PHNO EDITORIALS & OPINIONS OF THE WEEK

MALAYA OPINION: GOD'S WILL  

By Jose Bayani Baylon ---I APOLOGISE if this piece will send some of those who may happen to read it up the wall. I know politics and religion are two topics one should avoid in polite society, but this is a column and this is me and politics and religion are two topics I just like to talk and write about. Today I’d like to share my crazy thoughts about “God’s will.” I recently came across a news report that the founder of a religious sect (is the word sect the right thing to use?) has been found to actually have had forty wives. Yes, forty. Now what is so shocking about that is that this religion preaches a very strict moral code. For which it is respected, if not admired, even by non-adherents. READ FULL COLUMN...

ALSO: THE BEST OF TIMES, THE WORST OF TIMES  

In his Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness….” The import or meaning of these words may well apply to what has been happening to the Philippines and its economy. The best of times is seen and proven by figures showing the economy is growing. The decline of the budget deficit to P2.5 billion in October does not indicate better times although the old belief in government spending is that nothing could be better than a balanced budget. The ideal is government spends only what it earns. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO Editorial: A DROP IN THE BUCKET 

SENATOR Bong Revilla, in all likelihood, will be spending his first Christmas and New Year in detention after the denial of his bail petition by the Sandiganbayan. With bail hearings going somewhat slower in the plunder cases of two other senators, chances are that both will be keeping him dreary company during the holidays. It has been only five months since the presentation of evidence started but …with marked few exceptions, public interest in the proceedings have hit the doldrums. READ FUL EDITORIAL...

ALSO Editorial: LIKE SWIMMING IN MOLASSES  

INVESTIGATIONS by the Senate blue ribbon committee into the Malampaya Fund scam resumed yesterday with what amounted to a virtual recap of what was reported on the subject almost a year ago. The testimony of officials from the Commission on Audit focused only on the P900 million slice of the pie that went to the Department of Agrarian Reform - and promptly disappeared again within a span of exactly 62 days between October 22 and December 23, 2009. Details of the conspiracy as retold by auditors revealed just how easy it proved for the determined few to pull off a caper of such magnitude taking advantage of the corrupt system and the appalling unconcern of people manning our bureaucracy. From the start, the shady operation relied on sleight of hand and exploited the reluctance of bureaucrats to challenge official-looking documents when backed by sufficient chutzpah. READ FULL EDITORIAL..

ALSO: MAYOR ESTRADA SAVES MANILA 

By Ducky Paredes ---ACCORDING to President-Mayor Joseph Estrada as the former President likes to be called nowadays, he can finally look forward to getting a good night’s sleep after seeing an improvement in the city’s financial standing. When he took over as mayor in 2010, the city had a deficit of P4.4 billion. Unfazed, he told barangay officials then, that Manila would be debt-free by 2015. “I have to admit that sleep rarely visited me since I inherited Manila’s fiscal problems. I could not sleep even after taking sleeping pills,” he said at the two-day Manila City Development Council convention held in Baguio City. Thanks to improved revenue collections–largely due to updated fair market values for real property and a new revenue code–Manila’s financial standing is looking better, an achievement Estrada trumpeted in his state of the city address earlier this year. With the city back in the black, public gymnasiums, sport centers and swimming pools can once again be used by residents free of charge starting in January. The city government began charging a fee for the use of these facilities when Estrada took office in 2010. READ MORE...

THE ROLE OF MEDIA IN ANTI-CORRUPTION DRIVE

By Ellen Tordesillas ---WHENEVER there are media reports of corruption involving government officials, the usual reaction of authorities, including Malacañang officials, is to demand evidence. Instead of being thankful for the information that media brought out which should help them in their anti-corruption drive, they become defensive and put the burden of proof to the reporters. It’s a must for reporters to make sure that their reports are accurate but coming up with evidence that can stand in court is another thing. Building a case for the purposes of prosecution is the job of the government and they have extensive machinery to use if they really want to punish the corrupt. A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on foreign bribery says media remain “an important untapped source of information.” READ FULL COLUMN...

