Posts Tagged ‘Scarborough Shoal’

Philippines: Duterte admin’s appeasement policy on China causing a crisis?

September 22, 2018

Last month, President Rodrigo Duterte conveyed to his countrymen that he expected China to be fair on the South China Sea dispute and that they should accept Beijing as a good neighbor.

“I am sure that in the end, China will be fair and the equity will be distributed,” he said. He predicted that “in the days to come, we would realize that China… is really a good neighbor.”

Renato Cruz De Castro ( – September 22, 2018 – 12:29pm
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and China’s Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua

Duterte’s (misplaced) good faith on China is consistent with his administration’s appeasement policy, which is in turn embodied by his and his foreign affairs and defense officials’ concerted efforts to foster closer relations with the rising superpower, alongside calculated moves to pivot away from the United States and its allies (Japan and Australia), over the South China Sea disputes, in particular, and in other international issues, in general.

The Philippine public, however, does not share Duterte’s benign and patronizing view of China. Opposition figures and left-wing organizations have criticized the Duterte administration for not publicly raising alarm and indignation over Chinese efforts to militarize the land features it occupies in the South China.

Two prominent American analysts rightly observed that “expert and media commentaries in the Philippines tend to highlight the dangers and obstacles regarding his infatuation with China and animosity towards the U.S.”

A fragile rapprochement? 

The Duterte administration’s appeasement policy is based on a quid pro quo with China and would result in the unraveling of his predecessor’s balancing policy on China’s maritime expansion in the South China Sea. This was in exchange for Chinese moderation in their actions vis-à-vis the Philippines and, more significantly, the infusion of Chinese investment and aid for the Duterte administration’s massive infrastructure program called “Build, Build, Build.”

The siege of Marawi City in 2017 and the revelation of the Philippine military’s weakness vis-à-vis the Islamic militants provided the United States an opportunity to bring the Philippines back “onside, rather than pushing [it] further to China’s embrace.”

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The U.S. supported the Philippines in the two countries’ mutual interests of counter-terrorism and Humanitarian Assistance and Risk Reduction.

Consequently, the U.S. assistance to the Philippines during and after the siege of Marawi City strengthened the pro-American elements in the government and military, providing them opportunities to mitigate Duterte’s efforts to separate from Washington and to gravitate closer to China.

In early June, the Philippine government issued a formal demand for China to ask its Coast Guard to stay away from the Philippines’ traditional fishing grounds around the Scarborough Shoal and stop the harassment of Filipino fishermen off the shoal. This action was triggered by TV news reports of Chinese Coast Guard personnel boarding Filipino fishing vessels, inspecting the fishermen’s catch, and then confiscating their best catch.

In late July, the Philippine government expressed concern over the increase in offensive Chinese radio warnings against Philippine aircraft and ships flying and sailing near reclaimed and fortified islands in the South China Sea.

An  internal Armed Forces of the Philippines report leaked to the Associated Press revealed that Philippine Air Force planes patrolling the South China Sea have received at least 46 warnings from Chinese naval outpost in the artificial islands, where more powerful communications and surveillance equipment have been installed along with weapons such as anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles.

China is also withholding the funds it promised Duterte when he visited Beijing in October 2016. During that visit, he collected US$24 billion in investment pledges to finance his administration’s ambitious five-year infrastructure agenda.

However, according to a study by Alvin A. Camba of Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C., of the US$24-billion pledges made in 2016, US$15 billion were negotiated between private businessmen that were eventually modified or canceled. The rest of the projects have been stalled because they are hard to implement such as rail networks and irrigation dams.

In mid-August, a delegation of Filipino ranking officials led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez went to Beijing to discuss China’s funding of several infrastructure projects under the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program.

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Both sides agreed on a two-stage funding program (first and second baskets) for Chinese loan financing. This means that while Chinese funds would be available to finance the administration’s infrastructure projects, the money will be disbursed on a staggered basis and on Beijing’s terms.

Crisis in the appeasement policy on China?  

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has affirmed the Duterte administration’s goal for the Philippines and China to agree on a joint development arrangement that will enable the two disputing states to come up with a scheme to utilize the natural resources in the South China Sea for mutual benefits.

However, stung by the Filipino public’s negative view on the government’s appeasement policy and by China’s refusal to keep its end of the bargain, Cayetano revealed that the Philippines has informed China of four “red lines” in the two countries’ territorial disputes. He also threatened to resign from office if the Philippines will lose additional territory to China under his watch as foreign secretary.

On 15 August, Duterte openly criticized China for its island-building activities and called on it to temper its behavior in the South China Sea. This was his strongest comment on China since he pursued an appeasement policy in late 2016.

China, however, sharply rebuffed him by asserting that it “has a right to take the neces-sary steps to respond to foreign aircraft and ships that deliberately get close to or make incursions into air and waters near China’s relevant islands.”

Philippine-China relations in the twenty-first century has undergone periods of ups and downs. It experienced a golden age during President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s term. The relationship became problematic and toxic during President Benigno Aquino’s presidency. These recent developments indicate that Philippine-China relations under the Duterte administration might again undergo this cycle of ups and downs.

As one Chinese pundit observes: “As for China, the periodic swing of Sino-Philippine relations means China should remain cautiously optimistic. On the one hand, China should take advantage of this chance to bolster relations with Manila. On the other hand, Beijing should remain wary of historic fluctuations in the relationship.”


Dr. Renato Cruz de Castro is a trustee and convenor of the National Security and East Asian Affairs Program of the Stratbase ADR Institute, a partner of



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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior.


Oil, Gas Deal with Philippines Could Help China Politically

August 20, 2018

Experts say a plan for China and the Philippines to jointly explore oil and gas in the South China Sea could help China politically.

