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Editorial

Dangerous ignorance

/ 09:08 AM April 16, 2019

As if the scandal over false claims about graduating from top universities is not enough for her, senatorial candidate Imee Marcos recently let loose with another jaw-dropping claim: It was the Philippines, she said in a TV interview, that started all the trouble with China by haling it before the international arbitral tribunal.

It bears reading her quotes verbatim to get the full flavor of her startling reasoning: “Tayo nag-umpisa ng gulo eh. Bakit naman kasi natin hinabla sa world court (We started the fracas. Why did we sue before the world court)? We started it. We picked a fight and then ngayon, ’yun pala hindi natin kaya. Ano bang klase ’yun? Talagang takaw gulpi tayo (We picked a fight and then we find out we’re not up to it. We’re so quarrelsome).”

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As some folks would ask, have you been living under a rock?

Then again, even if she isn’t, surely the daughter of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, a former representative and former governor of Ilocos, isn’t lacking for advisers to keep her abreast of key developments in the country.

Those advisers would have cautioned her, for instance, that her faulty claim would make her appear oblivious of the whole summer of 2012, when a critical two-month standoff between the Philippines and China in the Scarborough Shoal occurred.

The “trouble” (in Marcos’ definition) started on April 8, 2012, when eight Chinese fishing vessels were seen near Scarborough. Also called Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc, the shoal is deemed part of the Philippines as it is located just 222 kilometers off the main island of Luzon. Hainan, the nearest Chinese landmass, is 650 km away.

The Philippine Navy’s BRP Gregorio del Pilar was dispatched to check, and it found out that Chinese poachers had helped themselves to fish, corals, giant clams, baby sharks and so much more from the waters that had been the traditional fishing grounds of generations of Filipino fishermen.

An attempt to drive away the Chinese fishing vessels led to the Chinese Coast Guard challenging the Philippines in its own waters. A two-month war of nerves ensued, prompting the United States to attempt to broker a deal for the two countries to withdraw their forces.

A typhoon in early June prompted then President Benigno Aquino III to order the withdrawal of the Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel and a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources boat, with the expectation, under the US-brokered deal, that China would do the same.

But China did not reciprocate, and seven Chinese maritime vessels and as many as 26 boats remained in the shoal. By July 2012, China had completed its seizure of the shoal by putting up a barrier at the entrance of the shoal and positioning its maritime vessels to ward off Filipino fishermen.

The Philippines then decided it had had enough of China’s duplicitous and strong-arm tactics and sought refuge in international law. On Jan. 22, 2013, citing more than 17 years of “fruitless bilateral consultations” with China, the Aquino administration filed a motion for arbitration in a tribunal in The Hague to challenge China’s claim to most of the South China Sea, and to stop its incursions within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

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In July 2016, in a David-vs-Goliath victory for the Philippines, the tribunal handed down a milestone ruling declaring that China’s so-called nine-dash-line claim to the South China Sea had no basis, and that it had violated the Philippines’ EEZ.

However, that sweet victory was forthwith set aside by then newly-installed President Duterte, as he pivoted the Philippines’ foreign policy toward a more accommodationist stance with Beijing.

How hard is it for Marcos to read up on that well-documented record? Her ignorance, moreover, assumes dangerous proportions given that she might just win a seat in the Senate (she ranks 9-12 in the latest Pulse Asia survey).

As an aspirant to that body, there is no excuse for her ill-founded view on a grave matter involving no less than the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

After all, the Senate is not just where laws are crafted and national policies are scrutinized. It is where international treaties are debated and ratified.

Imagine what her cluelessness, deliberate or otherwise, can lead to when the matter of China’s continuing provocations comes up for deliberation.

Malacañang might be pleased to have another slavish pro-Beijing voice in its corner, but even the administration’s bulldog, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., couldn’t help but twit Marcos’ claim with the perfect putdown: “Okay. That’s totally ignorant.”

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TAGS: imee marcos, Inquirer editorial, Maritime Dispute, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea
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