CHINA’S FRIENDSHIP TREATY 

By NESTOR MATA ---AS China once again offers the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) billions of dollars and promotes another treaty for “Good Neighborly and Friendly Cooperation”, the association’s member-states should consider how China perceives ASEAN and what goals it hopes to gain from its interactions with the bloc. By and large, in the view of David Gutter, a scholar in Asian Studies at The Elliott School of International Relations of George Washington University, China has maintained a favorable view of ASEAN since opening relations with it in 1991. Two factors contributing to Beijing’s positive perception of the association include its flexible and non-binding “ASEAN Way,” and its openness to Chinese win-win overtures that help Beijing secure its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea (SCS). Given China’s exploitation of these characteristics in pursuit of its expansionist goals, analyst Gutter wrote in The Diplomat magazine on Asian-Pacific current affairs, ASEAN should seriously consider whether it wants to sign on to another vague deal when diplomatic capital might be better spent on alternative frameworks. READ FULL COLUMN...


READ FULL MEDIA EDITORIALS & OPINIONS  HERE:

GOD’S WILL


By Jose Bayani Baylon

MANILA, DECEMBER 8, 2014 (MALAYA)  By Jose Bayani Baylon - I APOLOGISE if this piece will send some of those who may happen to read it up the wall. I know politics and religion are two topics one should avoid in polite society, but this is a column and this is me and politics and religion are two topics I just like to talk and write about.

Today I’d like to share my crazy thoughts about “God’s will.”

I recently came across a news report that the founder of a religious sect (is the word sect the right thing to use?) has been found to actually have had forty wives.

Yes, forty.

Now what is so shocking about that is that this religion preaches a very strict moral code. For which it is respected, if not admired, even by non-adherents.

But now the church leaders grudgingly admit that research into their founder’s life has revealed this startling fact. Nothing short of earth-shaking. Oh, but there is a reason for that.

Apparently, an angel of the Lord wielding a sword had threatened him to take every one of the 39 brides after Number 1, on the pain of eternal damnation. Wow.

Straying Catholic men of the world, unite. When it is the Lord through an angel who tells you to stray, you have nothing to lose but your guilt. And hopefully, your legal obligations? But you’re in the wrong religion!

Then again, to be fair, it should not be shocking that a man of God is found to be truly a man and not God. A man has needs. He has weaknesses. And when God grants him the liberty to indulge in his weaknesses then who are we mere mortals to argue?

It is God’s will, right?

Now how many of us are quick to surrender to God’s will? Let’s have a show of hands please.

I can imagine many of my friends raising their hands. Indeed, many of my friends are quick to surrender their lives to God’s will, Oh, but with a few exceptions.

For example: when they catch a cold, they are quick to take their analgesic. When they catch something worse, they are quick to rush to the doctor. Oh, an organ doesn’t work? Why not a transplant then?

But wait: why take meds, or undergo the knife, when it is easy to surrender what has happened to you to God’s will? Aren’t you then betraying his will by trying to undo what has happened?

In more extreme cases, how many lives have been lost because the killers had been acting in God’s will? And now don’t be quick to point a finger at non-Christian religions; so many non-Christians have died at the hands of Christians as well, in keeping with God’s will.

If it isn’t clear to you now, it may never be. But the point is, “God’s will” has become a quick and easy excuse for so many human weaknesses and failings. And the ironic if not hypocritical thing about this is that the excuse has many times been accepted even by the leaders of our religions.

So think about it. How much of your life do you truly surrender to what you personally perceive to be the will of God – in whatever shape, form or gender you make your God to be?

What in your life is truly God’s will? What you wear today? What you say? What you eat, do, make, or not?

When you get sick, is that God’s will? Then is it also God’s will that you do your darnest best to get well? Or isn’t it his will that you both be reunited at the earliest possible opportunity?

Religion has a place in human life. Principally, its place is to provide us some moral code by which to live. Just as importantly, it serves to provide us a source of hope or, where hope is no longer available, a source of comfort. Otherwise so many things in life can make us crazy – or, should I say, crazier than we already are.

Imagine: an angel of the Lord wielding a sword threatening me to take so many wives at pain of eternal damnation?

Crazy, right?

Crazy, but cool.

Now who wouldn’t surrender to God’s will in cases like this?


THE BEST OF TIMES, THE WORST OF TIMES By Amado P. Macasaet | December 03, 2014


By Amado P. Macasaet

In his Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness….”