The foreign affairs secretary for the Philippines, Alan Peter Cayetano, spoke to reporters about the proposal last month.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte as they attend the welcome ceremony at Yanqi Lake during the Belt and Road Forum, in Beijing, China, Monday, May 15, 2017. (Roman Pilipey/Pool Photo via AP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte as they attend the welcome ceremony at Yanqi Lake during the Belt and Road Forum, in Beijing, China, Monday, May 15, 2017. (Roman Pilipey/Pool Photo via AP)

Cayetano said a first version of the agreement for the joint exploration plans was expected to be completed by September, CNN Philippines reported.

Philippine media has reported that Cayetano said China is open to sharing oil and gas resources. The plan would give the Philippines 60 percent of revenue from possible oil or gas discoveries. China would receive 40 percent.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano gestures during a news conference on the South China Sea on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in suburban Taguig city east of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano gestures during a news conference on the South China Sea on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in suburban Taguig city east of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Some experts say they would not be surprised if China agreed to such a joint exploration deal. They say it could win China political influence with the Philippines and other countries that have claims to the South China Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea, an important waterway through which trillions of dollars in trade passes each year.

The area is believed to hold oil and natural gas. The Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims to the sea.

The Philippines and other claimants have criticized China for turning undersea landforms in the South China Sea into artificial islands. China has built military structures and put equipment on some of them.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has criticized China’s expansion in the disputed waters. But he has also been careful not to push the issue too far because he seeks closer ties and aid from China.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his third State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, metropolitan Manila, Philippines Monday July 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his third State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, metropolitan Manila, Philippines Monday July 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

In a speech Tuesday, Duterte said it was “wrong” for China to claim airspace over newly-built islands in the South China Sea.

“You cannot create an island, it’s man-made, and you say that the air above these artificial islands is yours,” he said. “That is wrong because those waters are what we consider international sea.” He added that “the right of innocent passage is guaranteed. It does not need any permission to sail through the open seas.”

The Associated Press reported that the Philippines also has expressed concern to China over a rising number of Chinese radio messages. These messages have warned Philippine ships to stay away from some of the islands.

China has repeatedly said it has the right to build on and defend areas it considers its own territory.

Alan Chong is an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. He says a 60-40 joint exploration deal with the Philippines could help China in several ways.

It could signal to other Southeast Asian nations that China “is willing to be a different kind of aid-giver,” Chong said. He added that the oil deal could improve China’s image in countries where it is developing infrastructure as part of its $1 trillion, 5-year-old Belt and Road project.

In this Sept.23, 2015 photo provided by Renato Etac, Chinese Coast Guard members approach Filipino fishermen as they confront them off Scarborough Shoal at South China Sea, in northwestern Philippines. (Renato Etac via AP)
In this Sept.23, 2015 photo provided by Renato Etac, Chinese Coast Guard members approach Filipino fishermen as they confront them off Scarborough Shoal at South China Sea, in northwestern Philippines. (Renato Etac via AP)

Chong said he thinks the deal could be a way for China to help Duterte at home. “Because he’s facing a lot of criticism from his own countrymen about selling out to China,” he said.

Carl Thayer is a Southeast Asia expert with the University of New South Wales in Australia. He says he also thinks the deal makes sense for China. “By agreeing to a lesser portion, China seeks to disarm domestic opposition by Filipinos,” he said.

Thayer said such a deal might also cause other nations to take more conciliatorypositions in the South China Sea dispute, as Duterte has done.

But another expert believes some people in the Philippines would want Duterte to push for an even bigger share than 60 percent. Maria Ela Atienza is a political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

“This plan for the government has received a lot of criticisms,” she told VOA. “Because others would argue if these areas are in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, that belongs to the Philippines and it should not be shared,” she added.

I’m Bryan Lynn. And I’m Alice Bryant.

Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted it for Learning English, with additional information coming from the Associated Press and Reuters. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Philippines: Senator Calls Foreign Affairs Secretary “A Snake” Over Scarborough Shoal, South China Sea Affair (China Is Winning)

August 5, 2018

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Chinese bomber over the Philippines’ Scarborough Shoal

Rosette Adel ( – August 5, 2018 – 4:18pm

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV on Sunday slammed Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano for suddenly questioning the Aquino administration’s efforts over the Panatag (Scarborough) standoff.

For this, Trillanes called Cayetano, his former colleague and vice presidential rival a “political snake.”

“Sec. Cayetano has proven to be a political snake. The Panatag standoff happened in 2012 during which time Cayetano was still a loyal ally of the Aquino administration, so obviously, he never saw anything wrong with how PNoy resolved it then,” Trillanes said in a lengthy statement.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV called Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, his former colleague and vice presidential rival a “political snake.”

Presidential Photo/King Rodriguez, file
Cayetano earlier said the Philippines lost control over the Panatag Shoal under former President Benigno Aquino III’s administration.

READ: Cayetano fires back at Aquino: We both lost our hair, you lost Scarborough

The foreign affairs chief also questioned Trillanes’ back channel talks with Beijing, noting that the senator made 16 trips to China as Aquino’s emissary.

Cayetano claimed Trillanes had refused to reveal the purpose and nature of his trips when asked during a Senate session by then Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile.

Trillanes aired his side and said Cayetano previously defended him during his exchange with Enrile, citing that the DFA chief, was his minority leader then.

“In fact, I clearly remember telling him, as well as the other senators then, of the gist of my mission as back channel negotiator,” Trillanes said.

“For that matter, I had multiple media interviews about it but, again, Cayetano never saw anything wrong with it then,” he added.

Trillanes added that Cayetano is “pretending to be blind and deaf.”

