Posts Tagged ‘De La Salle University’

Philippines: ‘How many deaths will it take?’

June 25, 2018

In President Duterte’s War On Drugs, How Many People Need to Be Killed? This is the fundamental question of our time. Exactly how many people have been killed in the Duterte administration’s signature antidrugs campaign?

As the Philippines has been running an experiment in killing people to end the war on drugs, the question remains, “How many more still need to be killed?” How many have been killed already?

The police have been less than forthcoming. They tried the old redefinition trick, creating different categories. They gave conflicting numbers. They even raised what the Supreme Court called a “ridiculous” argument that submitting police documentation on the killings to the Court, in a pending legal case, would compromise national security.

In its World Report 2018, Human Rights Watch said President Rodrigo Duterte dragged the Philippines into a serious human rights crisis since the dictatorship of late Ferdinand Marcos, whom Duterte had praised in the past. Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times/World Press Photo via AP, File

After the Court warned them, through the Office of the Solicitor General, that “the OSG’s continued refusal… will lead this Court to presume that these information and documents, because they are willfully suppressed, will be adverse to the OSG’s case,” the PNP finally began submitting the information, but only in parts.

The result is a climate of impunity based in part on confusion: Most Filipinos know that thousands have been killed in the Duterte administration’s antidrugs campaign, but both the details on the deaths and the patterns behind the killings have been largely, and even deliberately, left obscured.

Today’s forum at Ateneo de Manila on “emerging evidence and data” — emerging, that is, from the government’s antidrugs campaign — promises to bring much-needed clarity to a murky situation.

The forum will showcase the first findings of an unprecedented research project by a consortium of universities that include Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle University, the University of the Philippines and the Columbia Journalism School (through its Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism).

It will feature scholarly studies done on community-based drug rehabilitation and on the role of local governments. But its highlight would likely be the public presentation of what its researchers believe to be the most comprehensive database on drug-related killings since the 2016 elections.

By comprehensive, the scholars do not mean the most number of killings or the most recent set of data; rather, they mean the most complete documentation of the killings: information about the victims (a vast majority of whom are named), about the incidents, about the types of killing.

The database is based substantially on the “kill lists” compiled, edited and produced by news organizations like the Inquirer, ABS-CBN and GMA.

But the researchers looked for other sources, cross-checked the available information, encoded all the data, and analyzed the result. (We understand that today’s public presentation is only the first; more presentations will be scheduled as the database is updated.)

Much of the data, even those included in the lists maintained by the news organizations, are based on police reports, with all their attendant limitations. And all of the data the scholars used were publicly available.

Much of the reporting on the forum will, in all likelihood, focus on the patterns that the consortium’s research team has discovered, after integrating and processing the data from various sources.

The first patterns they discerned are truly disconcerting. (The scholars provided the Inquirer an early look at the presentation, because we shared our dataset. But the material is embargoed until 10 a.m. today.)

While we should rightly be provoked by the troubling patterns in the administration’s antidrugs campaign, however, we should also direct our attention to other questions the landmark research project raises. Here are two:

First, what does almost complete dependence on police sources at the precinct level mean for the documentation of the killings?

It is true that very few news organizations have the resources necessary to mount independent investigations of every drug-related killing, but as long as the paperwork at the blotter level is reliable, news organizations can still depend on them.

What happens if the killings have reached such a scale that police precincts are instructed to fudge the details, to deliberately downplay the numbers?

Second, the picture that the consortium’s research project describes is based almost exclusively on media coverage.

What happens in those areas (many outside the National Capital Region) where lack of resources prevents local news organizations from covering or reporting drug-related killings?

The researchers are upfront about this serious limitation of the database; but it also means that the complete picture of drug-related killings must be worse than reported.

“How many deaths will it take before he knows that too many people have died?”

The answer is no longer blowing in the wind; it has been codified into hard data.

Read more:
Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook


 (Includes FT Op-Ed)


All this makes one wonder: does the Philippines know what it is doing with China? In the South China Sea?  Benham Rise? Is Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the ICC, and is Agnes Callamard  (Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions at the UN) correct in saying the Philippines is guilty of gross illegalities under international law? Is the Philippine government being run by people who don’t understand the law? Is the move for a “Federal form of Government” based upon any good thinking?


 (No man is above the law…)


The grandmother of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, Violeta, cries beside his casket yesterday in Caloocan City. Relatives and concerned neighbors of the teenager slain by police are calling for justice. MICHAEL VARCAS
One of the fatalities, who has yet to be identified, was killed in an alleged shootout with police officers in Guiguinto, Bulacan on June 16. AP/Aaron Favila, file

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Philippine National Police chief General Ronald Dela Rosa whispers to President Rodrigo Duterte during the announcement of the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines on Jan 29, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

Jee Ick-joo, a South Korean businessman in the Philippines, was abducted by police from his home in October. It took his wife, Choi Kyung-jin, three months to learn his fate. Video: Eva Tam; photo: Jes Aznar for The Wall Street Journal

According to the Philippine National Police, there have been 6,225 drug-related deaths between July 2016 and September 2017. Despite this, the authorities claim that there has only been one extrajudicial victim under the current administration. AFP/Noel Celis
Three of five Filipinos believe that only the poor are killed in the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign, the Social Weather Stations said in its latest survey. AFP/Noel Celis
Photos obtained by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism show the body of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. lying flat on his back with his eyes half-open, and both of his hands empty. He was killed while in police custody during a “jail house shoot out” with police. All the police involved were exonerated and returned to duty. Image obtained by PCIJ/Nancy Carvajal



 (The Philippines seems to be siding with China, Russia and Iran)




Philippines: Human Rights Watch director Phelim Kine also said the numbers of fatalities in the drug war launched by President Rodrigo Duterte when he assumed office on June 30, 2016, are “appalling but predictable” since he (Duterte) vowed to “forget the laws on human rights.”

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Philippines Policeman found tortured and strangled after some fellow police said he was involved in the illegal drug trade. Photo Credit Boy Cruz

 (December 23, 2016)


 (Philippine Star, December 1, 2016)

 (Philippine Star, December 1, 2016)

“They are afraid the incident could cause President Duterte to declare martial law. I talked with some sultans and ulamas and elders here… and that’s what they have told me,” Ponyo said.

 (November 30, 2016)

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High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo, Jean-Marc Ferré

Summary executions of supposed drug dealers and other criminals have become a common occurence in recent weeks. The STAR/Joven Cagande, file

 (November 16, 2016)

 (August 10, 2016)

Davao City’s Ronald dela Rosa has been appointed to become the next chief of the Philippine National Police to lead President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s planned crackdown on illegal drugs. Facebook/Dela Rosa

Philippines: War On Drugs Stopped “Under the Guise of Human Rights Protection” — Government Solicitor General Says — Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno Being Impeached — Rule of Law?

November 18, 2017
One of the fatalities, who has yet to be identified, was killed in an alleged shootout with police officers in Guiguinto, Bulacan on June 16. AP/Aaron Favila, file

MANILA, Philippines (First published on November 17, 6:33 p.m.)

— The solicitor general belittled legal criticisms of the bloody war on drugs, saying the petitions are done “under the guise of human rights protection.”On Friday afternoon, government’s chief legal representative Jose Calida filed a 63-page comment on the consolidated petitions of two groups of families of victims of Oplan Tokhang, the core operation under the banner campaign.

Calida said the drug war is being “emasculated and undermined” by petitions of the families who lost their loved ones in the violent police operations. They are among the thousands of suspects killed in the drug war.

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Jose Calida

While the solicitor general lamented the “unfortunate” loss of lives from police operations, he said the killings “do not automatically render the anti-drug operation conducted by the respondents ‘unlawful’ as would entitle the petitioners to protection of writ of amparo.”