The import or meaning of these words may well apply to what has been happening to the Philippines and its economy.

The best of times is seen and proven by figures showing the economy is growing. The decline of the budget deficit to P2.5 billion in October does not indicate better times although the old belief in government spending is that nothing could be better than a balanced budget.

The ideal is government spends only what it earns. The country is not plunged deep in debt that, again in the old belief, raises the per capita debt of the Filipino to a level he cannot pay.

The people of this country do not pay the debts of government. They do not even suffer when the budget deficit balloons beyond the amounts calculated in the General Appropriations Act.

They “suffer” more when the leader of the government, for his own reasons, refuses or is unable to spend enough whether the money is raised from taxes or borrowed from the public.

The recent report states President Aquino failed to spend P303 billion programmed in the budget. It is this failure that narrowed down the deficit below estimates.

Forgotten here is the observation of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank that it is precisely the inability, nay refusal, of the Aquino government to spend enough that slowed down the rate of growth. This was proven right in recent reports that claimed growth is slowest in five years.

There is absolutely nothing bad or abominable in having a bloated budget deficit.

The deficit is filled by borrowings. There is no other source of funds. The Bureau of Internal Revenue periodically meets its collection targets. Sometimes, the target is overshot. Sometimes, collections are short of target. Customs hardly ever meets its target largely because of perceptions of corruption as proven by the entry of $0.68 per kilo price of tobacco imported by Mighty Corp. when the world price is between $4 and $6 to the kilo. The “technical smuggling” denies customs the correct tariff on about 70 percent of the correct price of the product.

The deficit -- which I emphasize is not a problem -- could be much lower if the Department of Finance had tried to collect the correct excise tax on all the cigarettes produced by Mighty.

What customs glaringly missed in tariff payments and the alleged deficiencies in tax payments of Mighty are not that material to the question of budget deficits and how the Aquino government fails to spend enough for the economy using borrowed money like other countries do.

We maintain the size of budgetary deficits and the gargantuan public debt are indications of growth if the money is spent wisely for essential projects like infrastructure and what economists call social overheads in building more classrooms, more hospitals, public markets and other essential services.

We cannot be happy over the fact that the deficit in October shrank below target.

There is a price we pay for it in the form of services the people and the economy did not get much of, precisely because the Aquino government could not spend enough.

Gargantuan deficits are manifest signs of growth, if the funds are spent for the economy. The only problem is the economy has to wait for the benefits brought about by deficit spending. The time lag between spending and the fruits of such expenditure is long.

Politicians say huge borrowings raises the per capita debt of the Filipino. This is wrong because those who say so never wanted to mention the benefits that accrue to the economy, particularly the poor, as a result of having to bear with huge public debt.

For example, more classrooms will prevent crowding among school children and effectively makes faster the learning process in public schools. The costs of building farm-to-market roads with borrowed money will be recovered and in fact yield a profit when the farmer is encouraged to plant more because he has a facility of the road to bring his produce to the market.

It is beyond us to fathom Mr. Aquino’s refusal to speed up spending for the public good. We hazard the guess he would not see a situation where such spending will create a bigger room for corruption.

That is purely a matter of management efficiency and the quality of the people who do the spending. So far, we take our hats off to Babes Singson in doing his job as secretary of public works and highways.

He could have done more without a tinge of corruption if the President had told him to.

The United States has public debts in the trillions of dollars. It is a world economic power made so by borrowing.

Until the days of President Diosdado Macapagal, the government was issuing securities to the Central Bank as a form of raising money that was not backed by any asset.

Debts of government -- local and foreign -- are sovereign liabilities secured by the assets of the entire republic. The magnitude of the debt becomes a punishment to the economy only if it is misused.

What we have is a situation where government borrows less. The budget deficit is curbed precisely because of under spending. The economy pays for it instead of getting more benefits.


EDITORIAL: A DROP IN THE BUCKET December 03, 2014

SENATOR Bong Revilla, in all likelihood, will be spending his first Christmas and New Year in detention after the denial of his bail petition by the Sandiganbayan.

With bail hearings going somewhat slower in the plunder cases of two other senators, chances are that both will be keeping him dreary company during the holidays.