The senator explained that he was designated as the back channel negotiator by Aquino in May 2012 to “de-escalate the tension in the shoal.” He said this was during the height of the Panatag standoff when there were about 80 to 100 Chinese vessels going in and around the shoal.

He clarified that Panatag Shoal is in Zambales area and is not part of the Kalayaan Island Group in Palawan.

Trillanes said part of his mission was to reduce the number of Chinese ships in the area and that sovereignty was not covered and was never discussed.

“The negotiations lasted for about 3 months, at the end of which we were able to reduce the number of Chinese ships in the area to just 3, all of which were positioned outside the shoal. In short, I was able to accomplish his mission,” Trillanes said.

Trillanes said the refusal of China to remove the three remaining ships in the shoal prompted Aquino to file the arbitration case which we eventually won in 2016.

“Those are the facts and the circumstances about this issue and I will not allow Cayetano to twist them,” Trillanes said.

‘Why not defend Philippines’ sovereignty?’

Trillanes, a fierce critic of the president, also questioned Cayetano and Duterte.

“Why didn’t you follow through on our historic victory at the arbitration court? Or better yet, Why aren’t you fighting for our sovereignty the way you promised during the campaign?”

In April 2016, Duterte vowed to personally ride a jet ski and plant the Philippine flag on the Spratlys Island or Scarborough Shoal so he could assert the country’s sovereignty amid China’s encroachment. He made the promise during the third presidential debate for the 2016 elections.

However, two years into his presidency, only National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Special Assistant to the President Bong Go and the president’s son Sebastian Duterte rode jet skis in the waters of Casiguran to assert claim on the undisputed Philippine Rise.

Duterte explained that he was not advised by the Presidential Security Group to push through with the jet ski plan due to lack of fuel.



Cayetano to Aquino: Who was in charge when you lost Scarborough Shoal?


  (This is what China cares about what people think….)

(Why give away what you own?)


Above: China’s seven military bases near the Philippines in the South China Sea


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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. China occupies the South China Sea illegally. Asean seems ready to agree to China’s “de facto ownership” — even though it violates rule of law.

South China Sea: Philippines Government Says It Has Isolated China

July 21, 2018

Contrary to popular notion, the dispute in the West Philippine Sea involves two issues: territorial and economic. The Hague arbitral ruling addressed the economic dispute by defining our maritime entitlements over features that we claim and at the same time quashing China’s sweeping historical claims over the entire South China Sea. The ruling, however, did not resolve the dispute over the overlapping territorial claims we have with Vietnam, Malaysia, Chinese Taipei and Brunei.

That was just part of a long online chat I had the other day with my journalist-diplomat friend, Elmer Cato who is now the Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila. Elmer is a personal friend from way back, when we both were working for local newspapers, before he joined the foreign service.

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Chinese bomber over Scarborough Shoal

We’ve kept in touch through the years and I wasn’t surprised when he messaged me after reading my column on my concerns about China. Elmer said he reached out to make some factual clarifications that would hopefully help us arrive at an informed decision about the current approach of the Philippine government to address the dispute in the South China Sea. I do appreciate the fact that he reached out to share a perspective that most of us have not seen. I may not necessarily agree with some of what he said which I am sure Elmer respects, but if only to prove I could, at the very least, tolerate a contrary view and present the other side of the story, I am sharing parts of our exchange.

Elmer started by saying there was “nothing to worry” about the visit of the Chinese vessel and aircraft as these were covered by the necessary diplomatic clearances. All foreign aircraft or vessels must first secure and be granted permission before they could be allowed to enter Philippine territory, he said. Our own military aircraft or vessels also have to ask permission before they could land or dock in other countries. So far, China has requested and been given three diplomatic clearances. The United States has been given almost 250. Also given landing clearances were Australia, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia and Thailand, he said.

I told Elmer I wasn’t worried about protocols; what I was worried about was the heightening presence, if not creeping invasion of China in the country. China can’t just invade us, he said, explaining that our dispute with China is limited to the West Philippine Sea. “We are trying to isolate that particular dispute so that it would not affect other aspects of our relationship,” he said, which is the same approach we have with Malaysia despite the dispute over North Borneo and the West Philippine Sea and also with Vietnam and other claimants.

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It was then that Elmer dropped what to me was a bombshell: “It is not only China that has been building in the South China Sea. The other claimants have been doing the same thing and have not only constructed but also fortified their respective military facilities. It’s only the Philippines and Brunei that have not.”

More bombshells: China resorted to aggressive action in the WPS during the previous administration and created a complicated situation that the current administration is now trying to untangle. “When the current administration took over, we already had lost control over those features that China eventually built structures on. We also lost control of Scarborough Shoal six years ago.” Another bombshell: the United States will not get involved in case we got into a fight with China over the WPS because Washington had said it will not interfere in a territorial dispute. Elmer said he used to support a hardline approach to enforce The Hague ruling thinking the Philippines has the support of the US. He said he was mistaken. Ambassador Sung Kim himself had said last April the US will not get itself involved.

He then asked: Should we be confrontational as some of us want? Will a shouting match with Beijing advance our interests in the South China Sea? Or would we be able to accomplish more if we sit down and talk with China and discuss how we could strengthen other aspects of our relationship such as trade, investments, tourism and people to people ties the way other claimants like Malaysia and Vietnam have been doing even as we try to build trust and confidence to allow us to find solutions to our dispute and prevent the situation from escalating but without setting aside the arbitral ruling or surrendering a single inch of Philippine territory?

Elmer had more to share, but space limitations force me to end here in the meantime. While I do not agree with everything that he said, he hopes this will help us see things from a different point of view.*

By Eli F.J. Tajanlangit


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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior.