A writ of amparo is a remedy the court can grant to any person “whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.”

He warned that to “give due course” to the petitioners’ “patently baseless petitions would only serve to countenance harassment suits and ‘fishing expeditions’ that distract law enforcement agencies from their principal duties or, worse, dampen their zeal in the pursuit of criminal elements.”

“Ultimately, the ones who will benefit from the grant [of] these petitions will be those who are engaged in the illegal drug trade. This should not be countenanced by this Honorable Court,” Calida added.

READ: Duterte’s war on drugs to face SC for first time

The constitutionality of Duterte’s bloody war on drugs was brought to the high court by two groups of kin of Oplan Tokhang victims represented by human rights lawyers.

Calida will represent the respondents Philippine National Police Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and former-Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.

The solicitor general argued before the SC that “the two petitions before this Honorable Court, however, are marred by speculations, unfounded information, and unsubstantiated arguments.”

War on drugs constitution, Calida insists

Calida argued that the petitioners “failed to establish substantial evidence of an actual violation of or threat to petitioners’ rights to life, liberty and security that would entitle them to the grant of the interim reliefs prayed for.”

On October 11, Aileen Almora and Rowena Appari were assisted by the members of the of Free Legal Assistance Group, led by De La Salle University Dean Chel Diokno, when they filed a petition seeking a writ of amparo (or protection), injunction and prohibition, temporary protection order, and TRO before the Supreme Court.

Almora, in her petition, assailed the constitutionality of the Duterte’s memorandum No. 16-2016 ordering the police force to conduct Project Double Barrel.

The petition also challenged the DILG memorandum circular 2017-112 which allows Project Masid or the setup of community drop boxes for “reporting” of suspected drug sellers.

Calida stressed that it is within the mandated of PNP to “conduct house-to-house visitations and persuade possible illegal drug personalities to turn themselves in.”

“The purpose of Project Tokhang is to persuade the surrender of suspected drug personalities, not to effect their arrest. It is undeniably a valid police measure,” he added.

Petitioners from the two groups recounted harrowing experiences where cops knocked on their doors and shot their families indiscriminately.

They also noted that some of their kin have previously submitted themselves to the barangay to clear their names from involvement in drugs, but were still killed by vigilante groups.

But the solicitor general maintained that the petitioners “are effectively attacking the validity of the [PNP and DILG] circulars collaterally, in violation of prevailing doctrine.”

‘Petitioners failed to provide substantial evidence to prove threat to life’

Another petition was filed by Sr. Ma. Juanito R. Daño and 38 other petitioners whose families were killed in police anti-drug operations seeking for a writ of amparo.

Daño was assisted by the Center of International Law in filing its petition of October 19.

Calida hit Daño and the 17 lay mission partners who were also petitioners in the case for not being the “aggrieved parties within the contemplation of the law who are entitled to the benefit and protection of the writ.”

“Sr. Daño and the seventeen lay mission partners merely took the cudgels for the victims and their “families who are [allegedly] unwilling to join the petition for fear of retaliation,” and based their allegations on news articles and information they gathered during their visits to the wake of the alleged victims,” the comment further read.

On Tuesday, November 21, President Rodrigo Duterte’s ruthless campaign against illegal drugs will face the 15-member court led by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Police records over 6,000 deaths under investigation since June 2016, while human rights group put the death toll under the administration’s drug war at 13,000.


Philippine House justice committee invites Sereno to impeachment hearing

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno earlier asked the committee to allow her lawyers to cross-examine the complainant’s witnesses

Published 8:55 PM, November 16, 2017
Updated 8:55 PM, November 16, 2017
COMMITTEE HEARING. The House justice committee will continue deliberations on the impeachment complaint filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. File photo by Bea Cupin/Rappler

COMMITTEE HEARING. The House justice committee will continue deliberations on the impeachment complaint filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. File photo by Bea Cupin/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The House justice committee on Thursday, November 16, officially invited Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to a November 22 hearing which will tackle an impeachment complaint filed against her.

The invitation was made by acting committee secretary Rene Dolorino, on behalf of committee chairman Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali.

“As the respondent in the aforementioned impeachment complaint, you are hereby invited to personally attend the said hearing,” reads the letter.

Lawyer Larry Gadon wants Sereno impeached because she supposedly curtailed the authority of the Supreme Court (SC) en banc by making decisions without their knowledge. Gadon has also repeatedly criticized Sereno for purchasing a luxury vehicle which she uses in her capacity as Chief Justice.

Gadon’s impeachment complaint was earlier deemed sufficient in form, substance, and grounds. The House justice committee will next tackle if there is probable cause to pursue the complaint. (READ: Sereno: No sufficient evidence in impeachment complaint before House)

Thus far, the powerful committee – a mix of high-ranking House officials and regular members – have voted overwhelmingly in favor of Gadon’s complaint.

Sereno has repeatedly asked the committee to allow her lawyers to conduct cross-examinations of Gadon’s witnesses before the committee. But several lawmakers, including Umali, who is a lawyer, think only Sereno herself and not her lawyers may conduct cross-examinations.

The Chief Justice’s camp has insisted that it’s Sereno’s right to be represented before the committee hearings, which they say is akin to criminal proceedings. They have yet to comment on the invitation by the committee. (READ: CJ Sereno’s band of lawyers in her impeachment case)

Should the justice committee approve the impeachment complaint, it will be endorsed to the House plenary. If at least one-third of the House votes in favor of the committee report approving the impeachment complaint, Sereno will be deemed impeached. It will then be endorsed to the Senate, which will sit as an impeachment court. (READ: CJ Sereno asks lawmakers to choose democracy over partisan interest)

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on November 6 called on Sereno to resign and spare the SC “from any further damage.” But the Chief Justice’s camp said “resignation has never been an option.” –

South China Sea: Philippines Needs To Take Control of Its Own Fishing, Biology Professor says– “Who Cares More About Our Food, Fish and Environment?”

April 24, 2017

THE Philippines may be enjoying close relations with China, but the country must now advance its own fisheries-management policies in the disputed South China Sea (SCS), a research recommended.

In a study by the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute, Maria Carmen A. Lagman said the Philippines must reinforce the ruling of the arbitral tribunal on the country’s case against China. Lagman, who is also biology professor at the De La Salle University, said the Philippines must insist on a national and regional fisheries-management agenda in the SCS.

The advocacy, which was aimed at addressing the challenges of food security, environment protection and climate change, would require the Philippines and other countries encircling the SCS to establish transboundary marine parks or areas of joint protection, Lagman wrote in the study, titled “Converging on the Fisheries in the South China Sea”. She added the Philippines and other countries should also bring into discussions other international policy instruments and develop regional-level policies targeted toward small-scale fisheries.

Lagman said these options are becoming more than ever urgent because failure to manage the fisheries in the SCS could lead to exploitation of marine life in the area.

Citing data from another research, Lagman reported fisheries landing in the SCS in 2015 amounted to 10 million tons (MT), which was 12 percent of the total global catch.

Likely underestimated

LAGMAN said “this data is likely to be underestimated” and it might even increase to 16.6 MT if catch from subsistence, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing are included.

Fisheries-trade figures said the SCS contribute 11 MT to 17 MT in traded fisheries catch annually, with a landed value of no less than $12 billion. This translates to over 3 million jobs associated with fishing activities.

“With so much at stake,” Lagman said, “it is no wonder that control of the fisheries [in the SCS] will definitely be a source of economic and political tension.”

However, she argued that other countries with claims over the SCS should also come up with a focused set of policy instruments on small-scale fisheries, which was seen to be the practical alternative to industrial fishing.

