By: Jose T. Almonte Former National Security Adviser - No one can stop China from claiming “indisputable sovereignty” over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea)—except China itself or the authoritative power of world opinion.

Short of war, a war nobody wants or would wish, even the United States can only delay or impede the fulfillment of China’s inordinate ambition to gain sovereign control of 3 million square kilometers of this great inland sea that is also Southeast Asia’s maritime heartland.

This is the strategic context of China’s assertive ambiguity in the West Philippine Sea.

Just now, Beijing can only bluster and intimidate, as it probes for weaknesses in its rival claimants.

But once China can translate its economic power into military capability credible enough to challenge that of the United States—when the “time is right” in China’s terms—then the geopolitical configuration in the Asia-Pacific region will change radically.

And time and circumstances favor China. Analysts say China is likely to become the world’s largest economy in a decade or so.

If they are right, the Philippines has only 10 short years to prepare for what is likely to become an interesting Asia-Pacific future.

Long-term security

Given the constraints under which it’s working, the administration of President Benigno Aquino has so far done all that could possibly be done, in the short term, to defend our nation’s interests in the West Philippine Sea.

But in this case it’s not enough to deal with the immediate problem. Our nation’s long-term security hangs in the balance.

And to ensure our safety, we must look at the root of our nation’s security, which lies in our people—in everyone of us and nobody else.

If our country is to prevail in any challenge, if the Philippines is to become worthy of respect as a sovereign nation, we must first of all enable our people to become effective wealth creators.

We must make our country rich enough to enable us to acquire the means to defend our nation’s interests, to protect our people’s dignity and honor.

Nationhood infrastructure

To carry out the government’s strategies, policies, plans and programs to grow and develop the nation, we must strive urgently to create the four conditions necessary for growth and development.

Let us make no mistake, without these, the nation can hardly enforce its Constitution and its laws, and no development plan can succeed:

1. We must come to terms with ourselves. We must build among us the infrastructure of nationhood. We must be able to answer the basic question of who we are.

We must live the core values our forebears fought and died for: Dignity, honor, freedom, justice, self-determination, hard work, discipline, tolerance, mutual caring and compassion.

We must become a people at peace with themselves and with the world.

There is nothing our people cannot accomplish, if our identity and the goals we seek are articulated in terms of the core values taught us by our heroes and martyrs.

These core values define what is right or wrong for our people. They guide us, like our heroes and martyrs, to live only when it is right to live, and to die only when it is right to die.

2. No matter what it takes, we must end our internal wars. Our radical insurgency is kept alive by our grievous inequality and the elemental injustice of mass poverty. And both are caused by corruption and misgovernment.

The same is true of our separatist conflict in Mindanao. There popular frustrations are worsened by rivalries over land and livelihood, and the situation is complicated by ethnic and religious enmities.

3. We must complete all the land and nonland reforms we still need to do. Not only will their completion make rebellion, separatism and mutiny irrelevant but will also accelerate our nation’s growth. And, finally, it will unite our people.

4. We must transfer the power of the few over the state to the people as citizens. In the World Bank’s view, we are a country where state policies and their implementation serve not the common good but those of special interests.

The capture of the state and its regulatory agencies by vested interest groups has made our economy the least competitive among comparable economies in East Asia.

In sum, we must put our house in order. We must level our popular playing field to grow and develop the nation—and so enable our people to surmount any challenge.

No luxury of time

As we create the four conditions necessary for growth and development, we must also carry out our development plans. Given the uncertainties building up in East Asia, we do not have the luxury of time.

It is the Chinese people’s historic sense that is driving their country’s rise. They count their recovery from generations of humiliation at the hands of the great powers as lasting 150 years starting from the initial European effort to open up China around 1800.

In 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed China had stood up. But China began to recover economically only after Deng Xiaoping’s reforms (1978). In three and a half decades, China has become the world’s second largest economy.

We, too, must tap into our people’s sense of nationality—and do no less. By creating the four conditions necessary for growth and development that I cited above, and by simultaneously carrying out the government’s development plans, we can change our country—we can modernize it without leaving anyone behind—during the next 10 years.

By that time, we will also have nurtured the inclusive institutions that will sustain our people’s capacities for wealth creation.

No primrose paths

Let us not delude ourselves. There are no short cuts—no primrose paths—to growth and development. We must never give up even if our country’s rise takes 150 years or more.