Philippines denies inaction on South China Sea

July 17, 2018
Image result for Harry Roque, philippines, photos

‘We file protests but we do it quietly’

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Monday said it has been asserting the Philippines’ claims in the South China Sea after a nationwide poll suggested that four out of five Filipinos reject the government’s perceived inaction on the issue.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly declared that he would not give up the country’s territory.

“The government of President Duterte is not guilty of inaction,” Roque told radio station dzRH.

( – July 16, 2018 – 4:04pm

“Whenever China does something that violates our sovereignty, we file protests but we do it quietly,” he added.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has said in the past the the Philippines has filed “50-100” protests with China, a claim that administration critics like Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon doubt.

Roque stressed that the president would not quarrel with China over the dispute because it would not benefit ties between Manila and Beijing.

“He (Duterte) believes we can set aside temporarily the things that cannot be resolved immediately. We can pursue those that can be pursued like the economy,” he added.

A Social Weather Stations survey conducted from June 27 to 30 found 81 percent of Filipinos believing that the government should not “leave China alone with its infrastructures and military presence” in Philippine-claimed areas in the South China Sea.

RELATED: Philippines now ‘willing victim’ in South China Sea dispute, Del Rosario laments

Eight out of ten Filipinos believe it is right for the government to strengthen the military capability of the Philippines, SWS said.

About seven out of ten or 74 percent of respondents think it is right for the government to bring the issue to international organizations while 73 percent back “direct, bilateral negotiations between the Philippines and China.”

Meanwhile, 68 percent of Filipinos believe the government should ask other countries to mediate the issue.

Roque said all Filipinos, not just 81 percent of them, should oppose inaction on the maritime dispute.

“It should be 100 percent because there is no government inaction…Five out of five Filipinos should protest inaction because it is not true that President Duterte is not doing anything,” the presidential spokesman said.

RELATED: Chinese took Filipino fishers’ catch as ‘barter exchange,’ Duterte explains

“We are just not making noise but we have an immediate action if we think China is violating our sovereignty and sovereign rights,” he added.

Roque said Duterte, who has been accused of being too soft on China, is continuously fighting for the interests of the Philippines.

Critics have accused Duterte of abandoning the Philippines’ maritime claims in the South China Sea in exchange for military and economic assistance from China

Duterte has denied this and has given assurance that he would discuss the South China Sea row with Chinese officials within his term. The president has also admitted that the Philippines would be courting “trouble” if it insists on its maritime claims, a claim that critics say paint war as the country’s only option.  — Alexis Romero

RELATED: With mere words, Duterte can lose to China rights Philippines won in arbitral ruling




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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior.

Philippines can Still Recover Sovereignty, Dignity, Resources in the South China Sea

July 16, 2018
Commentary: Time to recover from failure to use the South China Sea ruling as leverage
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By Dindo Manhit ( – July 16, 2018 – 3:26pm

During the second anniversary of our nation’s victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague, the Stratbase ADR Institute gathered international experts, key stakeholders from the academe, government, and the private sector to discuss the consequences of the policy of appeasement that the administration had taken, in addition to the threats against and opportunities within the international rules-based order.

Brahma Chellaney, professor of Strategic Studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, said that “compliance with or defiance of international rules has no correlation to state size.” He noted that China’s defiance has heightened international concerns about the security of maritime domain.

The Philippine victory at the Arbitral Tribunal is concrete proof that small nations like the Philippines can make our voices heard in a rules-based regime.

He said that as far as China was concerned international law matters only when it serves their interest.

The current administration has failed to use the landmark ruling that invalidated China’s “historic claims” on the South China Sea as a leverage to claim what is ours and fully explore and use the abundant resources in the West Philippine Sea.

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Instead, amid friendlier relations, China continued its military build-up in the South China Sea. They continue to destroy our marine resources, dictate the rules of the sea and bully our poor fishermen who are just making a livelihood in the Scarborough Shoal.

Dr. Go Ito of Meiji University asserted that the Philippines can better enforce the award by engaging like-minded partners like the United States and Japan to support the 2016 decision. He also noted that issues related to environmental protection in the South China Sea and maritime areas can also be raised to counter China.

What Filipinos want

In its effort to appease China and generate much-needed capital to finance its ambitious infrastructure program, the Duterte administration has adopted “silent diplomacy,” which prevents it from protesting the belligerent behavior of China in the South China Sea.

This is against the wishes of the majority of Filipinos, who clamor for a different approach. They want the Duterte administration to protect its territorial integrity and defend its claims in the West Philippine Sea. The results of a recent Pulse Asia survey showed that 73 percent of Filipinos want the current administration to assert our rights and protect our territorial sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.

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On the other hand, 36 percent of the Filipinos want our government to file a diplomatic protest against China amidst the reports of its continued militarization of the South China Sea. In addition, 22 percent believed that there is a need to strengthen military alliance with other countries such as the United States, Japan and Australia.The national survey by the Social Weather Stations likewise confirms these findings with four out five Filipinos or 81 percent saying that it is not right to do nothing about China’s intrusion in claimed territories.

The Filipinos are now taking their stand to protect our territorial integrity. Moreover, they want our government to do what it should do—use diplomatic protests as an expression of our dissatisfaction on various cases.

While the president reiterates that we need China to boost trade, tourism and infrastructural development, a small percentage of Filipinos believe that friendlier relations will promote stability in the South China Sea.

The surveys affirm a strong patriotism among Filipinos, that they want to protest against all unlawful and coercive practices of other states.

The Philippines is for the Filipinos to enjoy, benefit and explore. We should never allow others states to enhance its political and economic power at our expense.

We must protest what is unlawful, coercive and contrary to the correct principles that govern relations between states. Our people deserves a government that is willing to fight for their citizens’ future and not a government that is helpless and weak.

