubts on the Secretary’s sense of priorities.

  6. My own perception is financial private interests take precedence over “passe” notions of sovereignty, national interests and people welfare. I will no be surprised if MVP, pnoy and the rest of them meet together with the Indonesian and Chinese moguls to plot out their private stakes n complete disregard f what happens to the hapless Philippines and its people. At the end of the day these “bright boys” will be just waltzing to their banks located in countries friendly to them and live in scandalous prosperity the rest of their lives and that of their families, including siblings and bastards. May the good Lord havemercy on us all.

  7. Mr. Tiglao,thank you very much for the expose,I am a senior citizen,allow me to say something about our country.
    We are a country in shambles,a government with numerous scoundrels and mendicants,officials that were elected by numerous unpatriotic and stupid electorate.
    Our population is booming,yet the government after Marcos ,and specially this administration have not done anything for the people,this government with such a huge budget cannot provide a decent infrastructure and electric power,the MRT , is such in a dilapidated state,yet the LRT ,constructed during MARCOS Is doing well,it proves that MRT is built with questionable integrity,the power sector is a shame,no plans were installed 5 years ago,the sad thing is that it is controlled by the ELITE ,with monthly increases that is supported by this student council government.
    Whenever you drop by any government institution,we witness the inept and laziness of government employees, roam any street anytime lucky for us to witness a policeman,yet we will see policemen congregating in street corners like a vulture.
    The government is supposes to serve the people,provide transportation ,services and protection,WHERE IS IT.
    Some media people are so inutile to the state of our country,worst some of them are in the servitude to the power of the elite.
    Sincerly prays that our country and it’s people will see the future in a brighter prospective and be more PATRIOTIC

    • bayan, it is really sad, especially senior citizen like us, to see our country going to dog. that is the price we pay for electing a half-baked president. i wonder if we can still see the dawn.

  8. Pnoy has not done anything without his incompetency showing up. His motives of helping his friends in complete disregard for the people’s well-being will be subject of many books to come.

  9. gabriela silang on

    palace spin docs are digging deep into their trick boxes to come out with stories to divert attention far from aquino. chacha, recto reef, lp squabbles, etc. nice try! and harder please! but that wont take away the truth that his is a bungled presidency. you simply can’t fool us anymore, mr. president. had enough, please! your slip is showing!