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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Kwarta o Kahon?

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It is obvious that the PCG is now focusing on Scarborough Shoal with its ‘transparency’ operations following the diktats of Raymond Powell

The Philippines now stands at a crossroads in its approach to its claims to parts of the South China Sea.

This is not the crossroads China’s State and Foreign Minster Wang Yi depicted to Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo in their phone discussion last Dec. 20, 2023 where the Philippines faced a choice of dialogue or conflict with China on the clashing claims.

Secretary Manalo made the choice of returning to the path of dialogue and the Department of Foreign Affairs has since let down its “megaphone diplomacy,” stuck to the agreements in the 8th Bilateral Consultation Mechanism meeting on Jan. 17, 2024, kept the Philippine Coast Guard construction materials away from Ayungin Shoal, giving President Bongbong Marcos his “paradigm shift.

On Dec. 20, 2023, President Marcos was quoted by multiple Philippine media sources – including the Manila Standard which headlined, “Paradigm shift needed for WPS issue – PBBM” – cryptically calling for that change in approach to the WPS with China: “… put… all of those elements together so that we have a good plan that will take us down… not the road to conflict but down the road to peace.”

Although PBBM’s call for paradigm shift at that time mixed references to “Chinese aggression” with calls for desired peace which confused a lot of observers, the real intent seems now to be clear – return to dialogue with China, reduce the brinkmanship of the Philippine Coast Guard at the Ayungin Shoal, and focus on quiet diplomacy which the DFA has been doing.

However, the national security establishment consisting of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippines Coast Guard and the National Security Council have apparently not understood completely the “paradigm shift” and attempted to airdrop supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre at one time which was unnecessary as the Chinese Coast Guard had always allowed humanitarian supplies.

The airdrop occurred last Jan. 22, 2024 but resupply in February 2024 was undisturbed apparently with the clear coordination which the DFA has established with its Chinese counterpart.

It has been “all quiet on the Ayungin Shoal front” since that time and what was the protocol since 1999 with China is clearly back in operation – “humanitarian supplies but no construction materials.”

Of course, we still hear echoes of what our national security establishment often say “we don’t need permission from China,” the fact is we, the Philippines, can’t get any supplies through if China does not permit it with its blockade.

The failure of the “assertive transparency” campaigns of 2024 proves China can and is exercising it sovereignty over the South China Sea it claims.

The “assertive transparency” campaign was initiated by the U.S. Naval Research Office’s ex-Air Force Col. Raymond Powell to get the PCG to challenge China’s exercise of sovereignty over Ayungin Shoal deliberately challenging the Chinese Coast Guard with attempts to deliver construction materials, tag media along and publicize the ensuing cat-chase-mouse drama of Chinese blocking maneuvers.

The transparency strategy has clearly not worked to stop China’s exercise of its sovereign control of the areas disputed with the Philippines as PCG spokesman Tarriela said on Feb. 7, 2024 — “Transparency efforts not enough to compel China to obey…” Obey what the PCG perceives as “international law.”

It is as ineffective as the arbitration award which even the U.N. does not recognize.

The DFA-led fulfillment of the “paradigm shift” going back to calm, professional dialogue and cooperation with China clearly does not sit well with some elements of the national security establishment, as the impertinent, loquacious and vociferous PCG spokesman for the NTF-WPS said on Feb. 13, 2024 — “Transparency strategy in WPS will continue despite de-escalation deal with China.”

Thereafter, incidents and “transparency” reports in media started erupting again.

One was the alleged “harassment” of Filipino fishermen at the Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc which was headlined even before any investigation was conducted.

It turned out that the Filipino fisherman was harvesting shells at the mouth of the protected lagoon of the Scarborough Shoal.

Tarriela is already guilty of insubordination by his words, and imperils whatever diplomatic strategy the Philippines has now decided upon in its “de-escalation” with China.

It is obvious that the PCG is now focusing on Scarborough Shoal with its “transparency” operations following the diktats of Raymond Powell.

There’s absolutely no promise from this strategy except to benefit the U.S.’ anti-China campaign.

The Philippines’ task now is simple, to answer the question in the old game of “Kwarta o Kahon (money or box).”

China has offered to “meet halfway” again and revived the Joint Oil and Gas Exploration project with the Philippines for the disputed areas including the Reed Bank.

That’s trillions of pesos in hand, but the WPS claim is “kahon” – what’s inside?

It can only be empty and hollow.

(rpkapunan@gmail.com)

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