We must defend what is ours now before it is too late.


Dindo Manhit is the president of think tank Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute, a partner of




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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior.

South China Sea: Latest Books

June 21, 2018
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Two recent books offer a helpful guide to Southeast Asia’s most complex maritime dispute.Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea & the Strategy of Chinese Expansionby Humphrey HawksleyOverlook Press, 2018, 304 pp., $29.95

Great Powers, Grand Strategies: The New Great Game in the South China Sea

edited by Anders Corr

Naval Institute Press, 2018, 336 pp., $34.95

Asian Waters, the new book by veteran Asia journalist Humphrey Hawksley, recently became my ideal travel companion on a long flight to Australia, en route to the South China Sea. For any other reader hoping to navigate those troubled waters, or seeking a broad overview of the geopolitical fault lines in Asia, Hawksley’s book provides an excellent guide.

The book’s journey can admittedly be a digressive one, at times wading way beyond Asian waters and far onto shore. Hawksley’s book touches on North Korea’s illicit nuclear program and much else besides. One chapter describes India’s stunted development, recounting in gruesome detail the slavery-like conditions in its brick kilns. Another chapter on Vietnam finds Hawksley meandering into an argument as to why, in the late 1970s, Vietnam was unnecessarily constrained by Cold War logic from taming the bloody Khmer Rouge in neighboring Cambodia. Such stories are certainly intriguing, flowing from Hawksley’s decades of first-hand reporting from the region.

Yet they aren’t central to the book’s main story, which concerns China’s rise, the contest for control of the South China Sea, and the larger great power game between the United States and China. That is the geopolitical story of the century. China is gradually enacting its own version of the Monroe Doctrine in the South China Sea. The United States is pushing back, including by conducting naval freedom of navigation operations, but has not come up with an effective overall strategic response. Meanwhile, China gradually expands its military reach—using salami-slicing tactics to create new facts on the ground (or rather at sea), building new islands, and coercing smaller neighbors such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

Hawksley notes how the announcement of the U.S. “pivot to Asia” led to a rapid expansion of Chinese activity in the South China Sea, from the deft takeover of Scarborough Shoal close to the Philippines to the rapid move of a Chinese state-controlled oil rig into disputed areas with Vietnam. In these chapters, Hawksley’s on-the-ground reporting blends well with the geopolitics.

Consider, for instance, his meetings with a disgruntled Philippine fisherman, whose fishing grounds near Scarborough were taken over by China. During their initial encounter, the fisherman is visibly angry, exclaiming that “if America supports us, we should go to war with them.” But later, Hawksley visits the same fisherman after his village has been bought up by Chinese economic assistance and finds that his complaints are now subdued. In many ways, the anecdote is a microcosm for the choice made by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Like the fisherman, Duterte opted for Chinese money rather than protecting Philippine sovereignty. He has thus tacitly accepted that China now controls the seas in proximity to the Philippines, which his predecessor Aquino had successfully challenged through an international court ruling based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In some passages, Hawksley comes out surprisingly starry-eyed about the People’s Republic of China. He repeatedly cites China’s “century of humiliation” as an historical fact without explaining that it is also centrally reinforced nationalistic propaganda employed by the Chinese Communist Party to knit the nation together. He goes overboard in a pointless chapter on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s appearance at the elite Davos gathering in January 2017, where he is described as a “moral torch of world leadership.” Hawksley’s moral compass seems to have gone spinning when he writes, “While Asia and China are talking about tearing down controls and borders, America and Europe are looking to tighten them.” In reality, there can be no comparison between democracies working to balance their humanitarian obligations to a huge global flow of refugees, and authoritarian China’s oppressive treatment of its Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang, including the subjection of its population to conditions resembling concentration camps.

Despite these occasional errors in judgment, though, Hawksley’s book does effectively communicate the stakes of his subject. The South China Sea will be both a test of China’s coming of age as a great power and of the United States’ continued resolve as a Pacific power. And it could end in war, as previous historical experiences testify.

If you want a tougher approach to China, look no further than the edited volume Great Powers, Grand Strategies: The New Great Game in the South China Sea. Editor Anders Corr’s introduction slams China for its expansionism and argues—rightly, in my view—that President Obama’s military posture was too weak to counter the Chinese. It only gets too far-fetched when Corr tenuously attributes symbiotic territorial goals to China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

An equally strong-worded contribution comes from retired U.S. Navy Captain James Fanell. He writes of “China’s historically mistaken irredentist claims of sovereignty” in the South China Sea, seeing its efforts there as a building block in a “confrontational grand strategy” whose ultimate goal is “establishing China as a global power that seeks to control the international order.” In his reading, a stronger U.S. and regional military posture is the obvious remedy.

Great Powers, Grand Strategies also provides the perspectives of other regional players. Leszek Buszynski has an enlightening chapter on the regional grouping ASEAN, whose internal divisions have hampered its ability to play a meaningful conflict-mediating role in the South China Sea. In recent years, China has managed to use its ASEAN allies such as Cambodia and Laos to block even innocuous-sounding declarations. The depressing conclusion is that the period of China’s “good neighbor policy,” even providing token nods to ASEAN’s relevance, is over. ASEAN, an organization based on multilateralism, was not able to coalesce around full-fledged support for the clear-cut maritime law ruling in the Philippine arbitration case of 2016. The most concerned ASEAN countries like Vietnam now seek alternative hedging options such as increased military cooperation with the United States and Japan. By now, to paraphrase the Chinese Foreign Minister lecturing ASEAN in 2010, there is only one big country in Asia and a lot of small ones.