It has been only five months since the presentation of evidence started but …with marked few exceptions, public interest in the proceedings have hit the doldrums.

No surprise really considering that the Senate already had a fair go of milking the pork barrel scam dry of any usable soundbites.

Yesterday’s court ruling at the very least, should help refocus public attention on the PDAF scam cases.

The worst thing that can happen now is to allow those cases to be swept into the dark recesses of our consciousness.

These cases are just the start.

Many more senators, congressmen, and officials of government corporations helped bleed the public dry and they too should be prosecuted.

More so the ones who believed they were beyond reach owing to their political alliances.

Revilla’s plunder case involving P224 million of taxpayers’ money is too minuscule, too insignificant, in the scheme that was the P10 billion pork barrel scam.

The Ombudsman has admitted that the people cannot expect to recover what was stolen.

The admission rankled but losing that money would be more acceptable if all who grew fat on it end up behind bars.


EDITORIAL: LIKE SWIMMING IN MOLASSES December 02, 2014

INVESTIGATIONS by the Senate blue ribbon committee into the Malampaya Fund scam resumed yesterday with what amounted to a virtual recap of what was reported on the subject almost a year ago.

The testimony of officials from the Commission on Audit focused only on the P900 million slice of the pie that went to the Department of Agrarian Reform - and promptly disappeared again within a span of exactly 62 days between October 22 and December 23, 2009.

Details of the conspiracy as retold by auditors revealed just how easy it proved for the determined few to pull off a caper of such magnitude taking advantage of the corrupt system and the appalling unconcern of people manning our bureaucracy.

From the start, the shady operation relied on sleight of hand and exploited the reluctance of bureaucrats to challenge official-looking documents when backed by sufficient chutzpah.

The entire P900 million was siphoned off on a pyramid of phony documents, bogus non-government organizations and fake lists of agrarian reform beneficiaries.

It is the job of piecing together enough evidence to unmask those who were responsible and to successfully prosecute them for plunder and corruption that is going to take time and truckloads of patience.

Lest we forget, the initial inquiry only involved sums from the Malampaya funds that went through the DAR. That was only one agency, involved only P900 million, and mentioned only one project which was to rehabilitate agrarian reform communities devastated by Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.

Total disbursements from the Malampaya royalties remitted over the years have amounted to a whopping P38.83 billion.

Huge chunks found their way to national government agencies, government-owned and controlled corporations and local government units into programs and projects involving heaven-knows-what-else.

For days to come, the Senate investigation will dazzle us with colorful graphs and tales of unalloyed avarice.

But the real job will ultimately fall on the underpaid auditors and overworked prosecutors.

This is what the thieves were counting on. – PT.


MAYOR ESTRADA SAVES MANILA By Ducky Paredes | December 05, 2014


By Ducky Paredes

ACCORDING to President-Mayor Joseph Estrada as the former President likes to be called nowadays, he can finally look forward to getting a good night’s sleep after seeing an improvement in the city’s financial standing.

When he took over as mayor in 2010, the city had a deficit of P4.4 billion. Unfazed, he told barangay officials then, that Manila would be debt-free by 2015.

“I have to admit that sleep rarely visited me since I inherited Manila’s fiscal problems. I could not sleep even after taking sleeping pills,” he said at the two-day Manila City Development Council convention held in Baguio City.

Thanks to improved revenue collections–largely due to updated fair market values for real property and a new revenue code–Manila’s financial standing is looking better, an achievement Estrada trumpeted in his state of the city address earlier this year.

With the city back in the black, public gymnasiums, sport centers and swimming pools can once again be used by residents free of charge starting in January. The city government began charging a fee for the use of these facilities when Estrada took office in 2010.

During the Baguio convention, Estrada told Manila barangay officials that the city government now has “greater room to finally implement the projects and programs that have been shelved for years, [with] emphasis, of course, on those that will benefit our 896 barangays and their combined 1.8 million residents.”

One of these was the release of the annual city aid fund from 2012 to 2014 for every barangay amounting to P1,000 yearly. Next year, the annual allocation would go up to P12,000 on the strength of a city ordinance.

Manila will was also open a dialysis center in the next few days for the city’s indigent residents.

