February 28, 2013

Double standard

In an audacious move to force both the Philippine and Malaysian governments to recognize the Sultanate of Sulu’s claim of ownership over Sabah, the Sultanate’s heirs physically occupied Lahad Datu in Sabah last February 7 along with two hundred followers. The armed group has hunkered down and refuses to return to Tawi-Tawi despite threats of prosecution by the Aquino government on the one hand and threats of forcible deportation by Malaysian authorities on the other.

The timing and intent are no secret. The heirs have broadcast their fear that an impending peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) brokered by Malaysia would derogate and even annul their claim.

There is a wealth of documentary evidence and there has never been any dispute over who originally had sovereignty over North Borneo now called Sabah, that is, the Sultanate of Sulu.

In 1962, the Sultan of Sulu ceded sovereignty over Sabah to the Philippines in order for the Philippine government to claim Sabah in international fora such as the United Nations and thereby protect the Sultanate’s claim of ownership. However when the British Empire granted independence to Malaysia in 1963, it included Sabah in the Federation of Malaysia falsely asserting that the Sulu Sultanate had earlier ceded Sabah to the British Empire.

For the past fifty years Malaysia has exercised de facto sovereignty over the disputed territory.  The Philippines, through inaction, has practically defaulted on its claim.

Meanwhile, Malaysia continues to pay the paltry sum of P77,000 annually to the Sultanate  as “cession” fee but which the Sultanate and international law experts interpret to be “rent” for a resource-rich territory more than one-third the size of the Philippines and with a sizeable Filipino population, most of whom are regarded by both governments  as “illegals”.

Tens of thousands of Filipinos have been deported in immigration crackdowns and thousands more languish in Malaysian jails for various immigration offenses.  Most of them are Muslims, of peasant or fisherfolk stock, who have crossed the 29 kilometers distance between Tawi-Tawi and Sabah to seek a better life.

President Aquino dissembles when he says he is stumped by the Sabah question.  He is calling for a “study” of the Sabah claim as if he did not know that since 1962 the Philippines already had a categorical position and had in fact filed its claim with the United Nations.

Mr. Aquino also makes it appear that there is a big controversy as to who are the rightful heirs.  He even disparages Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and the rest of his clan by saying that they do not have the “capability” to undertake the “incursion” into Sabah since they are clearly in financial straits.  He imputes sinister forces backing the Kirams.

Mr. Aquino further berates Sultan Kiram III for his “mistaken belief” (sic) that the Office of the President had ignored his letter three years ago when it had just gotten “lost in the bureaucratic maze”.  Still, he refuses to apologize for this neglect and to meet with the Sultan in order to arrive at mutually acceptable ways to resolve the stand-off.

He lays the blame on Sultan Kiram III for any harm that will befall his followers, for putting hundreds of thousands of Filipino migrants and other Sabah residents of Filipino descent at risk, for disrupting commerce between Sabah and the Sulu archipelago and for conspiring with unnamed forces in this adventurist entry into Sabah and prepares to throw the book at him for “violations of the Constitution” if he does not order his followers to leave Sabah.

Without a doubt President Aquino is giving Malaysia the go signal to move in on the beleaguered heirs and followers of the Sultanate with their continued refusal to budge.  He is also preparing to wash his hands of any responsibility for a messy and bloody outcome and his utter failure to protect the lives and rights of these Filipinos whose only crime has been to assert their rightful claim to their homeland.

President Aquino recklessly describes the Sultanate’s claim as a “hopeless cause” thereby seriously undermining whatever negotiating position is left for the Philippine government after half a century of failing to pursue the claim.

The Philippine government’s inaction in pursuing the Sabah claim has much to do with subsuming it to political and geopolitical considerations; in short, the wish to bring an end to the Moro secessionist movement in the South through peace negotiations in which Malaysia currently plays a key role as facilitator, as much as to appease oil-rich Malaysia.

In stark contrast is the Aquino administration’s treatment of the Spratlys and Panatag Shoal dispute with China. No less than the head of state engages in open polemics on the territorial dispute at every available opportunity, domestic or international. It has even filed a case against China for international arbitration.

Note that while we have strong grounds to assert our sovereignty over the Spratlys and Panatag Shoal, we have even more compelling historical and legal bases to claim Sabah.

Such double standard is exposing the deceitful and sham patriotism of the Aquino administration. It is aggressively engaging the territorial dispute with China not because of its patriotic duty to defend the national sovereignty and territorial integrity but rather to kowtow to US Superpower interests.

In reality, the puppet Aquino government is using the Spratlys/Panatag Shoal dispute to promote US imperialism’s hegemonic schemes in the region under the so-called “pivot to Asia Pacific”. It is using the dispute with China to justify the ever increasing presence of American troops, warships, jet fighters and drones, and other war materiel in the country’s territory under the auspices of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). #

Published in Business World
1-2 March 2013

February 14, 2013

Covering up for the US

President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino displayed calculated illogic when he attempted to dismiss calls for the abrogation of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in light of the grounding of the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper, on the Tubbataha Reef by saying that there were no joint US-Philippine military exercises ongoing in that part of the Philippines at the time so there is no link between the two.

If one will follow Mr. Aquino’s simplistic and flawed deduction, the incident can only be seen as a maritime accident that just happened to involve a US warship and, unfortunately, just happened to occur at what is acclaimed to be an incomparably rich and unique marine ecosystem designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and stringently protected under Philippine laws.