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A Filipino fisherman wades from boat to shore with part of the crew’s catch. Fishermen who go to the South China Sea report that their catches have gotten smaller in recent years. PHOTOGRAPH BY ADAM DEAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Lagman said small-scale fishers lose income when commercial vessels intrude their fishing areas, as these boats make use of abusive catching tools—trawls, ring nets and purse seines—that virtually harvest all organisms.

The unregulated business of industrial fishing in the SCS led to the collapse in a number of large predatory fish, according to the study. The latter, which include tunas and groupers, are now slowly replaced by smaller fish highly reliant on zooplankton, like the tilapia and crawfish.

Spatially explicit

LAGMAN said overfished stocks would result to the phenomenon known as “fishing down the food web”, highlighted by a reduction in the quality and size of catch.

Lagman surmised the reduction in catch quality and size were already factored in by countries surrounding the SCS, as they have seen a decrease in demersal and pelagic fish stocks over the past decades.

The maximum sustainable yield (MSY) of the Philippines, Vietnam, east Malaysia and southern China has long been exceeded since the late-1980s, the study said. The MSY is seen as the threshold, and hence, immediate and substantial action must be taken to secure the harvested stock. The study said exhaustion of the MSY is reason enough for countries contending over the SCS to discuss the convergence of the fisheries in the area.

“The fish are a common resource for the countries in the SCS,” Lagman said. “Unless effort is taken to accommodate the transboundary nature of the resources, managing them would not be effective.”

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China:  A dock worker uses a mallet to dislodge frozen tuna aboard a Chinese cargo vessel docked at the city of General Santos in the Philippines. The cargo vessel spends up to two months at sea with a fleet of a dozen tuna boats working to fill its freezer.PHOTOGRAPH BY ADAM DEAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

She noted that fisheries policies in many of the disputing countries were almost, if not fully, spatially-explicit.

Citing the Philippines, the country declared some of its key fishing grounds closed seasons for commercial fishing. These included the East Sulu Sea, Basilan Strait and Sibuguey Bay to sardine fishing, selected areas of the Visayan Sea to sardines, herring and mackerels and the West Philippine Sea to Northern Sulu Sea to round scad fishing.

Strategy focus

JUDGING by the oceanographic features of the SCS, Lagman pinpointed the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal as the sources of the area’s propagules and, therefore, should be the focus of management strategies.

Lagman also raised concern over the effects of pollution, siltation, destructive fishing and eutrophication resulting from human activities on the coastline, as this would contaminate the mangroves, sea grass meadows and coral reefs in the SCS. Already threatened by coastal activities that deposit sediments, nutrients and effluents, the SCS is further jeopardized by destructive fishing practices that make use of trawls, push nets, dynamite and poison.

In addition, about $5.3 trillion of trade courses through the SCS every year, with the aspiration that no accident will occur, such as the Guimaras oil spill in 2006, when a tanker carrying 2 million liters of bunker fuel sank at the Guimaras Strait, damaging biodiversity-rich areas in the Philippines.

This is why the aggression of China on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands is a cause of concern for biologists, as Beijing was seen building seven new islands in the area by moving sediment from the seafloor to the reef.

“Reefs have been destroyed outright to serve as foundations for these new islands, causing long-term extensive damage to the environment,” Lagman added.



 (Philippine Star)

 — From March 25, 2017 with links to other related articles


 (National Geographic on the South China Sea)


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China’s Tian Jing Hao – Cutter suction dredger — Used to destroy South China Sea coral reefs to provide dredge material for new man made- islands — an environmental disaster

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The End of an era?  Fishermen work to unload a net full of anchovies during a fishing expedition in the Pacific Ocean. Photo AP

South China Sea dispute: Can Rodrigo Duterte be taken seriously?

April 8, 2017

By Lindsay Murdoch

Sydney Morning Herald

Bangkok: At first glance Rodrigo Duterte’s order to deploy Philippine troops to 10 small islands and reefs in the flashpoint waters of the South China Sea is a serious escalation of a dispute that could engulf the world’s major powers.

But like so many comments made by the 72-year-old firebrand President since he took office last June, it is unclear whether he is joking, stirring patriotic sentiments at home or is serious.

Taken at his word, sending the troops to build permanent structures like barracks and water desalination plants on the islands is a surprising reversal of his policy not to antagonise China. China in October pledged to invest $24 billion in the Philippines where poverty is widespread.

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President Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua. Photo by EPA

“It looks like everybody else is making a grab for the islands there, so we better live on those that are vacant,” the President told reporters during a visit to a military camp on the western island of Palawan on Thursday.


Philippine President orders troops to live on islands in South China Sea

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“I have ordered the armed forces to occupy all… At least, let us get what is ours now and make a strong point there that it is ours,” he said.

The remarks are sure to provoke an angry response from China, which claims almost all the strategically important parts of the South China Sea where US$5.3 trillion in trade passes each year.

It is unclear how Mr Duterte’s order could be executed. Some of the islands would need expensive and logistically difficult reclamation work before structures could be built on them. China could block supplies to the islands by stationing its Coast Guard vessels in waters near islands it occupies.

Analysts trying to interpret Mr Duterte’s often expletive-ridden and inflammatory comments on many issues wonder whether he is making a policy statement or another of his high-stakes quips.

When he was campaigning for president he said he would ride a jet-ski to an island in the South China Sea and raise the Philippine flag.

He later mocked the media for taking his claim seriously.

On Thursday Mr Duterte told his troops that he may visit one of the islands on the Philippine Independence Day in June to raise the flag.

Asked about his plans for a rusty ship that serves as outpost in the South China Sea for a handful of Philippine marines, he said “I will replace it with a luxury liner. There will be waiters, food, swimming pool so the soldiers there can get fat.”

The man who likes to be called “The Punisher” also told the troops never to surrender to the enemy.

“On the last bullet, put the pistol to your head and tell the enemy ‘f— you.’ At least you will die with your dignity,” he said.

Carlyle Thayer, an expert on the South China Sea at the University of New South Wales’ Australian Defence Force Academy, said it was quite clear that China’s continued consolidation of control over and militarisation of islands in the disputed waters has unnerved Filipino defence officials and now the President.

China has recently fortified its three main islands with airfields, hangers for military jets and installed missile weapons systems and anti-aircraft guns.

Professor Thayer said the Philippines was spooked by reports, later denied by Beijing, that China was moving to install environmental monitoring equipment on to Scarborough Shoal seaized by China in 2012. The shoal sits only 12 nautical miles from the Philippine coast.

Manila also raised concerns when a Chinese oceanographic ship plied waters in the Benham Rise off Philippines’ east coast.

Richard Javad Heydarian, an assistant professor of political science at Manila’s De La Salle University, said Mr Duterte’s comments were meant to calm nerves within the Philippine defence establishment.

“He definitely felt the heat, so is now scrambling to build his patriotic credentials,” he said.

Professor Thayer pointed out the Philippines will violate a 2002 declaration among claimant nations in the South China Sea to exercise self-restraint if it does occupy the islands.

“Even more serious, China is likely to respond. Chinese officials have been quoted as saying ‘if you do one, we will do one and a half. If you do two, we will do two and a half,” he said.

The Philippines Gambles on China — And China Has a New Helper (or Challenge) in Philippine President Duterte

October 17, 2016


President Duterte will proceed to China after his visit to Brunei. AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File

By Steve Mollman

Four years ago, China seized the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in an act of aggression that provoked protests by Filipinos in cities around the world. A large coral atoll with a reef-rimmed lagoon, Scarborough Shoal lies about 120 nautical miles (222 km, 138 miles) from the Philippine coast. China could create a “strategic triangle” for controlling the South China Sea by building an artificial island and military base there, and the Philippine’s new president, Rodrigo Duterte, seems willing to essentially let China have it (formally giving Beijing sovereignty could be grounds for his impeachment).