***

Former Makati City Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado is back from the United States and is ready to face his former friend and ally, Vice President Jejomar Binay, for a debate.

“I’m back and I like to reiterate my challenge to the Vice President for a face-off or debate to know who is telling the truth and who is lying,” Mercado told the Inquirer on Tuesday morning.

Mercado, who issued the challenge while he was abroad, said Binay could name the place and the time for the debate.

From the way that Binay has been avoiding debate challenges -- from Senator Trillanes and others -- there seems little chance that he would accept the challenge from his former ally.

The former vice mayor left for the United States after a Senate blue ribbon subcommittee suspended its hearing on the alleged overprice of the Makati City Building II, a carpark built when Binay was mayor of Makati.

Mercado has provided testimonies and documents to the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee linking Binay, who has declared his intention to run for President in 2016, to alleged anomalies.

Apart from the allegedly overpriced P2.28-billion carpark, Binay has been accused of owning a 350-hectare high-end farm in Rosario, Batangas province, and condominium units in Makati through dummies. The Vice President has denied the charges.

Away for more than two weeks, Mercado arrived on Monday evening on board Philippine Airlines from Los Angeles.

Mercado insists that his travel was personal and had nothing to do with Binay.

Thinking that Mercado had more goods against the Vice President, the latter’s political spokesperson, Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla, said Mercado was a “proven perjurer who has nothing good to say.”

“The Vice President is too busy working to be distracted,” Remulla said in a text message.

Asked whether Binay had anything to worry about and whether he planned to take any legal action against Mercado, Remulla said: “He’s confident of the end game toward Malacañang.”

***

The President has vowed that more charges will be filed and more personalities will be jailed in connection with the pork barrel scam.

“We should emphasize: These are only the initial cases filed; more will come once the necessary evidence is assembled,” Aquino said in a speech during the 2nd State Conference on the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (Uncac) in Malacañang.

In his speech, the President promised that those who “conspired to steal” public funds will be made accountable.

“Prominent lawmakers, former heads of GOCCs [government-owned and -controlled corporations] and government agencies, and others in the private sector who conspired to steal from the people through the Priority Development Assistance Fund [PDAF] have been arrested and are now undergoing the appropriate processes to determine accountability,” Aquino said.

Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. are now in jail in connection with alleged misuse of their PDAF or pork barrel.

Alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles and the lawmakers’ subordinates were similarly ordered arrested for their participation in the P10-billion PDAF racket.

In June this year, Napoles submitted affidavits containing the names of 20 senators and 100 congressmen, many of whom incumbent, who allegedly benefited from the PDAF, before it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last year.

The camp of principal witness, Benhur Luy, feared that such long list of possible respondents could drag the case for at least a decade.

Napoles’ scheme involved siphoning off PDAF to bogus non-government organizations that she herself had put up.

Aquino, also during the UNCAC meeting, said his administration has set up a budget scheme that will prevent similar abuses.

“There are new measures to speak of as well. For instance, one of the innovations we introduced in the budgeting process this year is the GAA [General Appropriations Act]-as-release-document system. Through this system, the budget serves as the release document itself the moment it is signed into law. This meant that, as soon as 2014 began, the majority of allocations were released to agencies, enabling them to begin implementing projects, thus cascading benefits down to our people, at the soonest possible time,” he explained.

***

The President admits that the fight against corruption cannot be won overnight. He has been working to “make change permanent” by continuing his legacy even after he leaves Malacañang.

“With the 2016 elections not too far off, let us always remember that we are working to make change permanent, to make the commitment to good governance a commitment that lasts beyond this administration,” he said.

“We are working to rid the Philippines of the corruption that has tainted its reputation and plagued it for so long; we are working to institutionalize a legacy that finds its roots in the mindset of our countrymen, who will never again settle for anything less than true public service,” Aquino added.

The President narrated how “methodical” the “straight path” has been for him, noting that “each hindrance would have to be dismantled before we could make true progress.”

“As you may remember, the first Executive Order I signed created a Truth Commission intended to investigate allegations of graft and corruption, as the first step toward accountability. We all know unfortunately, this was blocked by the Supreme Court, which was then led by then-Chief Justice Corona. Yet we persisted.

