PH as vassal
The two Chinese research vessels seen in the vicinity of Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea since early this month have left, according to the Philippine Navy chief, Vice Adm. Giovanni Bacordo. The Xiang Yang Hong 14 and Haiyan Dizhi Hao 12 had no permission from the Philippine government — and therefore no business — to be in the area. Yet they stayed there for at least a week, per Bacordo, unmindful of repercussions in PH-China relations.
Bacordo said the unauthorized presence of the Chinese vessels constituted grounds for the filing of a diplomatic protest. Quite right. Recto Bank, an underwater reef formation believed to hold large reserves of oil and natural gas, belongs to the Philippines. The Chinese vessels, supposedly alternating in their activity and moving at a speed of three knots (about 5.5 kilometers) per hour, appeared to have been engaged in a survey of the area, once more illustrating China’s continuing aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
Their presence was illustrative as well of China’s continuing violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), which dictates that any vessel conducting a scientific survey in another country’s exclusive economic zone must have been cleared by that country’s government. But then China has constantly thumbed its nose at the Unclos: For yet more proof, as though more were needed, there is the report by the Department of National Defense in 2019 that at least 15 Chinese research vessels were tracked in Philippine waters in that year alone, and that a number have been the subject of diplomatic protest.
China’s aggression continues to be demonstrated in the South China Sea even as the COVID-19 pandemic that began in its city of Wuhan rages, adding to the respective burdens of the other countries that abut the vast waterway and that hold varying claims to it. China claims almost the entire South China Sea, and the operations of its research vessels in the respective waters of other claimant-countries Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines are offensive reminders of its intent to uphold its claim in the manner it wishes, despite the expressed goals of peace and stability in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
It’s important for Filipinos to remember the ever-growing litany of China’s acts of aggression, including the sinking of the fishing boat Gem-Ver by a Chinese vessel in the vicinity of Recto Bank in June 2019. The Filipino captain and crew were left to die in the frigid waters, in contravention of laws governing not only the courts but also mariners; it was only through the aid of a Vietnamese vessel that the Filipinos lived to tell the story of intentional endangerment.
That President Duterte later dismissed what had happened as a minor marine mishap grievously wounded the fishermen, his constituents. The subsequent visit of a Duterte official, then Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, to the fishermen’s village in Occidental Mindoro rubbed salt on their wounds, no matter that he came bearing gifts. Curiously accompanied by antiriot police, as though he were entering a war zone, the man gathered the captain and crew to a closed-door meeting. When they emerged, the captain was called upon to say that he was now unsure if the sinking of his boat was done on purpose or was an accident.
It’s important for Filipinos to remember the turn of events — and the fact that the owners of the good ship Gem-Ver, as well as its captain and crew, have yet to be compensated by the Chinese government for the damage to their lives and livelihood.
In the waters off Pag-asa in the Kalayaan Island Group that the Philippines claims as its territory, a “swarm” of fishing vessels believed to be part of China’s militia has become a regular sight. As many as 76 of these boats were counted by the Philippine military on Feb. 17 alone—an apparent psywar tactic designed to unnerve the government in its efforts to upgrade the airstrip on Pag-asa and thereby improve its defenses on the island 480 kilometers west of the province of Palawan.
The Philippine government has protested the presence of this swarm, to no avail.
Speaking last week to foreign correspondents, Bacordo said Chinese forces in Philippine waters had become “more accommodating” to their Filipino counterparts during Mr. Duterte’s administration, “unlike before.” He added, incredibly: “We conduct, rotate personnel without Chinese intervention.”
Bacordo’s statement of gratitude for Philippine naval forces to be allowed by interlopers to do their thing in their own waters is a direct offshoot of his Commander in Chief’s declaration of worthlessness — “inutil ako” — in defending the national territory. This abject stance is why China behaves as though the Philippines were indeed its province — worse, its vassal.
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