July 19, 2019
The long-running row over the Reed Bank incident has mutated into a debate of blowhards, a war of inflated words over the government’s handling of the Reed incident. Under scrutiny and heavily criticized is the Duterte administration’s policy stance on the issue of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
On one side, the critics and opponents of the President and his policies contend that Philippine sovereignty and rights have been violated by China in the incident. They demand that the government and its armed forces should take a stronger stand against what they allege are serious violations by China of Filipino rights in the disputed waters.
On the other side are President Rodrigo Duterte and administration officials who have flatly denied the charge of Chinese aggression. Duterte refers to the Reed bank incident as mainly a “maritime incident.”
He has also talked of having a verbal agreement with President Xi Jinping on allowing Chinese fishermen to fish in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
With respect to the threat of conflict, Duterte has unseriously talked about invoking military intervention by the United States in keeping with the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the US. He has mockingly prodded the US to prepare its fleet for a face-off with China over our territorial row with Beijing in the West Philippine Sea.
Given the continuing exchange of fiery words between the two sides, the media and the public have become used to it and are now beginning to lose interest. And with the issues inflated to absurd lengths, it is hard to tell whether anyone is winning or gaining in the endless argument.
To break any skepticism toward this debate, we need to find answers to these questions:
First, do the outspoken trio (Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales) really believe that China breached Philippine sovereignty over its EEZ?
Are they really asserting Philippine sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, which only began to exist in name as part of Philippine territory during the time of President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd?
Second, is President Duterte treating the 1951 MDT between the US and the Philippines as a mere triviality? Does the President consider the treaty unimportant to the country’s defense and security? If, indeed, that is the official stance, why did the Duterte administration have to work out a new understanding with the US on strategic issues to keep the defense pact relevant?
Have we become so secure in our relations with China that we are now dismissing the threat of conflict over competing claims on the disputed areas? If that is the case, what is the point of pursuing an agreement with China on a code of conduct in the disputed waters?
The fact is, the issues involved in the sea dispute are of grave consequence and, thus, need serious debate and focus on the specific concerns mentioned above.
It is a waste of time and energy to talk about the MDT at this time.
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