We have no choice. The alternative is too dire to contemplate.

We must work together to prevent the situation developing that reduces our country into a tributary, a vassal, a province of a great power.

Those who sacrificed and died for us and for generations yet to come will never forgive us if we fail to summon the courage and the will to take the radical steps toward the Filipino future: To deliberately put in place the four conditions necessary for growth and development without delay.


China continues to beef up presence in Panatag Shoal By Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated July 21, 2012 12:00 AMComments (0)

[Photo -FISHING IN TROUBLED WATERS In this photo released by China’s Xinhua news agency, a Chinese fishery administration ship (background) guards a Chinese fishing vessel near Yongshu Reef in the Spratly Islands, in the West Philippine Sea, on Sunday. A fleet of 30 fishing vessels arrived at the reef where China has an ocean observatory and will spend 10 days of fishing, according to Xinhua. AP / XINHUA]

MANILA, Philippines - China continued to beef up its presence in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal as about 30 Chinese boats were spotted in the Philippine-owned area last Thursday, a security official said yesterday.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were indications that the Chinese vessels were fishing well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The number of Chinese vessels was 10 times more than the three ships spotted in the shoal during a previous monitoring by the government early this month.

“They seem to be continuing their fishing activities. There is really no fishing ban,” the source said.

The information about the presence of Chinese boats was based on a report by officials monitoring the situation in the area.

The ships were spotted last Thursday, two days after the Russian Coast Guard apprehended 36 Chinese fishermen and seized two Chinese vessels that entered its territory.

The Chinese fishermen reportedly tried to fish in the Primorsky region, which is within Russia’s EEZ.

The official declined to provide details as to how many vessels are inside the Panatag Shoal lagoon.

Previously, however, Chinese fishermen who engaged in illegal fishing in the shoal were accompanied by government vessels.

When asked why the number of Chinese vessels increased, the source said: “Perhaps this is due to the lack of deterrents. If there is someone who will guard the area, they (Chinese fishermen) will think twice before going there.”

The Philippines no longer has vessels in the area after President Aquino ordered the pullout of two local ships last June 15 allegedly due to bad weather.

These ships – one from the Coast Guard and one from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources – used to symbolize the Philippines’ ownership of the area.

These vessels faced off with Chinese ships that started occupying the shoal last April. It remains unclear whether Philippine vessels would be redeployed to the shoal.

In contrast, China maintained its presence in the shoal even though the Philippines’ ownership of the area is backed by international law.

Panatag Shoal is located 124 nautical miles from the nearest base point in Zambales. The Philippines’ ownership of the shoal is backed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which China is a signatory.

Both Manila and Beijing support peaceful means to resolve the dispute despite incidents of bullying by Chinese ships of Filipino vessels and fishermen.

Last June 25, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced that the Philippines and China had reached a verbal agreement to pull out from the lagoon but not the wider vicinity of the shoal.

China, however, did not honor the agreement as the Philippine Navy reported the following day that 23 Chinese boats were inside the lagoon.

China, the Philippines, and other Southeast countries are embroiled in a territorial dispute over areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Lacson: Keep your mouth shut

As this developed, Senate committee on national defense and security chairman Panfilo Lacson said that the dispute between the Philippines and China is worsening and must be stopped immediately by keeping everybody’s mouth shut on the issue.

Lacson said that the situation has gotten from bad to worse because of all the confrontational statements being issued by both sides.

He said it would be pointless for the government to continue pursuing this tactic against China, especially since the country cannot possibly match the other side’s military might if ever the situation escalates to a full-blown confrontation.

He said that bringing the United States into the picture would only worsen the situation.

Instead of engaging in verbal exchange, Lacson advised the executive branch to shift its attention to the economic relations between the two countries.

“My suggestion is to set aside the controversial issues and shift our focus to the economic side. This is what China wants too so let’s just focus on this and nothing else,” he said.

Lacson said that seeking the help of other nations on the settlement of the dispute with China is all right as long as these are not discussed openly in order to avoid further controversy.

“We can continue talking to the US or the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries or any other country but do this discreetly and not so openly as if we are flaunting this,” he said.

Sen. Francis Escudero agreed that there should be less talk from both sides in order to avoid a confrontation. – Marvin Sy

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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