Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton is worried that the Philippines will become a vassal state of China.
In an exclusive interview with the online news service Rappler, Clinton said there was a real danger that the Philippines would find itself increasingly unable to act without Chinese approval, no matter who is in charge of the government.
“I worry about the Philippines becoming basically a subject of China through financial investments, through the buying of influence, through the undermining of institutions,” Clinton told Rappler. “I think that there’s a real danger that, left unchecked, the Philippines – no matter who the leader is – would find itself increasingly unable to act without Chinese approval. I don’t think that’s the kind of future that the Philippines would like.”
“I think if you care about the future of the Philippines, about the independence of the Philippines… then you need friends and the US, I hope, is the premier friend to stand with you and protect you against further incursions by the Chinese to basically dominate Filipino society,” she continued. “I mean, I think that’s what you want. And I hope that’s what the Biden administration will be able to achieve.”
Former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert Del Rosario on Thursday shared Clinton’s concern that the Philippines could become a subject of China if Manila fails to stand up to Beijing’s “duplicity” and bullying.
“In our opinion, Secretary Clinton is absolutely correct in expressing her fear that the Philippines could become a subject of China. To the last Filipino, under the leadership of (Foreign Affairs) Secretary (Teodoro) Locsin and (Defense) Secretary (Delfin) Lorenzana, we must finally stand up to Beijing’s duplicity and being a bully,” Del Rosario said.
Before the recent disagreement over the swarming of Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, the Duterte administration has refrained from confronting China over their territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea in the hopes of obtaining Chinese loans and investments.
Since Duterte assumed office in 2016, China has provided the Philippines with loans mostly tied to the administration’s Build, Build, Build infrastructure program. China was also the first country to donate COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines.
A policy think tank, meanwhile, cautioned officials against deceptive rhetoric and behavior of China intended to hide its real intention of expansionism in the South China Sea.
Prof. Dindo Manhit, president of Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ADRi), said recent developments in the West Philippine Sea, particularly the swarming of Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea by Chinese militia vessels clearly showed China’s expansionist ambition.
“The persistent and deliberate swarming maneuverings of their maritime militia vessels in Philippine waters reveals China’s expansionist ambitions and renders false their pronouncements to safeguard peace and stability in the region,” Manhit said.
“They continue to instigate deceptive rhetoric and acts that undermine the precepts of peaceful resolution and stability in the region,” he added.
The ADRi also underscored that the Philippines has “every right to exercise its sovereignty over these waters.”
“We have the right to patrol, protect, and harness its resources as established by international law and the 2016 arbitral ruling,” Manhit said.
When President Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016, he became friendly with China as part of his rapprochement policy with China, but to the point of almost burning bridges with the Philippines’ long-time ally, the United States, Manhit said.
Manhit lamented that Duterte appeared to have also been convinced of China’s argument that the territorial dispute issue should be resolved bilaterally, which paved the way for the sidelining of the Philippine’s legal victory before a United Nations tribunal in the case it filed against China.
Manhit also denounced the disrespectful conduct of the Chinese Embassy whose recent pronouncements have offended the country’s officials.
The group called on the Duterte administration to focus on the foreign policy stance on the national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and national interest to serve and protect the people as stated by the 1987 Constitution.
“We support the move to forge stronger ties with regional partners and allies in maintaining regional peace and stability through joint efforts of maritime patrol and military exercises,” Manhit said.
The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said on Wednesday, April 14 that the swarming of over 240 Chinese vessels was “prejudicial to the peace and security” in the region.
The task force also expressed “serious alarm” at the reported pursuit of a Filipino vessel by Chinese ships during their voyage at Ayungin Shoal. The incident is now being investigated.
Also on Thursday, retired Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio said the Philippines should strongly assert and exercise its rights and build structures within its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea to repel foreign incursions.
“That will be effective because the arbitral award says we have an EEZ and within the EEZ only the coastal state, the Philippines can put up structures, artificial structures, and we have to exercise that right,” Carpio said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.
Carpio supported a proposal of Liz Derr, CEO and co-founder of American technology and research company Simularity, for the Philippine government to seriously consider building outposts in its unoccupied features and islands in the West Philippine Sea.
Derr earlier suggested that the Philippines should occupy the unoccupied Spratly features within its EEZ through inexpensive means like building lighthouses and monitoring stations, without having to disturb the ecology. She cited the case of Vietnam that managed to do it without provoking a war with China.
“There are many unoccupied features within the Philippine EEZ. They are basically sitting there for the taking,” she said, urging the Philippines to focus on efforts to make sure no more features are taken.
Carpio acknowledged the existence of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea requires all signatories to seek peaceful resolutions to disputes to maintain regional stability.
The agreement includes the ban on building and occupying unoccupied features.
But Carpio opined that Derr’s suggestion can be done, agreeing that Philippines should occupy the unoccupied Spratly features within its within the West Philippine Sea to protect the Philippines’ sovereignty.
The retired SC magistrate believed that the Philippines can build on features within the EEZ that are submerged at high tide because the arbitral award said those waters belong to the Philippines.
“If they were unoccupied in 2002, you cannot occupy them now. But with respect to the EEZ which are submerged at high tide, the tribunal said, those are EEZ, and under UNCLOS it is only the Philippines that can put up an artificial structure, so we should take advantage of that,” the Carpio said.
“Otherwise, China will beat us. China will just put up something there, and there’s nothing we can do. We should put up structures within our EEZ,” he said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Thursday it will deploy three more Navy vessels to the West Philippine Sea amid the increasing Chinese aggression.
AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo told radio dzBB that the augmentation of assets in the disputed territory was ordered by AFP chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.
Arevalo said the AFP will continue patrolling the West Philippine Sea until Chinese vessels stop illegal fishing in the territory, and that it will “rally” all those who have the capacity to conduct the patrols over the disputed area.
“We will not stop if China does not stop its illegal fishing,” he said in Filipino.
On Tuesday, the Area Task Force West under the National Task Force for West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said the AFP through its Western Command deployed four Philippine Navy vessels to the area: the BRP Dagupan City (LS 551), the BRP Apolinario Mabini (PS 36), the BRP Magat Salamat (PS 20), and the BRP Miguel Malvar (PS 19).
They are providing support and assistance to the Philippine Coast Guard, which has deployed BRP Cabra (MRRV 4409), and to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, which sent two more ships to the area.
The Palace on Thursday said President Duterte has always been consistent in invoking the Philippines’ sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President is doing his duty to address the dispute with China in private and does not have to make it public.
“The field of diplomacy is an exception to freedom of information,” Roque said, adding “whatever the President is doing, let us allow him to do it in a private manner because diplomatic initiatives and efforts the President is doing need not be announced.”
Roque also cited Duterte’s move to raise the importance of the 2016 arbitral ruling, favoring the Philippines’ claims in the disputed waters, before the United Nations General Assembly in September last year.
“Let us leave the President to his own devices. So far, in the past five years of his administration, we have moved from an antagonist with China to a position of friendship,” Roque said.
Also on Thursday, the country’s biggest labor group, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) added its voice to demand the withdrawal of Chinese ships in the Julian Felipe Reef.
In a statement, the TUCP said the Chinese move is an encroachment both of the territorial integrity of the Philippines and a denigration of the country’s sovereignty.
“We cannot, as an independent, self-respecting people, allow this brazen effrontery and continuing Chinese incursion into the Philippines, to remain unmet and unchallenged. Not only is Chinese
presence violating the rights of our fishermen to Philippine fishing waters and denying them of their right to their livelihood and a decent living, the Chinese are endangering our national food security,” TUCP Vice President Luis Corral said.