One regional power who warily watches China’s moves in the South China Sea is Japan. It has its own disputes with China in the East China Sea over the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diayou Islands. A Chinese-controlled South China Sea would hold negative security implications for Japan, which is the second-largest energy importer in Asia and thus dependent on uninterrupted sea lanes. Accordingly, Japan spoke out publicly in clear terms in defense of freedom of navigation following the arbitrational ruling that the Philippines brought against China in 2016, noting that it was “final and legally binding on the parties . . . under the provisions of UNCLOS.” ASEAN countries individually and as an organization were more hesitant to invoke the “legally binding” language on China. Still, Japan is not among the small group of countries who conduct freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea. Its own sea dispute with China also instills a sense of caution, combined with Japan’s continued restraint to deploy far from its shores even under its ever more “proactively pacifist” stance.

Three more chapters, respectively, cover India, Russia, and the European Union, all marginal players in the South China Sea. A chapter on the Republic of China (Taiwan), the inventor of the nine-dash-line, is conspicuously lacking and would have served the book well.

Gordon Chang describes India’s posture, yet seeks to make more out of India’s grand strategy than there is. In my reading, India’s interests in the South China Sea boil down to one long-delayed, unsuccessful oil exploration project with Vietnam. That project rankles China, and nothing more. Meanwhile China is successfully expanding its presence in the Indian Ocean.

Russia, for its part, desires to be a great power again in Asia, but demonstrates little muscle and consistency in pursuit of that goal. Russia supports China in trying to push the United States out of the region, but conversely hedges against China with continued arms sales to Vietnam, including submarines.

The European Union’s involvement remains aspirational. As a multilateral organization that frequently trumpets international law and peaceful multilateralism, it should in theory have been the first to defend the universal principle of freedom of navigation and the UN Law of the Sea. Unfortunately, the EU declaration on the arbitrational ruling in 2016 was as meek as ASEAN’s. EU member states collectively have large-scale commercial interests in the region, but few means and little political will to enforce them. On the harder edge, France and most recently the United Kingdom have conducted military naval transits through the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. This could become the stepping stone for a stronger EU role, provided the European Union is not too distracted by its own urgent regional challenges.

Finally, the big looming national security question is the power play between the United States and China. China seeks to frame its actions as a counter to expanding U.S. force projection in the region. By contrast, American hawks such as Corr and Fanell find that the current U.S. posture has been a response to China’s provocations—and too timid a response at that. What, then, is the right posture for the United States to effectively counterbalance China?

The chapter by Sean Liedman provides an excellent historical overview of the U.S. role in the South China Sea and outlines three options. The first is a policy of continued gradual concessions, which is the current state of play. A second option would try to freeze the status quo, with the United States, among other things, becoming clearer about its willingness to defend the maritime interests of its treaty ally the Philippines. A third strategy would try to roll back the Chinese advances, including by targeted sanctions on Chinese companies involved in land reclamation. In that regard, the statement of Chinese General Xu Guangyu, quoted in Hawksley’s book, is ominous: “If the Americans try to remove us from the Spratly Islands . . . there will be war.”

The most likely strategy under the current Administration seems to land somewhere between options one and two, although the recent National Security Strategy makes it clear that raw power competition is a possibility for the U.S.-China relationship in the years to come. Trump himself has said little about the South China Sea, and his tweet that he was “surprised” by China’s coercion in the South China Sea, following Defense Secretary Mattis’s speech at Shangri-La on June 3, added little clarity. Perhaps this issue could become a transactional bargaining chip for Trump in a larger deal involving trade and North Korea, currently two higher-ranked U.S. priorities.

If, dear reader, you are in a hurry to read up on the South China Sea, go straight to Bill Hayton’s excellent chapter, which confirms his preeminence among interpreters of the region. It describes the situation from a Chinese and historical perspective, yet in an objective and matter-of-fact tone. Hayton explains how the advances in the South China Sea are not perceived as expansionism by China but a protection of its own territory based on a “nationalist reading of regional history.” Its confidence about its claim is so deeply embedded in Chinese policymaking and national consciousness that the “nine-dash line,” China’s cow tongue-shaped claim protruding more than 1,000 kilometers south into sea, has been added to Chinese passports. Provocatively, Chinese tourists have lately been seen arriving in Vietnam with “cow’s tongue” T-shirts, flaunting the inclusion of the South China Sea and its islands into Chinese territory.

Hayton pokes factual holes in China’s “false memory syndrome” and “imagined history,” which unfortunately is too often regurgitated by gullible Western scholars. In reality, the reefs in the South China Sea were a no-man’s land, home to semi-nomadic fishermen and pirates. In 1933, the French laid claim to the Spratlys through their presence in Indochina, with limited Chinese objections. At the time, the Paracels were perceived as China’s southernmost naval territory. It was only in the 1940s that the Nationalist government created the first maps showing the South China Sea as being Chinese territory, with an imprecise 11-dash line, and it was only in 2009 that China submitted the nine-dash line map as an official claim in the international arena. These historical facts are airbrushed out when Secretary General Xi Jinping says that “the South China Sea islands have been China’s territory since ancient times.” This is part of the triumphalist narrative of the Chinese Communist Party, which credits itself for finally ending the century of national humiliation.

Thus, as Hayton points out, China’s sense of entitlement is the root cause of potential conflict, even though it could spell the end of China’s carefully choreographed “peaceful rise.” In the fitting words of strategist Edward Luttwak, China’s “great-power autism” seems to be increasing. Equally so are the fears of China’s smaller neighbors, who dread what is to come in the South China Sea.

Published on: June 20, 2018
Jonas Parello-Plesner is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute.

Philippines Seeks Fishing Agreement With China, Vietnam

June 21, 2018
Let’s share, Philippines tells Vietnam, China

A fisherman repairs his boat in the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea in a file photo by Reuters.