That’s a dramatic policy shift from his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, who challenged Beijing’s aggression in an international tribunal and won, with a July 12 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague invalidating China’s sweeping maritime claims. It was as huge victory for the Philippines, but by that time Duterte was in power, and he’s seemed uninterested in using the result to rally international pressure against China.


File photo

In recent months, Duterte has been cozying up to Beijing while lashing out at the US, along with the EU, UN, and human rights groups, for their criticism of his anti-drug war, which has seen thousands killed outside the due process of the law. This week, Duterte will make a state visit to China.

Duterte’s shift toward Bejing looks to be a major change not only for the Philippines, but for the entire Asia-Pacific region, argues Richard Javad Heydarian, a political scientist at De La Salle University in Manila and author of Asia’s New Battlefield: The USA, China, and the Struggle for the Western Pacific.

We asked Heydarian how Duterte is viewed by China, how his relationship with the US will evolve, and how the mercurial leader will be perceived in the Philippines after his “honeymoon period” ends. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Quartz: In terms of the Philippines dealing with China’s aggression in the South China Sea, how might things have been different with someone besides Duterte in power?

Heydarian: I think if Aquino were still in power or his anointed successor Mar Roxas were to be elected as the Philippine president, and the arbitration outcome was as straightforward against China, then most likely the Philippines would have adopted what I call a Nicaragua option. I’m looking at the precedence of Nicaragua vs. the US in the 1980s, where the US, similar to China, boycotted the whole arbitration case at the International Court of Justice and then rejected the unfavorable outcome. Then Nicaragua went every single year to the UN in different international fora, embarrassing the US, calling it a bully, and trying to mobilize the international community to force the US to comply with it. Eventually the US complied in an indirect, partial way.

I think that would have been the option of the Philippines, that immediately after the release of the arbitration outcome, the Philippines would have released a very strongly worded statement in the ASEAN, in the G-20, in the G-7 summit, in the UN General Assembly. Of course China could turn it down right and left, but the accumulative impact would have been huge for China.

In fact, the Chinese were somehow worried about that scenario, that the Philippines would have been on this very aggressive diplomatic offensive. Not to mention the Philippines would extend assistance to Vietnam, Indonesia, and other countries in terms of their own potential legal warfare. The Philippines could have called on other countries to join it in a class suit, like legal warfare, and also use arbitration to give a legal pretext for the United States, Japan Self-Defense Forces, the Royal Australian Navy to conduct more aggressive and sustained so-called freedom-of-navigation operations close to artificially created islands in the Spratly chain of islands.

All of these options were on the table and then Duterte said, “None of them.” Duterte very clearly said, “This is a purely bilateral issue. It’s between the Philippines and China, I’m not going to raise it in any international forum, including the ASEAN.”

What has been the impact of Duterte’s heated rhetoric against the US?

It looked like Duterte was pivoting away from US toward the Chinese camp. This is where a lot of countries were caught off guard. Suddenly now you have this strange situation whereby it’s Singapore, the most economically exposed country to China, that is calling for compliance to the arbitration outcome. Of course, you know that they’re having their own tiffs with China over the issue.

Duterte’s saying, “I’m going to get out of the US Alliance and I’m going to build a new alliance with China and Russia.” This was a huge, huge swing from the Aquino period of counter-balancing against China, of siding with the US and Japan against China, to now suddenly saying, “I don’t want to be with the US. I want to join the Chinese and Russians.” Even if this is so far just pure rhetoric, if not bluster, it has had huge short-term impact.

The most immediate was that Duterte single-handedly undermined America’s plans of using the legal warfare as a pretext to step up its military footprint, along with France, to constrain China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea. [US] president [Barack] Obama wanted to use the arbitration outcome … to call upon the international community to pressure China to comply with it. But because of Duterte’s 180-degree shift on the position, president Obama looked isolated during the ASEAN summit. Some of the EU officials also told me, “Why should we take the hardline position when the very country that initiated the case is suddenly sounding completely different?”

There was definitely huge short-term shock to all those prepared for a “contstrainment” strategy against China—not a containment, because China is too important and too economically integrated to contain. You can constrain China by mobilizing diplomatic pressure, by conducting more multilateral exercises among like-minded countries. [But] Duterte essentially cleared the deck so the poker game had to start from scratch.

How will Duterte’s relationship with the US evolve?

There’s this huge commotion that perhaps under Duterte the Philippines is going to be the next Venezuela, that Duterte is a Hugo Chavez and he’s going to extract the Philippines out of the US camp and jump into bed with the Chinese and Russians. I think that’s going a little bit too far. I think the more likely scenario for Duterte is that he’s going to go the Erdogan or Turkish way. If you have noticed Turkey, they have a very colorful strongman, too, called Mr. Erdogan.

Erdogan has a very questionable human rights record. Whenever [he] has come under attack [for this] by the US and EU… he just threatens them with access to military bases, or he conducts diplomatic visits to Russia and he flirts with China. But at the end of the day, military-to-military relations continue despite all the diplomatic toxicity.

I think Duterte may tinker here and there with existing agreements with the US, particularly those exercises in the South China Sea that are a sore in the eye of the Chinese. In exchange for that, [he might] ask the Chinese to give us concessions in the Scarborough Shoal, in terms of fishery access, and some sort of a non-aggression pact, whereby the Chinese will give us assurances that they will not impose or implement an ADIZ or any kind of exclusion zone within areas where we have personnel and territory.

What about the possibility of China building a military base at Scarborough Shoal?

I think the Chinese are going to have a hard time suspending any construction activities in the Scarborough Shoal forever. I think it’s possible the Chinese, in the short run, may suspend any construction activities in the Scarborough Shoal to facilitate a warming-up of relations with Duterte.

How does China view Duterte?

The Chinese themselves have some legitimate worries. One is that Duterte’s such a mercurial person that there’s no assurance that later on he will not turn on China, for whatever reason. He may be powerful, he may be determined, but it’s hard to predict him.

The second thing is, they don’t know if Duterte will last. That’s a problem. There’s no guarantee that Duterte can last long in power if he continues to do what he’s doing, which is alienating all the important external and domestic variables and forces. So I think the Chinese will think twice before making any huge agreement with him because the sustainability of that agreement is under question.

The Chinese are actually in a very tough position too. They don’t know how much should they bet on this guy. He’s giving them a unique opportunity—never in the history of the Philippines have you had president like this. But at the same time, the risk is too high. So let’s see how wild of a gambler Xi Jinping is, especially as [the Chinese] head toward their own leadership transition in 2017.
So if China doesn’t give Duterte a big concession of some sort, what might it give him?

What could happen is some sort of provisional agreement whereby China is the factor in control, but gives the Filipinos access, Philippine fisherman access, to the Scarborough Shoal here and there. If they don’t give Duterte anything, then Duterte will not be able to sell any agreement with China, because the Filipino people, who are very anti-China, will say, “Oh, so genius of you, to piss off the Americans and go and beg the Chinese and get nothing in exchange.”

Duterte is popular, but so is the United States. The US had a 92% approval rating last year. So maybe Duterte now can pull off this diplomatic flirtation with China, but if the Chinese don’t give him anything within a year or so, then Duterte will have no choice but to pivot back to the United States.

What is behind Duterte’s attitude toward the US?

His lashing out at the US is a product of three factors. One, it’s partly a reflection of his conviction as a leftist, anti-imperialist guy. Second, he’s irritated with the US over the human rights criticisms. He really feels this is an interference in his mandate. Third, this is part of his signaling to China that “You can deal with me as an independent leader. Don’t worry, the US is not part of the equation at all.”

I think he’s the first Filipino president who is going to have his first state visit to China, and not to the United States. The symbolic value is huge. Practically all of his predecessors were either very close to the US or always thought twice before criticizing the United States, although they may have harbored some misgivings in private. But this guy is lashing out at the US in such an open way.
Where does Japan come into this?