“Only 6.5 percent of the 2010 budget, amounting to P100 billion, was left when this administration took office. We also inherited the proposed 2011 budget, which has to be given to Congress roughly about two months into office. Even with these challenges, we embarked on serious reforms . . . And in 2012, we finally had the wherewithal to craft a budget, under which each peso government spent would have real and concrete benefits for the Filipino people,” according to the President.

***

Of course, for this campaign to continue, we will need another President as dedicated against corruption as the present President. From the way things look, it is just too bad but that the next President could actually be eminently corruptible.


THE ROLE OF MEDIA IN ANTI-CORRUPTION DRIVE By Ellen Tordesillas | December 05, 2014


By Ellen Tordesillas

WHENEVER there are media reports of corruption involving government officials, the usual reaction of authorities, including Malacañang officials, is to demand evidence.

Instead of being thankful for the information that media brought out which should help them in their anti-corruption drive, they become defensive and put the burden of proof to the reporters.

It’s a must for reporters to make sure that their reports are accurate but coming up with evidence that can stand in court is another thing. Building a case for the purposes of prosecution is the job of the government and they have extensive machinery to use if they really want to punish the corrupt.

A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on foreign bribery says media remain “an important untapped source of information.”

The report , according to a news item by VERA Files” Yvonne Chua, analyzed 427 foreign bribery cases law enforcers in 17 countries have successfully concluded since the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions came into force on Feb. 15, 1999.

Forty-one states have signed the convention, which makes bribery in international business a serious crime.

The convention defines foreign bribery as “to offer, promise or give undue pecuniary or other advantage, whether directly or through intermediaries, to a foreign public official, for that official or for a third party, in order that the official act or refrain from acting in relation to the performance of official duties, in order to obtain or retain business or other improper advantage in the conduct of international business.”

The report said five percent of the cases analyzed came about because of media coverage and investigative journalism.

Chua said there were no specific cases cited in the report nor breakdown per country.

In the Philippines, it’s the media that is in the forefront of exposing anomalies. Still in the headlines is the Janet Napoles pork barrel operations involving the Priority Development Assistance Project or PDAF and the Malampaya Funds.

Chua said “The OECD report, which probed the who, what, why, where and how of foreign bribery, identified the Philippines as among 11 countries in Asia where public officials received bribes in international business transactions and became the subject of investigations under the OECD’s anti-bribery convention.

“Other Asian countries listed in the report were Bangladesh, China and Chinese Taipei, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.”

Chua said according to the OECD, one in three cases came to the attention of law enforcers through self-reporting, or defendants voluntarily disclosing their involvement in foreign bribery, often after this was uncovered in internal audits or due diligence during mergers and acquisitions.

The report also said the police, customs and border protection authorities, as well as mutual legal assistance between countries, brought a significant number of cases to light.

What comes to mind is the case of former Justice Secretary Hernani Perez. Hong Kong authorities brought to the attention of the Philippines a huge deposit which came from an Argentinian power firm which was trying to get a contract with the government.It’s a good time to revisit what happened to that case.


CHINA’S FRIENDSHIP TREATY By NESTOR MATA | December 04, 2014


By NESTOR MATA

AS China once again offers the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) billions of dollars and promotes another treaty for “Good Neighborly and Friendly Cooperation”, the association’s member-states should consider how China perceives ASEAN and what goals it hopes to gain from its interactions with the bloc.

By and large, in the view of David Gutter, a scholar in Asian Studies at The Elliott School of International Relations of George Washington University, China has maintained a favorable view of ASEAN since opening relations with it in 1991.

Two factors contributing to Beijing’s positive perception of the association include its flexible and non-binding “ASEAN Way,” and its openness to Chinese win-win overtures that help Beijing secure its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea (SCS).

Given China’s exploitation of these characteristics in pursuit of its expansionist goals, analyst Gutter wrote in The Diplomat magazine on Asian-Pacific current affairs, ASEAN should seriously consider whether it wants to sign on to another vague deal when diplomatic capital might be better spent on alternative frameworks.

Perhaps unexpectedly, China finds ASEAN a favorable diplomatic partner in part because its diplomatic style is compatible with China’s. American criticisms that are directed at both ASEAN forums and the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue are remarkably similar, describing both bodies as “talk shops” that lack substance and are at times largely symbolic.