U.N. tribunal rules Scarborough Shoal a traditional fishing ground for three countries.

The Philippines wants Vietnam and China to sign a fishing agreement at Scarborough Shoal after a U.N. tribunal ruled the region was a traditional fishing ground for Filipino, Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen.

In July 2016, a U.N. tribunal had not been able to reach a conclusion on the territorial issue, which decides the ownership of the shoal. However, it was able to decide on the maritime issue of fishing.

The Philippines’s Acting Chief Justice, Antonio Carpio, told The Philippine Star that China had refused to acknowledge that decision.

In an interview with CNN Philippines, Carpio said: “We should maintain our position, because otherwise China will later on say, ‘You have been fishing there and you have accepted that you’re fishing there because we have allowed you out of the goodness of our heart.'”

The judge also added that if the fishing agreement is signed, it will be regulated to protect the area’s marine life.

Philippines could also sign a boundary agreement with Vietnam on the Spratly Islands. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc had suggested the idea to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte could possibly sign that “median line” boundary agreement between the two countries, Carpio said.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which about $3-trillion worth of goods passes every year. It has made substantial progress in fortifying its manmade islands in the past few years, which it says it has the right to defend. Vietnam calls the waterway the East Sea and has repeatedly stressed its sovereignty rights over the Paracel and Spraty Islands.

At the end of May 2018, the Philippines expressed “serious concern” over the presence of China’s strategic bombers in the disputed waters, but its response to the installation of missile systems was muted.

South China Sea: Philippine President Duterte Wants China Out

June 19, 2018
President Duterte wants China out of the Philippine-claimed areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea)
President Duterte walks with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano during the 120th anniversary of the Departmernt of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City yesterday.

Krizjohn Rosales
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) – June 19, 2018 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte wants China out of the Philippine-claimed areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), but yesterday reiterated he would not declare war over the maritime row as Beijing is not a pushover that can be scared easily.

Duterte, who has been accused of not doing enough to assert the Philippines’ maritime rights, said he was not ready to sacrifice the lives of soldiers and policemen for a war he could not win.

He also claimed that his administration has protested the actions of China in the West Philippine Sea but did not elaborate.“With regard to South China Sea, what do you want? What kind of pugnacious attitude would I have to adopt to convince the Chinese to get out? If I threaten them or file a thousand protests, which we did, we just did not publish them. We protested actually,” the President said during the 120th anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Pasay City.

He added that China has adopted an intransigent attitude.

“But if you talk to them, they will listen,” he said. “I cannot hit China. China is no pushover. You cannot scare him, and even the United States has shown a little bit of apprehension… There’s always a parity now of arms and that. You know that if you go against China, Russia will join the fray,” the President said.

The scenario, he said, would only mean the explosion of all nuclear bombs and “it’s going to be goodbye for everybody.”

For him, striking a deal with China has benefits, hinting of a possible joint exploration between the two countries.

“We have a deal. I can import the arms, the guided missiles, I can fight better. Because there is a new art of war now, it is not in the open field… China is not my ace. But certainly I can have the arms. Something good will happen, I’m sure, and that will be when we start to dig or anybody else, start to dig the minerals there,” the President added.

He also downplayed reports that members of Chinese Coast Guard forcibly seized the catch of Filipino fishermen in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, saying it was a “barter” and not an outright seizure of fish.

Last week, Filipino fishermen confirmed that Chinese Coast Guard forcibly took their prime catch from Panatag Shoal, a traditional fishing ground off Zambales that is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The fishermen said the Chinese Coast Guard personnel gave them noodles, cigarettes and bottled water in exchange for the fish but these were not enough to feed their families.

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua has assured the Philippines that the Chinese government would probe the incident and would punish “rotten apples” who are guilty of harassing the Filipino fishermen.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told diplomats and officials who have doubts and are having a hard time following Duterte’s foreign policy that “it’s not too late” to have a change of heart.

He praised the work of diplomats, officials and personnel of the DFA, saying it is an agency that never sleeps because of the tasks relating to foreign policies and the protection of rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).  – Pia Lee-Brago



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Satellite images show damage to South China Sea shoals — Some blaming Chinese clam diggers

June 17, 2018
Satellite images posted by Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, compare the situation of Panatag Shoal in 2009, 2014 and 2016. From left: the undisturbed coral reef segment in 2009; the visible reef damage allegedly caused by Chinese boats which use propellers to harvest giant clams in 2014, two years after Beijing took control of the area; and even more damage with deep scars outlined by the shadows (highlighted) in 2016, when 300 square meters of formerly pristine reef were turned into rubble.
Evelyn MacairanJanvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) – June 17, 2018 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Publicly-available satellite images show the considerable damage supposedly made by Chinese clam diggers in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal since 2012, an international maritime law expert posted on social media yesterday.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, shared satellite images taken from Google Earth that showed changes in the shoal since the Chinese took control of the resource-rich area six years ago.

“Using Google Earth, one can measure about 552 hectares of the back (inner) reef of Scarborough Shoal visibly destroyed by clam diggers since 2012,” he said in a post on his social media accounts.

“That’s visible damage, by the way. Only ground-truthing can provide a truly accurate assessment,” he added.

In an earlier post, Batongbacal posted three satellite images of the shoal which showed what he said are scars left by Chinese fishermen that used propellers to cut the reef in order to dislodge giant clams.

“The third, taken a few months after the arbitral award handed down in 2016, shows even more scars and indicating complete destruction of the area shown (approximately 2.5-kilometer distance from end to end),” he wrote.