The Japanese are our top trading partner, top investment partner, and top source of development aid. They’re definitely the Philippines’ best economic friend. They have always had a good relationship with Duterte, since his mayor days… the biggest investors in Davao were Japanese. In the long game, they will say the big difference is [they] don’t have any disputes with the Philippines. [They would say] that “if the Chinese step up their economic investments, we can also step up our economic investments.” Japan is very confident.

Does standing up to the US help Duterte look strong when he might otherwise be perceived as weak because of his China approach? How will he be perceived down the road?

Duterte’s charisma is largely tied to his macho image. That’s the Latin American caudillos, the tough man. But it’s hard to say where his popularity is coming from. Is it his war on drugs? Is it his standing up tough to the US? It could be a combination of factors. But I think it’s most of all because it’s his honeymoon period—it’s as simple as that. If you look at his approval ratings, it’s almost exactly the same as the approval ratings of three or four of his predecessors at this stage in their careers.

Many people think this is just trash talk—this is trash talk and the guy looks tough.

[But] if the US begins to downgrade development aid and military aid, and makes visa applications for Filipinos harder, that’s when Duterte’s going to lose support. Once they get hurt in the purse or in terms of their entry to [travel to] the US, then they’re going to speak out: “Ok, maybe the president was foolish.”




 (Last week Philippine Philippine Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said President Duterte had no power to give away any of the sovereign territory of the Philippines)

  (March 2016)

 (Also shows examples of how China treats Vietnamese and Filipino fishermen…)



   (From July 12, 2016)


Above Chinese chart shows China’s “Nine Dash Line.” China says it owns all ocean territory north of the Nine Dash Line. There is no international legal precedent for this claim.  On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid.

Philippines: Little success beyond crime war for Duterte

October 8, 2016

Ask anyone here what he thinks of President Rodrigo Duterte’s first 100 days in office, and chances are he will say: “Has it really just been 100 days?”

So much has happened since Mr Duterte took office on June 30 that it seems he has been president for years already.

The Philippines has seen an anti-crime drive that is unprecedented in its brutality and impact. As of his 99th day in office yesterday, more than 3,500 drug suspects have been killed, more than a third by police and the rest at the hands of ruthless vigilantes or their own gangs.

These deaths have resonated in the halls of Congress, and ricocheted globally, drawing criticism from world leaders such as United States President Barack Obama and United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon.

In Congress, the killings have led to a reality show with a complex narrative that not even such master weavers of cloak-and-dagger tales as John Le Carre can create: Mass murders perpetrated by a cabal of ruthless lawmen and assassins-for- hire, cheered on by a mayor with a fancy for Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood movies; crime suspects garrotted, disembowelled, hacked to pieces, fed to crocodiles; a national penitentiary run by drug kingpins who enjoy luxuries such as armed bodyguards, celebrity- studded concerts and jacuzzis. A senator and arch-foe of the President has been portrayed as a “drug queen” with a voracious sexual appetite.

Artwork in the image of Mr Duterte is created on a paddy field in Los Banos city, 70km south of Manila. People feel that so much has happened in Mr Duterte’s first 100 days in office that it seems like he has been governing for much longer. Reuters photo

Despite the rising body count and the often horrendous, sometimes lurid tales that have swirled around his anti-crime drive, Mr Duterte remains as popular as ever.

A survey released on Thursday showed that three in four Filipinos approve of what he has been doing. The anti-crime drive, in particular, got an 84 per cent approval rating.


He is the most tactless, arrogant, narcissistic, misogynistic, paranoid, cognitively dissonant president this country has ever had.


Mr Duterte gave himself six out of 10. “It is not a self-derogating thing. I just don’t like to brag,” he said.

But he said with the public firmly behind him, “we will move on to the drug campaign”.

“There will still be so many deaths, and I will not apologise for it,” he added.


There are ups and downs in his first 100 days. But at the end of the day, his critics will only see the failures and downside. Let us admit, the first 100 days were never as successful as the complete six years of past administrations. We are just in the drug war. Next stop will be the war on corruption.


There has ironically been a sense of peace and order amid the killings. Police statistics show the crime rate has fallen by half. People are talking about feeling safer when they are on the streets.

“I worry less now about getting mugged or robbed when I go to work,” said Mr Aljen Rosales, 24, who works the late-night to early-morning shift at a call centre in Quezon City, an hour north of Manila.

Apart from his war on crime, Mr Duterte has little to show for on other fronts.

Traffic remains horrendous in metropolitan Manila, and the train system that millions rely on to get to work continues to break down. Wages have not risen, and prices remain high. Everything is as Mr Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino has left it.

There are even signs of trouble. Businessmen have been grumbling.

The Environment Minister has shut down 11 mining companies and is looking to close 20 more. That is holding up US$25 billion (S$34.3 billion) worth of investments, according to mining advocate Philip Romualdez. The Labour Ministry, meanwhile, is looking to raise the minimum wage by 20 per cent and end the practice among the nation’s biggest retailers of hiring contractual employees.

The key stock index has dropped 2.3 per cent since June 30, the only decliner among major Asian gauges, and the peso plunged to a seven-year low against the US dollar at 48.26 on Sept 26.

Mr Duterte is himself rocking the boat. He is expending most of his energy on crime, and leaving other matters to his surrogates who, afraid to act on their own, wait for him to make up his mind.

His almost daily barrage of invectives and obscenities directed at the US and Europe, seemingly for no reason other than their criticism of his anti-drugs push, is shaking up old alliances that have been the bedrock on which the Philippine economy stands.

He is turning to China and Russia for arms and money, and looking at dumping defence arrangements with the US.

Yesterday, Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana announced that Manila had officially informed Washington that joint patrols in the South China Sea had been suspended on Mr Duterte’s orders.

“They have been suspended for the time being. They (Washington) know it already,” he told reporters, adding he relayed the decision to the head of the US Pacific Command when he was in Hawaii at the start of this month.

But many here are willing to overlook the missteps. After all, it has been only 100 days.

“What he is doing actually is breaking down the old order, the old system of politicking, the old system of governance, the old system of foreign relations… He is actually repudiating the old order in order to build something new. He is breaking down the old order, and you know that is the reason why his style is so acerbic,” said De La Salle University dean and political science professor Julio Teehankee.

While Mr Duterte may be off to a “very good” start, he must soon pivot to matters other than crime, said political analyst Richard Javad Heydarian.

He said Mr Duterte “will have to pour more attention to other urgent problems such as the infrastructure bottlenecks, particularly the traffic woes in the major cities”.

“I expect the administration to slowly diversify its political agenda over the coming months,” he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline ‘Little success beyond crime war for Duterte’.

Philippines President Duterte’s Tilt Toward China Will Cause Others to Re-Think Strategy in Asia — “He’s obviously given this a lot of strategic thought”

September 16, 2016

By David Tweed and 
Bloomberg News

Just when some of China’s neighbors were seeking to curtail its expansionism, along came Rodrigo Duterte.

In less than three months on the job, the 71 year-old Philippine leader has used expletives in talking about U.S. President Barack Obama and vowed to end cooperation with the U.S. military in both fighting terrorism and patrolling the disputed South China Sea. He’s moved to boost economic and defense ties with China and Russia.

While Duterte is unpredictable — one day calling China “generous” and the next threatening a “bloody” war if Beijing attacked — his behavior has undermined U.S. efforts to rally nations from Japan to Vietnam to Australia to stand up to China’s military assertiveness.

President Barack Obama, second from left, and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, second from right, face each other on the podium before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gala dinner in Vientiane, Laos, on Sept. 7. RITCHIE B. TONGO / EPA

In doing so, he risks shifting from the 1951 Philippine-U.S. defense treaty, which has been a bedrock of American influence in the region. While Duterte has said he’ll respect the alliance he’s repeatedly stressed the need for an “independent foreign policy” and questioned America’s willingness to intervene if China were to seize territory in the South China Sea.

