"Team Philippines is not singing in unison. Some are singing loud but the lead singer appears to be only singing to himself which no one can hear."
By all indications, our giant and powerful neighbor China is bent on taking possession of the entire South China Sea. China is the only country on earth that is doing so in clear violation of international law and the Law of the Sea, an international treaty which China is a signatory. China based its actions on its nine-dash line claim which was completely invalidated in 2016 by that Hague arbitral ruling that it refuses to recognize. China went on to create many artificial islands in the SCS; these are now fortified and garrisoned by various Chinese military personnel.
One of the artificial islands is Scarborough Shoal which is only 126 miles from the province of Zambales. Scarborough Shoal, by international law, is within our exclusive economic zone. China simply does not care. In our standoff with China during the younger Aquino administration, there was a brokered agreement mandating that both countries should vacate the shoal. Unfortunately, while we vacated the area, China did not and the shoal is now a Chinese island garrison. For months, China also parked a couple of hundred militia ships in Julian Felipe Reef which is also within our exclusive economic zone and has refused to leave the area up to this writing.
We do not know precisely what those ships are doing there but can only conclude that the intention is sinister considering that there is no valid reason why the ships should be sheltering in calm waters. Maybe they are testing the area for oil. When the Chinese presence was first reported, President Duterte expressed his concern to the Chinese ambassador about the presence of those Chinese-owned militia ships. The Chinese predictably ignored it as if there was nothing to it. The Chinese are acting as if they have already gotten the approval of President Duterte. That actually is the crux of our entire relationship with China. It is centered on one individual—the President. This is the reason why all the diplomatic protests lodged by our Department of Foreign Affairs and the many strongly worded statements of Defense Secretary Lorenzana demanding that the ships vacate the area are completely being ignored.
Part of the problem is that Team Philippines is not singing in unison. Some are singing loud but the lead singer appears to be only singing to himself which no one can hear. No one in the Palace seems to want to say anything that might displease Beijing. The silence is deafening.
Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is singing loud and to his credit is resolute and has continued telling the Chinese to withdraw those ships from the Reef. It is a lonely crusade, but it is an endeavor that he should continue to pursue. Months ago, President Duterte gave a tutorial on the conduct of foreign affairs. He said in that discourse that our foreign policy resides in the Office of the President and not Congress. He is right on that aspect but like anything else in our democratic system of government that abides by the principle of checks and balances, that power is not absolute. Congress is not entirely excluded because the Senate has to ratify or reject any treaty entered into by the President. The President also must be sensitive to the sentiments of the public and to the professional advice of his foreign affairs department and the national security establishment. There is also the National Security Council that has to be consulted every now and then when it comes to very critical national security issues.
In the end, the President must rely on the collective wisdom of the country to fashion a foreign policy that can best protect our national interest. After all, the primary and most important duty of the President is to protect and safeguard the territorial integrity of the country regardless of the cost. Everything else is secondary.
President Duterte has said many times that he does not want to send his soldiers to war only to be massacred. As far as I know, no one in this country is crazy enough to want a war with China. We all want China to be a friend. But China must respect our territorial integrity and be a good neighbor. China after all, cannot continue ignoring internationally accepted norms of conduct if it wants to be part of the international community of nations and have their respect.
It is inexplicable however, why the Palace has not added its strong voice to the DFA and DND efforts asking China to remove its ships from the Julian Felipe Reef. The Palace had better come out with a novel solution or we will lose another Reef. How much more can the country really take?