“All this destruction took place with the China Coast Guard keeping watch over the shoal. In 2016, the CSIS AMTI (Center for Strategic and International Studies-Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative) estimated roughly half of the total reef area of Scarborough to have been destroyed,” he added.

Batongbacal noted that Chinese boats continued to carry out this activity until 2017 as seen by photos taken by the media during maritime air patrols.

He said the recent complaints of Filipino fishermen against Chinese Coast Guard taking their fish indicate activities that continuously damage the shoal.

Duterte told: Protect fishermen, not yourself

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate urged President Duterte yesterday to send the Philippine Coast Guard to Panatag Shoal to protect fishermen from alleged harassment by the Chinese.

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on the Laity (ECL) chairman Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said Duterte’s lackluster protest contributed to Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, while Sen. Richard Gordon stressed the government cannot afford to remain docile in dealing with China if it wants to be taken seriously in its claims over its territories.

In his blog “Panaghoy,” Pabillo said Duterte is responsible for China’s encroachment into Philippine territory, bullying of Filipino fishermen and destruction of marine resources.

Pabillo pointed out that during Duterte’s term, China was able to bring in more military hardware to the disputed West Philippine Sea, which is also being claimed by other countries including the Philippines.

The Manila bishop said Duterte takes the matter lightly, even claiming that China promised to protect him from foreign detractors who might attempt to oust him from the presidency.

“Duterte and his administration have not made any fuss on China’s moves and aggressiveness. He just jokes about them and even makes innuendoes that China will protect him and not allow him to fall. If this is the message he sends out, China on its part will not hesitate to do what it wants,” Pabillo said.

“So again we can say that Duterte has a great influence in the Chinese aggression even if he does not have any direct hand in it,” Pabillo noted.

Pabillo said there is not even any strongly-worded protest against “our big neighbor” even if Filipino fishermen are already being harassed in their own territories.

“The Chinese have even the gall to claim that it is by their own goodwill that Filipinos fish in their (that is, our) seas,” Pabillo said.

Pabillo also pointed out that China is not a defender of human rights or the rule of law, does not accept international law if it is not to its advantage and uses its might to bully a poor neighbor, like what it is doing in the West Philippine Sea.

“China can easily bully us too if we allow it to gain any foothold in our territories and in our policies. Duterte too is playing the same game. He has no moral compass to guide him,” Pabillo said.

Even if Duterte has often said that he loves the Philippines, the bishop doubted his sincerity.

Pabillo said the Chief Executive has “no love of country… He uses situations just to his own advantage. He does not care about the Filipinos or about the future of the country.”

Zarate, for his part, said the President should send the PCG to accompany or escort the hapless fisherfolk at Panatag Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, or in other Philippine-claimed areas in the West Philippine Sea.

“We have to show China that we are serious in defending our people as well as our territory. Our officials should always assert our independence, instead of them acting as apologists for China, which apparently now treats the Philippines as her vassal state,” Zarate said.

China took control of Panatag Shoal in 2012 after a standoff between Chinese and Philippine vessels. Beijing refused to honor an agreement mediated by the United States to end the standoff and made it appear that the Philippines backed down, the previous administration said.

Under the 2016 United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s territorial claim over the whole of the South China Sea, including a large part of the country’s exclusive economic zone, Panatag Shoal was declared a traditional fishing ground of Filipinos, Chinese and Vietnamese.

“China is apparently treating the Duterte administration as a pushover by doing what they want in Bajo de Masinloc and the rest of the (West Philippine Sea) without nary a whimper from Malacañang,” Zarate said.

“We are not saying that we declare war on China. But what we need is for Malacañang to stand up for our fisherfolk and our territory. We have already suggested in the past the filing of a diplomatic protest and increasing patrols of our seas, among others. One thing is clear though, the government must do something now to stop this invasion of China,” Zarate said.

Zarate also cautioned the US against exacerbating tension in the disputed sea.

“The situation in the West Philippine Sea is already getting serious. The US and China should stop their sabre rattling so as to lessen tension. The Philippines and other small claimants are in a situation akin to having two bullies in their backyard raring for a fight and thrashing each other without regard for the backyard or the houses nearby,” he said.

He urged claimant-states like the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia to work together to ease tension in the West Philippine Sea.

Fishermen from Zambales and Pangasinan have reported that Chinese Coast Guard personnel have been taking part of their catch in Panatag Shoal area and that Chinese fishermen have destroyed coral reefs there.

Seek foreign help 

Gordon said the government must be more aggressive in dealing with China, which has been claiming areas in the disputed South China Sea and clearly establishing a military presence there.

In an interview over dwIZ, Gordon said the Philippines’ claims over the West Philippine Sea would not be taken seriously by China since it has no military might to speak of at all.

He recalled how China refrained from acting so aggressively when the US still had its military bases in the Philippines.

With the American bases long gone, Gordon said there is nothing standing in the way of China doing what it wants in the disputed waters.

Gordon urged the government to reach out to its allies such as the US, Japan, New Zealand, Korea and Australia for support.

He said the Philippines must make its presence felt in the West Philippine Sea by building its own structures there, whether these are airfields, buildings or any structure to show signs of occupation.

Gordon said diplomatic protests against China should also be filed if this has not yet been done in order to show that the country would not allow itself to be bullied.

Even if these actions could result in some form of retaliation from China, Gordon said the country should be ready to accept this because pushing back is the right thing to do.

Gordon said it is time the government takes the strengthening of the armed forces seriously because this has been neglected by all of the previous administrations.

He recalled how he pushed for the allocation of 13 percent of the collections from the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law for building up the military, but this was not carried.

“You cannot have any bargaining chip if you don’t have a strong armed forces,” Gordon said.

Gordon said he has met with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to find out what the military needs in the 2019 national budget.  – With Jess Diaz, Marvin Sy