‘Game Changer’

“This could be the game changer for the South China Sea situation in general and Sino-U.S. regional competition specifically,” said Zhang Baohui, director of the Center for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. “Duterte’s foreign policy may dramatically shift the geostrategic picture of the region, leaving China in an advantageous position versus the United States.”

One of the biggest benefits for China is the potential for a deal over the South China Sea. Just weeks after Duterte took office in late June, an international arbitration panel ruledthat China’s claims to most of the waterway had no legal basis — a win for the Philippines in a case brought by Duterte’s predecessor.

While Duterte has said he’ll respect the ruling, he’s signaled he’s open to talks with China, the country’s biggest trading partner, and he did not push for the ruling to be mentioned in the communique last week from a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Laos. Before taking office, he said he’d consider setting aside territorial disagreements to get a Chinese-built railway.

 Joint Effort

In July, Duterte sent former President Fidel Ramos to Hong Kong to explore common ground with China. Ramos later called for a bigger role for the Philippines under China’s plan to link ports and other trading hubs throughout Asia to Europe.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Wednesday that China is aware of reports on Duterte’s comments regarding military cooperation, but had no specifics. She said that China “will work with the Philippines to promote and renew normal exchanges and cooperation in different fields.”

“Let’s not be naive about this, there’s no other country that will benefit from our differences with the U.S. and our other allies but China,” said Lauro Baja, a former Foreign Affairs undersecretary who served as the Philippine permanent representative to the United Nations under ex-President Gloria Arroyo. “Whether we like it or not, we’re sending the wrong message to the U.S., China and our other allies with these actions and pronouncements.”

China claims sovereignty over all features that lie within a nine-dash line drawn on a 1940s map enclosing more than 80 percent of the South China Sea. It says that gives it the right to interdict military ships close to its territory — a position the U.S. opposes.

Fu Ying, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of China’s top lawmaking body, this month framed U.S.-China tensions in the South China Sea as a fight over the freedom of navigation for naval warships and other non-commercial vessels within the 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zones of coastal states.

“The Chinese want the South China Sea to become a Chinese strait, with control of the maritime space and the air space above it,” said Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra. “That is the long-term game, and flipping Duterte over to Beijing’s side is part of the play.”

China’s land reclamation and military buildup in the waters has in recent years pushed some neighbors closer to the U.S. The Obama administration has boosted military cooperation with nations such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, and Japan.

Filipino Members of the group Kalayaan Atin Ito (Freedom This Is Ours) raise their fists next to the Philippines flag as they sail to Scarborough Shoal, June 2016. PHOTO by KALAYAAN ATIN ITO for AFP

‘Very Bad Scenario’

Still, at the summit last week in Laos, a spat with Obama over Duterte’s war on drugs and the thousands of deaths it has caused overshadowed any criticism of China.

“That’s a very bad scenario,” said Hideki Makihara, a senior lawmaker in Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, referring to a potential Philippine strategic alignment with China. In that case, “at least we need Vietnam, Malaysia and other countries surrounding the South China Sea in our group,” he said in an interview this week in Tokyo.

For now, U.S. officials are emphasizing the benefits of defense ties with the Philippines.

“We’ve got a wide range of shared concerns and shared interests, and the United States and the Philippines have been able to work effectively together in a variety of areas to advance our mutual interests,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Sept. 12.

Backlash Risk

A shift toward China may be difficult for Duterte to sustain. If China refuses to make any tangible concessions on the South China Sea, particularly over fishing resources at the disputed Scarborough Shoal, Duterte may face a domestic backlash, according to Richard Javad Heydarian, an assistant political science professor at De La Salle University in Manila.

“This is precisely why security relations with the United States will remain indispensable for the Philippines,” he wrote in an article last week for the Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. Still, the U.S. can no longer expect the same level of strategic deference and diplomatic support. “This is the new normal in Philippine-U.S. relations.”

No real smiles here: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 12, 2016. Credit REUTERS


 (China is taking the Marine Life and Seafood away from the Philippines)

A worker carries a line-caught yellowfin tuna at the General Santos Fish Port, which is known as the “tuna capital of the Philippines.” The South China Sea, through which tuna migrate, produces more fish than almost anywhere else, but it has been severely overfished and is nearing collapse. Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic

 (New York Times Editorial)

Filipino fishermen aboard the Ninay haul in sardines and scad in national waters near the South China Sea. The territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea have increased competition for dwindling fish stocks of all species.  Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic

A couple sits outside a home built over the water in Quezon, where most people have family members who work as fishermen. Overfishing has put the livelihoods of many Filipinos at risk.
Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic

China Coast Guard — In this photo released by the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters of Japan, a Chinese coastguard vessel sails near the disputed islands in the East China Sea on August 6, 2016. Japan said this ship was watching over more than 200 Chinese fishing boats fishing illegally in Japanese waters. AP

Commentary: How a marine-protected area in the South China Sea is crucial for peace

August 29, 2016
Marine Protected Areas are declared to protect the existing biodiversity and the integrity of the marine ecosystem in the area. How can the setup help the Philippines deal with the South China Sea issue? An environmental expert explains.

The maritime and territorial tug-of-war between states bordering the South China Sea, beyond what the Philippines has named the West Philippine Sea, has gone on for several decades. For Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, the area is a vital maritime route and, just as importantly, its ground sare rich in natural resources.

Unfortunately for the claimant-states in Southeast Asia, China upped the ante in its claim through its infamous nine-dash line, which covers more than 80 percent of the sea and has been interpreted to delineate that area as Chinese territory. The provocative Chinese actuations to enforce this interpretation, notably at Scarborough Shoal, forced the Philippine government, then led by President Benigno Aquino III, to invoke the provisions of the UNCLOS and initiate a case against China before a neutral court of arbitration.

The effects of enforcement have not only been political or military in nature. One cause of action in filing the said case dealt with the environmental damage caused by Chinese government agents and by Chinese fishermen with government support. Rightly so, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines.

The havoc wreaked by Chinese reclamation and fishing activities have been documented and brought to the public’s awareness. There is no equivocating the extent of the damage. As former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario commented at a recent environmental forum, the area that saw coral reef destruction over the last few years is five times the size of Bonifacio Global City.

Thus, the burning question that confronts us is: “What do we do now?” Indeed, considering the irrefutable ruin China caused in the contested waters and the favorable arbitral ruling to the Philippines, what is the way forward for us as a country, as part of a region that seeks peaceful solutions, and as a member of the international community?

Earlier this month, the Stratbase-ADR Institute with its environmental arm the Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST), partnered with the De La Salle University to hold the last part of its West Philippine Sea forum series. The forum focused on the harm on the environment that resulted from massive Chinese reclamation and destructive fishing practices by its nationals, all carried out under the protective watch of their coast guard.

The forum featured scientific, diplomatic, legal, and civil society perspectives on the issues. Promisingly, three speakers, Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, biologist and De La Salle Professor Carmen Lagman, and Secretary Del Rosario, all expressed their interest in establishing a marine park in the disputed areas of the South China Sea.

What does it mean to create a marine park or a marine protected area?

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have been defined by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as areas of the oceans or other bodies of water that are protected for conservation purposes. Under Philippine municipal laws, MPAs are managed under the framework of the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act. As defined by NOAA, the main objective of establishing an MPA is to protect the existing biodiversity and the integrity of the marine ecosystem in the area. In the case of the wide-scale reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea, creating a marine park or sanctuary should allow what is left of the coral reefs and the marine species to slowly recuperate and, for the endangered species there, have a fighting chance against extinction.