However, these very characteristics of the “ASEAN Way” offer Beijing a non-confrontational, consensus-based mechanism for addressing regional issues that is in stark contrast to the expectations levied on Beijing in Western diplomatic forums. Like ASEAN, China’s own diplomatic style has traditionally tended to focus more on form than on substance. Although the ASEAN Way may frustrate Western governments that seek to achieve concrete decisions after attending the association’s many meetings, Chinese diplomats likely find ASEAN diplomacy preferable for its comparatively ambiguous, hard to enforce agreements.

This inclination mirrors the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) domestic preference for guidelines and regulations versus detailed, enforceable laws that could threaten to control Party actions.

In the South China Sea, this preference is reflected through Beijing’s vocal support for vague and easily circumvented agreements such as the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and the Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea (DOC), and its relative lack of enthusiasm for a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea (COC).

Beijing has even less regard for the SCS plan of the only other non-ASEAN claimant, Taiwan’s East China Sea Peace Initiative, which Taipei asserts is applicable to the SCS and has successfully guided the island’s diplomacy towards maritime dispute resolution with Japan and the Philippines.

In addition to its predilection for amorphous agreements such as TAC and the DOC, Beijing finds ASEAN receptive to its win-win diplomatic framework, which allows China to slowly consolidate its territorial claims in the SCS in exchange for economic gain.

China seems to have first adopted this view during the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, in which China wasted no opportunity to publicize its leadership and responsibility by highlighting its decision not to devalue the RMB at “a big price” to itself.

Chinese leaders seem to assess that the crisis showed ASEAN that strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation and regional economic integration was the route that both ASEAN and China must take to achieve common development and prosperity. China now has an FTA agreement with ASEAN and is the Association’s largest trading partner, with a total of $443.6 billion in trade in 2013.

In fall 2013 Xi Jinxing announced his plan for a new commercial route dubbed the “Maritime Silk Road,” in recognition of ASEAN and China’s “shared destiny” that enables ASEAN to benefit from China’s development. Additionally, China believes that its new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank can become an important source of financing for ASEAN as it strives to meet its massive infrastructure needs.

The ongoing theme seems to be that Southeast Asian countries can once again benefit from China’s development and wealth as it did centuries ago.

Nevertheless, if Beijing’s message of co-prosperity and development is the carrot of China-ASEAN relations, then economic isolation and coercion is the stick. China maintains that the SCS is not an issue between ASEAN and China.

When the Philippines challenged Beijing over their bilateral territorial dispute, it found its fruit exports blocked and a “safety” ban enacted that stopped Chinese tourism to the archipelago. President Xi Jinxing and Premier Li Keying made a point to skip the Philippines on their fall 2013 Southeast Asia tour, where the leaders signed lucrative business deals and set ambitious trade targets.

Likewise, recent Chinese maps of China’s Maritime Silk Road show its path conspicuously bypassing the Philippines as it winds from Southeast Asia all the way to Venice. Now even as Li pushes for a “Treaty of Good Neighborly and Friendly Cooperation between China and ASEAN Countries,” China continues its land-reclamation activities in the SCS and is currently building an island large enough to hold an airstrip.

Clearly, Beijing’s message is not lost on ASEAN, which has yet to publicly unite against China’s gradual territorial gains in South China Sea even at its own expense.

Indeed, in light of Beijing’s efforts to leverage the ASEAN Way and win-win diplomacy to advance its territorial goals, ASEAN states should think twice before signing on to China’s treaty of friendship and cooperation. They should recall that the TAC, DOC, and ASEAN-China joint statement on DOC in South China Sea have yet to moderate China’s actions in disputed waters; there is little reason to believe a new friendship treaty will incentivize Beijing to restrain itself.

If a united ASEAN can leverage stronger U.S. support to shield it from Chinese indignation, the initiative may prove a preferable diplomatic platform for joining ASEAN against creeping Chinese expansion in the South and East China Seas.

***

Quote of the Day: “What we dignify with the name of peace and friendship is really only a short truce, in accordance with which one party renounces his claims, whether just or unjust, until such time as he can find an opportunity of asserting them with the sword!” – Vanvenagues -


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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