Malacanang says this is just about salvaging the stricken US ship, minimizing further damage to the reef and getting monetary compensation for the ecological destruction that has taken place.  After all, no less than the US ambassador and the Commander of the US Seventh Fleet have apologized for the incursion, offered assistance for rehabilitating the reef and even for deploying US “volunteers” to help guard and protect the wildlife protected area in the future.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As trumpeted by the Obama government, the US is undertaking a strategic “pivot” or “rebalancing” of its military forces to the Asia-Pacific region.  Consequently, under the Aquino administration, there has been a marked rise in the number of dockings of US warships and submarines at Subic, Manila and other Philippine ports. For 2013, it is estimated that there will be an average of seven to eight US naval vessels a month doing what US and Philippine authorities downplay as “routine port calls.”

Such easy and unrestrained access to Philippine territory – land, sea and airspace - by the US military war machinery is made possible by the VFA and its partner agreement, the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA).  The latter allows the US to freely access and store its military hardware in  Philippine facilities.

Since its ratification in 1999, the VFA has resulted in the permanent presence of US troops and materiel on Philippine territory through the following:  the series of annual joint military exercises such as the Balikatan, Balance Piston, etc; the establishment of Cooperative Security Locations (CSL) like the one in Camp Aguinaldo and Forward Operating Sites (FOS) such as Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City as well as in military camps in  Cotabato City and Basilan; the continuous entry and docking of US naval vessels,  including those that are nuclear-armed in violation of the Philippine Constitution’s nuclear-free provisions, anywhere in the country;  and the flying of US jet fighters and unmanned drones in Philippine sovereign airspace.

In fact, the entire archipelago has been transformed into a floating US military base all the better to serve the US objective of military projection and dominance in the Asia-Pacific against any “threat” to its interests.  Domestically, the VFA provides legal cover for the growing involvement of US “advisers” in the government’s counter-insurgency program and the participation of US soldiers in local combat operations.

Key to the maximal utilization of the VFA for aforesaid purposes is the subservience of the Philippine government to US imperialism.  The Aquino administration has not proven to be an exception to this rule, being no different from its predecessor, the Arroyo regime, except possibly in the abjectness of its subservience.

Government officials have not scrambled to investigate how the incursion and grounding of the USS Guardian in the protected marine park happened. They have readily accepted the US government account of the incident citing faulty navigation charts as the likely cause of the USS Guardian’s going off course.  They have turned a deaf ear to the report of the park guards that the ship’s crew disregarded their warnings, kept them from boarding the ship by aiming their guns at the guards and were generally arrogant and uncooperative.

They have graciously acknowledged US officials’ apologies ad nauseam with no caveats except the feeble reminder of compensation.  On the other hand, Aquino officials have not demanded custody of the ship captain and crew for blatant violation of Philippine laws even in accordance with the already skimpy and weak VFA provisions on crimes committed by US troops on Philippine territory and under its legal jurisdiction.  (All 80 of them have already been evacuated and spirited away to their base in Japan safe from Philippine legal jurisdiction.)

Even the evaluation of damage to the reef and salvage plans and operations are apparently at the complete command of the US with Philippine officials merely being informed as to what is what.

Mr. Aquino appears to be sadly unappreciative of the extensive damage to the park’s ecosystem for hundreds of years to come and subsequent long term impact on the livelihood of marginal Filipino fisherfolk.   Or is he just too busy kowtowing to the US and is deliberately steering the issue away from the VFA and the affront on Philippine sovereignty.

China’s hard-line stance and aggressiveness with regard to territorial disputes in the South China Sea has provided the Aquino administration with the justification for allowing the rapid escalation of US military presence and intervention in the country.  This is of course coupled with the reiteration of the Cold War era thinking that US strategic interests are identical with that of the Philippines.

Aquino officials cite the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty as basis for assurance that the US will come to the defense of the Philippines in case of military confrontation with China.  But this has already debunked several times over by Filipino nationalists and legal eagles such as Senators Lorenzo Tanada and Jose W. Diokno.  US official pronouncements also clearly state its hands-off policy vis a vis territorial disputes at least while the US considers these not part of US geopolitical and military interests and designs.

Then there is the tired old line that the VFA will boost the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  But this has also been debunked considering how, when it comes to external defense, the AFP today remains decrepit, ill-trained and ill-equipped despite decades of US tutelage and military assistance programs.

The Aquino regime is certainly being true to the status of the Philippines as a neo-colonial client state of the US with whoever is the current occupant of Malacanang acutely aware that it is to his general interest to be on the good side of the lone Superpower.

Corazon Aquino, Noynoy Aquino’s mother, dropped her position against the US bases as a Marcos oppositionist when the US dangled its support for her presidential bid and thereafter as president took the unprecedented move of leading a march to the Senate to pressure it to ratify the US Military Bases Agreement.

Noynoy Aquino is currently the US’ golden boy with his political pedigree as the son of so-called democracy icons, his anti-corruption harangue and good governance equals economic prosperity, democracy, development and peace demagoguery.  Mr. Aquino debases himself, the Presidency and our national dignity by serving as a clumsy apologist and covering up for the US. #

Published in Business World
15-16 February