East Asia came to the brink of war last week. Re-electionist US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 82, provoked Communist China President Xi Jinping by visiting Taiwan. Xi, long chest-thumping to retake the “renegade” province, obliged her by sending warships and fighters into Taiwan’s sea and airspace. Although the White House cautioned Pelosi against needlessly riling Xi, it dispatched two aircraft carrier strike groups to the overlapping Taiwan and Philippine straits, 77 nautical miles wide.
Under a Mutual Defense Treaty, Manila and Washington are to aid each other in case of foreign attack in the Pacific, including South China Sea. Beijing likely will strike Philippine bases if used by American soldiers to help Taiwan. US and Japan have a similar agreement. Four of dozens of missiles fired by China into Taiwan waters splashed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone. Had any of those hit Japanese vessels, full-blown fighting would have erupted.
Meanwhile, the Philippines has been kowtowing to China’s bullying. It stopped oil and gas explorations in its own waters that China illegally claims and patrols. Economic devastation looms as its productive gas fields in the West Philippine Sea will deplete in two years. Dependent on gas for 40 percent of its electricity, Luzon will suffer blackouts. Factories, offices, shops, schools and small businesses will shut down.
The Philippines shudders at the example of Malaysia and Indonesia. They drilled petroleum in their EEZs despite China’s naval threats. The two countries dispatched own gunboats to escort drilling vessels. At some point, US armadas sailed nearby. China only watched in silence as Malaysia and Indonesia asserted their sovereign rights against bully trespassing.
Malacañang’s stance is to keep talking with Beijing. But for China, jawjaw is merely to distract the other side while grabbing neighboring seas.
Example was the negotiation for joint development of Philippine petroleum in Recto (Reed) Bank. Recto is 80 miles off Palawan, well within the Philippine EEZ, but 700 miles distant from China. Four years of talks by the previous administration yielded nothing. China merely dribbled the ball till the last two minutes. Then, it re-tabled old demands. Among others, that China gets an equal share of oil and gas, and that any litigation be held in Beijing.
No go, Manila responded. Those would violate Philippine constitutional provisions on ownership and control of resources within Filipino territory and jurisdiction. Besides, the 2016 Hague arbitral ruling upheld Philippine sovereign right under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. That is, the Philippines has exclusive right over resources in its EEZ.
“Surrender of any portion of Philippine sovereignty is not an option. Not for love. Not for money,” then-foreign secretary Teodoro Locsin announced the failure of talks. It was just a week before the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term. “It remains with the new administration to protect our sovereignty all the way to the wire.”
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has vowed to not surrender a square inch of Philippine waters. Time is ticking fast. It takes years of test-drilling to siphon oil and gas. Pipes have to be laid down to bring Recto fuel to Luzon.
First step should be for Malacañang to resume drilling. Duterte had halted it in April due to menacing by Chinese coastguards.
No longer should Filipinos be pushovers. Our constitution prohibits war as an instrument of national policy. That fundamental law requires development of natural resources for citizen’s sake. As well, to defend national interest.
Extracting what is rightfully ours at Recto can bring us to war. If we must fight, should it not be for our sovereignty?
Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.