"I hope the usual suspects would consider putting the real interests of the country and people first."
Last Monday, May 31, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) advised that as of that date the Duterte administration has filed 100 diplomatic protests against China over various infractions on the West Philippine Sea (WPS). The latest such diplomatic protest was filed May 28 to protest “the incessant deployment, prolonged presence and illegal activities of Chinese maritime assets and floating vessels in the vicinity of Pag-Asa island.”
That advisory was prompted by the continuing harangue of administration critics that President Duterte has seriously compromised the country’s sovereignty with what they claimed as an “overly soft stance,” bordering on surrender, over China’s illegal and aggressive incursions into the country’s territorial waters. It is noted that Pag-Asa island is our largest outpost in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), a chain of nine islets in the Spratlys which then President Marcos decreed as an “integral part of the Philippine over which it has sovereignty and jurisdiction.”
Lying 480 kilometers west of Puerto Princesa City, it is the administrative center of the municipality of Kalayaan which, since 1978, has been recognized as one of the local government units (LGUs) belonging to the province of Palawan.
The almost daily issuance of diplomatic protests against China started in the last week of April when around 280 Chinese maritime and fishing vessels were spotted swarming and lingering in the Julian Felipe reef area which is just about 175 kilometers from the town of Bataraza—the nearest from the Palawan landmass.
Since then, the foreign affairs and defense departments had demanded that the Chinese withdraw from the area, insisting in the process that Philippine maritime and fishing vessels will ignore any calls even radio challenges by Chinese authorities over such undertakings. To underscore the country’s resolve, President Duterte has since ordered that the Coast Guard undertake 24/7 patrols in and around the KIG.
In addition to these initiatives, the administration has also urged Congress to consider the immediate passage of House Bill 9420 entitled Philippine Navy Forward Operating Bases Act authored by Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Representative Johnny Pimentel to serve, among others, as “the staging and resupply sites for the Navy’s new generation of warships and battle crafts” to further cement our presence in the vast waters of the entire West Philippine Sea known internationally as the South China Sea.
With these developments there should already be a respite from the incessant attacks and calls for “stronger responses to Chinese incursions” by the usual suspects which, based on the latest polls, a clear majority of the public wants. Although there has been a palpable anti-Chinese hysteria among some sectors resulting from the non-stop carping of the Duterte critics there is strong opposition to any escalation in both words and action of official conduct as far as this dispute over the West Philippine Sea is concerned.
After all, the other measures which the critics have put on the table as part of our “stronger response” would already raise our protests against China to an alarming level. Short of an actual declaration of war such other ways beloved by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and his cohort, former Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia as: a) summoning the Chinese Ambassador for a formal advisory (actually a lecture); b) recalling our Ambassador to Beijing for “consultations” simultaneous with the recall of key personnel in our various posts in China, c) declaring (sanctioning) a number of Chinese officials as “persona non grata” and d) finally joining the United States and other countries in a “creeping trade and financial sanctions” strategy will mean ‘deep freezing” our relations with the world’s second largest economy and emerging superpower in the region.
Even that US led “creeping sanctions” strategy should be analyzed carefully by these critics. That move of the Biden administration to keep the “Trump era sanctions” for now is already a giveaway. The US is on the way to rebuilding the earlier Obama China strategy of “looking beyond the headlines” toward a more pliable plan, taking into consideration what then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted as the two countries’ strategic interests.
I have no doubt the critics are aware that those suggested initiatives are not supported by a clear majority of our people and any move to trap the administration in doing any of these will definitely be rejected. Nonetheless,
I am not crossing my fingers on whether they will now stop their carping and look for other issues which they can pound the administration with. After all, that’s why they are considered administration critics. We just hope that this time around they will consider putting the real interests of the country and people first before embarking on another round of haranguing and posturing.