Employing this environmental management tool, of course, advocates toward not only ecological preservation but, more importantly, how humans can sustainably benefit from the fisheries and other aquatic resources in the area. The South China Sea is notable for being the ‘nursery’ of the region’s fisheries, where fish that feed the world reproduce. This demonstrates the importance of the area to the global marine ecosystem.

The West Philippine Sea is also part of the Coral Triangle Region, touted as the global center for marine biodiversity. If the habitat, spawning, and feeding grounds, of these megadiverse species are severely disrupted, humanity risks losing part of its heritage, a wealth of scientific discoveries, and, most urgently: an important source of food.

By establishing a marine-protected area over this nursery, the overall stocks of fish beyond the MPA’s limits will also increase. Thus, the suggestion for the establishment of an MPA would recognize the resource-rich nature of the disputed areas, and consequently better safeguard the survival and livelihood needs of people from coastal communities for these resources.

This kind of systems thinking is crucial in appreciating the stakes involved, now that a significant area of the region’s coral reef system has practically vanished. Along this line, and as observed by the forum’s speakers, ecological protection should be at the center of the region’s efforts to come to peaceful solutions. Just as importantly, unified efforts to protect the environment can also be a natural foundation for building the trust that the region sorely needs. Trust will also be needed to hold the marine park together. If the claimant States recognize the system, then trust can be founded on realizing that it is in the best interest of each country to join the conservation effort.

How could we implement a marine protected area?

There are many paths to establishing and implementing a marine park in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea. As Justice Carpio has pointed out, such an initiative could be done bilaterally by the Philippines with any number of claimant states, although it would more easily begin with an agreement with some of our more friendly neighbors. Of course, we can start with implementing it ourselves, in the part of the sea that is now undoubtedly within our exclusive economic zone. If the Philippines were to explore this option, it could set an example for the rest of the region.

Moreover, Dr. Lagman observed that it may be difficult to collaborate on a state level in the short term, but cooperation among scientists can become the foundation of states coming together and taking action.

Perhaps, these approaches can move us forward in setting up the marine park. It is especially helpful for the Philippines that there is an existing legal framework that could allow us to move on this issue more quickly. Most importantly, the establishment of a marine protected area must be founded on what science, not politics, tells us about the health and future of the disputed areas.

Lawyer Lysander Castillois is an environment fellow at the Stratbase-ADR Institute and the secretary-general of Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship, or PBEST.


 (This    article has links to several  others related to environmental issues in the South China Sea).


Giant Clams are disappearing from the South China Sea

 (Has links to many related conservation and environmental articles)

Reef debris after destruction by a Chinese super dredge


A green sea turtle is seen off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

A green sea turtle is seen off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.(Reuters)

President Obama, with the stroke of a pen, created the world’s largest ocean reserve on Friday off Hawaii, days after designating a massive federal monument in Maine – moves that have angered local lawmakers who accuse the president of disregarding the impact on residents.

Obama used a presidential proclamation to expand the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument off the coast of Hawaii by over 400,000 square miles. The preserve now stretches 582,578 square miles, the world’s largest marine protected area.

“The expansion provides critical protections for more than 7,000 marine species … [and] will allow scientists to monitor and explore the impacts of climate change on these fragile ecosystems,” the White House said in a statement, citing the support of Sen. Brian Schatz and “prominent Native Hawaiian leaders.”

But the decision drew sharp criticism from the fishing industry and even fellow Democrats, as it will drastically expand the area where commercial fishing and drilling is banned.

Former Democratic Gov. George Ariyoshi said at a rally last month that it came down to the question of who actually owned the ocean.

“The ocean belongs to us,” Ariyoshi reportedly said. “We ought to be the ones who decide what kind of use to make of the ocean.”

Representatives from the fishing industry warn the move will increase prices and imports, The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported. All commercial extraction activities will be prohibited within the area, though non-commercial fishing is allowed by permit.

The regional council that manages U.S. waters in the Pacific Islands said the decision “serves a political legacy” rather than a conservation benefit.

“Closing 60 percent of Hawaii’s waters to commercial fishing, when science is telling us that it will not lead to more productive local fisheries, makes no sense,” said Edwin Ebiusi Jr., chairman of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. “Today is a sad day in the history of Hawaii’s fisheries and a negative blow to our local food security.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts, which supported the expansion, gave an idea of how big the area truly is, saying more than three Californias could be squeezed into it:

According to the Star Advertiser, the idea was proposed to Obama by Native Hawaiian leaders, who argued the waters in the area contained sharks and large predatory fish that have been overfished in other areas and were in need of protection. The move has also been backed by environmentalists and some scientists.

Other Democrats praised Obama’s action, with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, calling it “one of the most important actions an American president has ever taken for the health of the oceans.”

With the announcement, Obama will have created or expanded 26 national monuments. The administration said Obama has protected more acreage through national monument designations than any other president.

Obama will travel to Midway Atoll, within the monument, on Thursday as part of a visit to Hawaii next week. His visit will come after he addresses leaders from the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders and the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

The monument was first designated by President George W. Bush in 2006.

The announcement came after Obama used his executive authority to create the National Park Service’s newest national monument at Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine. The new monument was created as part of the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service.

The White House said the monument will protect 87,500 acres and will bolster the forest’s resilience against the impact of climate change.

The monument’s creation, though, was opposed by state lawmakers and critics who warn it will hinder efforts to rebuild a forest-based economy in the region.

Related Image

“President Obama is once again taking unilateral action against the will of the people, this time the citizens of rural Maine,” Republican Gov. Paul LePage said. “The Legislature passed a resolution opposing a National Monument in the North Woods, members of Maine’s Congressional delegation opposed it and local citizens voted against it repeatedly.”

The move also was opposed by Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, both Republicans.

“Our local job creators—not Washington bureaucrats—know best how to use our working forests and provide proper access for industries to create more jobs including those in the outdoor recreation businesses, like snowmobiling, hunting, rafting, camping and so on,” Poliquin said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

South China Sea: Philippines Thinking Through Possibilities of a Marine Protected Area

August 15, 2016
FILE – In this May 11, 2015, file photo, an aerial photo taken through a glass window of a military plane shows China’s alleged on-going reclamation of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool Photo via AP, File

MANILA, Philippines — Environmental advocates recently called for the declaration of the Spratly Islands as a marine protected area amid the dispute with China.

Manila-based think tank Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi) and the Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST) led international experts in calling for the declaration amid ecological destruction from China’s island-building activities in the disputed area.

Ysan Castillo, secretary general of PBEST, described the damage done to the marine ecosystems in the area as “shocking.”

“There must now be a conscious effort to protect remaining coral reefs and preserve marine resources,” Castillo said in a forum at the De La Salle University (DLSU) in Manila last week.

Castillo said that the protection of marine resources in the Spratlys is critical being the spawning area of fish caught in the coastal waters of Luzon, Palawan, Malaysia, the Sulu seas, Brunei, Vietnam and China.

Human activity are restricted in marine protected area for the purpose of conservation, usually to protect natural or cultural resource. Fishing, however, is not necessarily banned in protected areas. A biodiverse region, the Philippines has so far declared over 600 marine protected areas, but enforcement remains a challenge.

Stratbase ADRi president Dindo Manhit noted that a major fisheries collapse will cause starvation to millions of people in the region.

“A declaration by all concerned countries to preserve marine resources and the banning of destructive fishing in the disputed waters will be a positive move for food security and peace in the region,” Manhit said.

Manhit added that the government must unite every Filipino as a nation to effectively stop the destruction of the country’s marine environment.

The economic damage from China’s activities in the South China Sea is at nearly $6 billion per year from the destruction of an estimated 16,200 hectares of coral reef, according to professor John McManus of the University of Miami.

