Drill, Digong, drill

>> Thursday, June 8, 2017

Perry Diaz   

Last May 15, President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte met with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the “One Belt, One Road” summit in Beijing.  Duterte told Xi, “We intend to drill oil there, if it’s yours, well, that’s your view, but my view is I can drill the oil, if there is some inside the bowels of the earth, because it is ours.”  According to Digong, Xi responded by saying that China would go to war with the Philippines if Digong insists on drilling for oil in the disputed South China Sea (SCS).
It must have been a rude awakening for Digong who had called Xi a “great president” not long ago.  “China loves the Philippines and the Filipino people,” Duterte once said of his new friend and idol.  Who would go to war with a friend? 
Clearly, things have changed between Duterte and Xi since last October when Duterte was in China on a state visit.  During his speech in front of a group of Chinese officials and business leaders, Digong startled his audience when he announced his military and economic "separation" from the U.S.  “America has lost now. I've realigned myself in your ideological flow.  And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It's the only way.” 
He must have been thinking of being Julius Caesar who together with Pompey and Crassus formed the First Triumvirate during the early days of the Roman Republic. But Caesar or not, Digong certainly made a name for himself – Quixotic as it might seem -- in suggesting that the leaders of two nuclear powers accept him as co-equal. 
Chinese double-speak
The following day, Digong backtracked from his “separation” declaration.  In a press conference, he said he was only talking about “separation of foreign policy.”  Yeah, just like they say in the Philippines, “Dyok only.” (Joke only).
But what is odd is that the Chinese sidestepped the “war threat.”  Beijing did not directly comment on Digong’s version of his conversation with Xi.  
However, China said it would “work with the Philippines to peacefully resolve disputes through friendly consultation.”  While it might sound conciliatory, the genie is out of the bottle and nobody can put it back into the bottle.  Indeed, Xi’s message is indelibly clear: If Digong drills for oil, there will be war! 
While all concerned desire peaceful resolution of the maritime dispute, China will not compromise her claim of “irrefutable” sovereignty over the SCS.  She considers the region as her “core national interest,” which means: it is non-negotiable. And the only way to prevent war with China is to abandon the Philippines’ claim to the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal, which is tantamount to a retreat.
 What emboldened Xi to say the “W” without hesitation can be attributed to Digong’s pacifist and defeatist position vis-à-vis the Philippines’ claims.  He squandered the bargaining chips the Philippines earned when the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands, issued a ruling in the Republic of the Philippines vs. People’s Republic of China that invalidates the “nine-dash line,” thus rendering China’s claim null and void.  Beijing immediately rejected the PCA’s ruling. 
Instead of pursuing the tribunal award, Digong set the ruling aside and cozied up to China like a Pekinese puppy licking its master’s toes.  As a result, Digong was rewarded with large amounts of financial loans for infrastructure and economic development projects.  
But for those who are familiar with how the Beijing puppet masters operate, they know that the financial loans would favor China in the long-term. With Digong on a “retreat” mode from the SCS maritime disputes, China is positioned to control Digong including his “independent foreign policy” that he brags about.  The truth is: Digong’s foreign policy is anything but independent.   In today’s globalization, all countries have interdependent economic interests.
 “Too weak”
 His newly appointed Secretary of Foreign Affairs, his defeated vice presidential running mate Alan Peter Cayetano, has turned out to be an apologist for China.  In his reaction to China’s “war threat,” Cayetano reportedly said the administration felt no need to file a protest against China, as there was no bullying by Chinese President Xi Jinping of President Duterte during their meeting in Beijing.  
But how could he give an objective opinion when he wasn’t at the meeting?  He merely interpreted what Digong told the media about Xi’s “war threat.”  “My interpretation of the meeting is that there was no bullying or pushing around,” Cayetano said.  Clearly, it was biased, undiplomatic, and unprofessional.  Simply put, a foreign affairs secretary shouldn’t blurt out unsubstantiated statements that could embarrass the president contradicting him.  
In an attempt to save face, Digong said he disclosed his conversation with Xi in response to criticism at home that he was “too weak” with China over the maritime disputes.  But he has nobody to blame but himself.  He admitted publicly that he didn’t want to pursue the Philippines’ claim because China was too strong.   
Evidently, he is not going to defend the country’s sovereignty because he concluded that the Philippines would lose in a war with China.   Well, he’s got a big problem because he should have known when he ran for president that Article II Section 3 of the Constitution states: “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.” Since Digong is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he has the responsibility of protecting Philippine territory including parts of the Spratlys, the Scarborough Shoal, and the Benham Rise (renamed “Philippine Rise”). 
Flammable ice
In July 2016, Chinese geologists found deposits of methane hydrate – also known as “flammable ice” – beneath the SCS.  Last month, Chinese engineers had successfully extracted natural gas from the frozen “flammable ice,” which brings China a step closer to harnessing this new energy source.  According to research, the gas deposits are densely packed – 1 cubic meter of methane hydrate can release 164 cubic meters of natural gas; thus, making it a valuable fuel resource. 
Recently, China conducted secret surveys in the 13-million-hectare Benham Rise that revealed huge deposits of methane hydrate.  And just what happened in the Spratlys, China probably had set her eyes on Benham Rise for future exploration.  
With a navy that doesn’t have sufficient firepower to stop China from transgressing into Philippine territorial waters, Digong doesn’t have too many options.  However, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio suggested one option.  
He said that the threat of China going to war if the Philippines extracts oil and gas in Recto (Reed) Bank, or in any area in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), is a gross violation of the United Nations charter, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia to which China and the Philippines are parties.  
Carpio also suggested that the Philippines revisit a joint maritime patrol arrangement with the U.S. and other allies.  “The joint patrol of our EEZ [exclusive economic zone] with the U.S. and possibly other partners would be a combined strategic and tactical move for the Philippine government in defending our national interest and territorial integrity,” he added.

 Meanwhile, one wonders: What can Digong do right now to deflect China’s “war threat”?  Some geopolitical experts say that Xi was bluffing and that China wouldn’t go to war with the Philippines knowing that the country has a mutual defense treaty with the U.S.  I agree and my suggestion to the president is: “Drill, Digong, drill.”  Like they say, “No guts, no glory.”  (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)  


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