Supreme Court senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio earlier said that the Philippines can file another case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration for damages in destroying the marine environment in the West Philippine Sea.

“We did not pray for monetary award and none was granted, but we can file because we said China severely damaged the marine environment and the tribunal agreed and even expanded on that,” Carpio said at a symposium at the DLSU last week.

In July, the arbitral tribunal ruled that China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea does not have legal basis and that it has violated its commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.


Commentary: Conflict over marine resources in West Philippine Sea

This May 7, 2012 photo shows CNOOC 981, the first deep-water drilling rig developed in China, 320 km southeast of Hong Kong in the South China Sea. AP/Xinhua

MANILA, Philippines – When the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled favorably for the Philippines on the West Philippine Sea dispute, one of the more immediate questions was: Can Filipinos now resume fishing in the waters of Scarborough Shoal and the Spratlys without harassment from the Chinese Coast Guard?

Unfortunately, there was no definitive response from the government apart from the plea for caution and sobriety. And not all will heed the government’s advice, especially those on an empty stomach.

This situation thus highlights the importance of the marine ecosystem in the disputed waters, which directly affects the fishing grounds of surrounding coastal communities. Countless Filipino fisherfolk are deprived of the marine resources supposedly guaranteed by international law as affirmed by the recent decision.

Professor John McManus of the University of Miami pegs the economic damage from China’s incursions at nearly $6 billion per year from the destruction of an estimated 16,200 hectares of coral reef.  This approximation only factored in the environmental services provided by the coral reefs, not the human anguish brought about by this dispute. That is harder to ascertain.

Several reports had revealed harassment of Chinese Coast Guard on Filipino fishermen. One news story said water cannons were used, with rubber boats carrying armed personnel chasing away our fishermen. Another said laser lights beamed from Chinese vessels. Finally, one account said a Chinese vessel rammed its less equipped Filipino counterpart. These were confirmed by the Arbitral Tribunal, which concluded that China did actively prevent Filipinos from engaging in traditional fishing in Scarborough Shoal. All these point to a reality on the ground: there is conflict for resources.

One account said a Chinese vessel rammed its less equipped Filipino counterpart.

What’s saddest, however, is that these marine resources so crucial for multitudes of Filipino marginal fisher folk will only get increasingly scarce due to the massive land reclamation carried out by China, alongside the maximum tolerance it employs as regards the destructive fishing practices of its countrymen. Worse, the South China Sea dispute not only involves China and the Philippines but all the nations bordering the vast sea. Thus, while supply is dwindling as everyone competes for fisheries and marine resources, aggressive building activities effectively cut the supply even more. Taking out the coral reefs means taking out the place where fish spawn, feed, and seek shelter in. A classic example how vulnerable humans get when their environment is destroyed, when people fail to realize that we are in one big ecosystem where an imbalance in one part will be inevitably felt by other parts inside the system.

While supply is dwindling as everyone competes for fisheries and marine resources, aggressive building activities effectively cut the supply even more. 

Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST) Secretary General Ysan Castillo rightly advocates for “systems-thinking” in approaching environmental problems.  Seeing that anything related to the environment has an effect on the rest of society, PBEST calls for a united front where all sectors  ̶  business, government, academe, civil society  ̶  can come together to find a common ground and solve the systemic environmental problem.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has called on all nations involved to build trust within the region through activities that foster common objectives. He believes that finding that common should be easy: everyone has a stake in preserving the integrity of marine ecosystems in the disputed waters.

Perhaps it is this kind of combination that can address the situation in the West Philippine Sea: a systemic approach and an attitude of good faith. Nothing can be solved if we are divided as a nation, with the sectors advocating different solutions and achieving nothing.


Dindo Manhit is the President of Stratbase-Albert Del Rosario Institute (ADRi) for Strategic and International Studies.   


South China Sea: Legal Expert Says Seafarers “At Risk” From China’s Lawlessness

September 27, 2014


‘If we allow the 9-dash line to exist, and China decides that they will not allow Filipino seafarers to cross the South China Sea, you’re out of jobs,’ a maritime law expert says

By Paterno Esmaquel II

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino seamen face the threat of losing their jobs or suffering a “huge limitation” on their mobility if China asserts more control over the disputed South China Sea, a maritime law expert said.

A Philippine foreign affairs official agreed that this scenario, while hypothetical, is possible.

Jay Batongbacal, who heads the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, detailed these “practical implications” of losing freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

In an open forum on Friday, September 26, he said seamen will lose this freedom if China insists on its 9-dash line, a demarcation to claim virtually the entire South China Sea. The Philippines is challenging this 9-dash line in a historic case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Batongbacal said: “If we allow the 9-dash line to exist, and China decides that they will not allow Filipino seafarers to cross the South China Sea, you’re out of jobs, because nobody can cross anywhere; you cannot cross the South China Sea.”

“If China decides that every seaman that crosses the South China Sea should have IDs and should report to the Chinese embassy in each entrance and exit of the South China Sea, you will have to do it, and that’s a huge restriction, that’s a huge limitation on your mobility,” he added.

“If they decide that the only way to pass through the South China Sea is through some kind of circuitous route, which expends more fuel and creates more costs, that will then impact on the shipping industry, and there will be nothing we can do about it,” the professor also said.

Before the open forum, Batongbacal delivered the keynote speech in the event titled, “Scarborough Shoal: Truths and Lies,” at the De La Salle University in Manila. The event took place in line with the exhibit of ancient maps that seek to disprove China’s claims in the South China Sea. (READ: Top Philippine judge uses Chinese maps vs China)

Biggest supplier of seamen

Batongbacal explained that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea means “you can then cross it…without any kind of restrictions, without any kind of limitations, as long as you are on a vessel.”

He said: “The fact that you are able to board ships for a foreign flag, go anywhere in the world, and with just your seaman’s book, and you’re entitled to all these privileges, and you’re entitled to many immunities, which are not available for an ordinary traveler, is because of the freedom of navigation.”

The problem is when China treats the South China Sea “as if it’s land territory,” and “you cannot enter or exit it or do anything in it without China’s permission, and you will always have to follow China’s laws, rules, and regulations to the letter.”

“Definitely, under those conditions, the maritime industry in the Philippines, most of which has to pass through the South China Sea because of the location, definitely will be very, very seriously affected,” he said.

Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Luis Cruz, a reactor at Friday’s forum, agreed with Batongbacal on these “hypothetical situations.”

“If China says they are reserving their right to interdict vessels that don’t seek permission from them, of course they will apprehend seamen, international carriers. Those naval vessels will be placed in a delicate situation,” Cruz said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Up to 375,000 of the world’s seamen come from the Philippines, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines estimated.

The International Labor Organization said in 2012 that the Philippines supplies the biggest number of seafarers around the world. The ILO estimated that across the globe, one out of 5 seafarers is Filipino.

Fears for the seamen come in the face of another concern in the South China Sea: the possibility that China will declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the disputed waters. The Philippines earlier denounced China’s ADIZ because it “transforms the entire airzone into its domestic airspace.” –

Above: A Chinese coast guard ship tries to intimidate a much smaller supply boat from the Philippines on March 29, 2014. The Philippine supply boat was on a humanitarian mission to resupply BRP Sierra Madre at Philippine-held Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratlys.



Chinese crews are doing a reclamation and construction project on Johnson South Reef in the South China sea. The land here is claimed by the Philippines. (Internet photo)


An example of what Vietnam calls  China’s “lawlessness” at sea: A Chinese ship rams and collides with a Vietnamese vessel in contested waters of the South China Sea. Photo: AFP photograb

Above: China says it has sovereignty over all inside the “Nine Dash Line” as seen here.

China claims ownership of about 90% of the South China Sea

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law. Experts say, this could be the geographic area that China could declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ).