January 2014

By Benjamin B. Pulta
The Daily Tribune 


Antonio-Carpio.16Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza, during the continuation of the oral arguments yesterday, tried to push the issue of the presidential pork barrel, known as the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), mooted.

The funds from DAP were utilized by both President Aquino and his Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad to bribe the senator-judges with P50 million to P100 million each for them to convict the then Chief Justice Renato Corona during his impeachment trial. Those who voted to acquit got nothing, although Abad then tried to disguise Sen. Joker Arroyo’s inclusion in the Abad claimed additional pork barrel, when some P400 million was a congressional insertion.

But during the orals, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio hinted at the DAP’s uncons-titutionality at least on the aspect of augmenting savings for unprogrammed projects not found in the budget.

State lawyers insisted the suits questioning the legality of Malacañang’s pork barrel, otherwise known as the DAP, has been mooted and that the program has been scuttled by government bean counters.

At the continuation of the oral arguments before the Supreme Court (SC), Solicitor General Jardeleza said the disbursement mechanism was stopped last year, adding that the chief executive gave up on DAP last year as line agencies have already achieved normal levels of budget utilization.

Jardeleza insisted that DAP was merely a procedure adopted by the Department of Budget and Management to use savings to augment other budgetary items in the annual General appropriations Act (GAA), speed up public spending, and pump prime the economy during the first half of the present administration.

“The President no longer has any use for DAP in 2014. This is a compelling fact and development that undermines the viability of the present cases, and puts in issue the necessity of deciding these cases in the first place,” Jardeleza pointed out, saying that the petitioners should no longer question the disbursement program but the specific disbursements under the DAP.

“We challenge the petitioners to pick and choose which among the 116 DAP projects they wish to nullify…,” Jardeleza said as he maintained that its implementation from 2011 to 2013 did not violate any provision of the Constitution.

Jardeleza said DAP was legal since its disbursements of funds under it was approved by the President and that the disbursements had appropriation cover.

He added that the government also had sufficient savings to support the disbursements.

Jardeleza told the Court that the President should be given some leeway in disbursing the budget and government’s savings.

While the use of the government funds is programmed in the budget, Jardeleza stressed that the President must be allowed “to maximize and prioritize” the use of large amounts considering that the government is paying interest for loans obtained to partially support this spending.

Jardeleza noted that the P149 billion funds released through DAP were put to good use, supporting 116 government projects that included latest technologies to beef up the country’s disaster planning response.
He was referring to the Disaster Risk assessment and Mitigation (Dream) as among the projects funded by through DAP.

Dream is part of a larger initiative of the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) called Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards or Project Noah.

Through Dream, the OSG said, the government has created reliable, detailed, up-to-date flood models of the country’s major river basis and watersheds.

The Palace through the OSG, submitted to the Court documents to prove that the government had sufficient savings for augmentation and, in accordance with the law, had been disbursed under DAP by the President to augment existing items in the GAA.

He also asked the Court to take judicial notice of the fact that the Congress has never expressed disagreement with the way the Executive has complied with Congress’ definition of savings found in the GAA.

The Solicitor General added that the government did not violate any law when it tapped savings to boost funding of projects, programs and activities itemized in the GAA.

Article VI, Section 25 (5) of the Constitution that authorizes the President and heads of other branches of government and constitutional commissions to augment any item in general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.

“In the absence of such disagreement between the Executive and the Congress, this Honorable Court has no occasion to exercise its powers ‘to allocate constitutional boundaries,” Jardeleza pointed out.

“We should not unnecessarily constitutionalize questions that are patently consigned by the Constitution to the judgment of our political branches,” it added.

Justice Carpio insisted that the Palace cannot use the power to augment provisions under the GGA to augment non-existing items in the GAA.

He stressed that “the power to augment is the power to augment existing items” only.

Carpio underscored that based on the National Budget Circular (NBC) 541, the President authorized the withdrawal of unobligated allotment of agencies with no level of obligations as of June 2012 and the amount will be used to fund certain projects even those not considered in the 2012 budget.

“If the way the 15 justices will read this it says that it will be used to augment non existing items in the budget then it would violate the Constitution.” Carpio said.

Jardeleza claims the savings were not actually used to augment projects not contemplated in the GAA.
The petitioners seeking to scrap DAP earlier argued that DAP is unconstitutional as it violates the exclusive power of Congress to appropriate funds.

They said the use of the DAP violated Section 29 (1), Article VI of the Constitution, which requires that “no money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.”

They also argued that the constitution prohibits transfer of funds between branches of government without the necessary law.


By Federico D. Pascual Jr.
The Philippine Star 

Supreme Court

Supreme Court

BIZARRE LOGIC: Malacañang’s legal logic is bizarre. It says that petitions for the Supreme Court to declare as unconstitutional the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program should be dismissed because DAP is being terminated anyway.

The questioned deed, which is the use of DAP funds for agencies outside the Executive department, has been committed. The petitioners are not challenging future transactions but disbursements already consummated.

This analogy may be a bit off, but the administration’s logic is like asking that charges of rape be dropped just because the accused has stopped raping his victim or has promised not to rape other women.

The question before the Court is over the constitutionality of spending Executive savings and unprogrammed sums for expenses of separate agencies such as the Commission on Audit or for pork barrel-like projects chosen by senators and congressmen.

* * *

RULING NEEDED: The question over the constitutionality of DAP — widely referred to as presidential pork — stands. It must be answered clearly and quickly by the Supreme Court if only for these ends:

• To penalize officials who have been reckless or negligent in managing public funds under their care in violation of the Constitution and related statutes.

• To lay down clear guidelines on the crossing of departmental boundaries in the disbursement of savings (assuming they are technically “savings”) impounded in the DAP barrel outside the national budget.

• To clarify by amplification the tribunal’s definition of what “pork barrel” is.

* * *

SMOKING GUN: Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza has said the government submitted seven memoranda signed by President Noynoy Aquino authorizing the use of DAP funds for 116 disbursements before the “pump-priming” operation was stopped middle of last year.

The petitions questioning the constitutionality of DAP have become moot and academic, he said, since the controversial program has become “extinct.”

The Court may have to rule also if the President’s signature on the documents “legalized” the disbursements or, instead, dragged him into the case. It could serve as the “smoking gun” implicating him.

* * *

DAP EXPOSED: The use of presidential pork was questioned just as the furor over the Priority Development Assistance Fund – known as legislative pork – came to a head with the Supreme Court’s declaring PDAF unconstitutional.

The existence of DAP and its trans-departmental use came to light after Sen. Jinggoy Estrada exposed in a privilege speech that he and a few other senators received DAP funds after the Senate convicted impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad had to confirm the existence of DAP created, he said, to stimulate the economy. “The DAP is not about the use of savings and unprogrammed funds but a package of reform interventions,” he explained.

* * *

CROSS-TRANSFER: At the SC, Justice Lucas Bersamin noted, however, that the Bureau of Budget and Management memorandum to the President on June 25, 2012, gave the impression that the objective was to “create a big pool of savings” and not to stimulate the economy.

Bersamin also asked about possible violation of the Constitution when DAP was used for “cross-border augmentation” of funds from one department to another.

Abad admitted two instances when Malacañang did this: (1) when the House of Representatives asked for additional funds for an e-library and (2) when the CoA requested for funding of one of its projects.

A related question is what constitutes “savings.” It has been observed, for instance, that funds not spent in the middle of the fiscal year are hurriedly withdrawn and then impounded as savings in the DAP for use elsewhere.

Sometimes lump sums are appropriated without any intention of using them for the avowed purpose. The forced savings are then withdrawn and diverted to the DAP.

* * *

DEFECTIVE CIRCULAR: Some justices, including Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, are examining some “defects” in National Budget Circular No. 541, issued by Abad in July 2012.

The circular allowed withdrawn allotments to be used to “augment existing programs and projects of any agency and to fund priority programs and projects not considered in the 2012 budget but expended to be started or implemented during the current year.”

The petitioners disputed the declaring as savings of the withdrawn allotments. Using the funds for items outside the budget, they said, violated Section 25 (5) of the Constitution that says:

“No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of Constitutional Commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.”

* * *

SMUGGLING: A senior Customs official, meanwhile, may have inadvertently explained why, despite the administration’s neglect of agriculture, it boasts that the country will be self-sufficient in rice this year and will even be exporting the cereal next year.

Customs Deputy Commissioner Agaton Teodoro Uvero told a Senate hearing in reply to a question of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile that at the height of rice smuggling, as much as 50,000 tons is illegally brought in every week at 25 tons per 20-foot container.

And that is only rice. Overall data from the International Monetary Fund’s Direction of Trade Statistics indicate that smuggling under the Aquino administration has averaged $19.6 billion annually.

Compare that to the $3.1 billion and the $3.8 billion yearly during the Estrada and the Arroyo administrations, respectively. In the first two years of the Aquino administration, the value of smuggling totaled $39.2 billion, more than the $35.6 billion during the entire nine years of the previous Arroyo administration!

* * *

RESEARCH: Access past POSTSCRIPTs at www.manilamail.com. Follow us via Twitter.com/@FDPascual. Send feedback to dikpascual@gmail.com


By Ducky Paredes

MNLF-rebels.2THIS history of the peace negotiations between the Philippines and Bangsamoro is based on an article in Wikipedia.


The Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) was created in 1976 for the purpose of “liberating” the Bangsamoro. Through force of arms, the MNLF took control of several Cotabato municipalities. The MNLF was so successful that the Philippine military deployed almost three-fourths of the army in Mindanao that formed part of what the Muslims claimed as their their Bangsamoro.

In 1976, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi brokered an agreement that led to the signing of the Tripoli Agreement that introduced the concept of an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao. On August 1, 1989, under the mandate of the new 1987 Constitution, Congress enacted Republic Act 6734 authorizing the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

But of the 13 provinces and 9 cities that participated in a plebiscite, only the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi opted to become part of the ARMM, which was formally established on November 6, 1990.

Instead of bringing the Muslim leaders together, Tripoli further fragmented the MNLF with factions going for independence over autonomy. Thus, a group of officers led by Hashim Salamat broke away and formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to continue their armed struggle for an independent Bangsamoro in Mindanao.

Over nearly five decades, five presidents have tried to find the solution to the Bangsamoro problem.

The Ramos presidency, tried to reach out to both the communist and Muslim rebels through peaceful means. The only president who actually saw combat against both communist forces (in Korea, Vietnam, and southern Luzon) and Muslim separatists, Ramos eagerly sat down with the rebel leaders in an attempt to solve both problems at their roots.

Ramos again sought the intercession of Gaddafi, Thus, with Gaddafi’s assistance, the Philippine government signed the Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF in 1996. Misuari was elected governor of the ARMM and was tasked to supervise the implementation of the peace pact.

Unfortunately, factions within the MNLF were not satisfied with this peace pact and saw this as a deviation from the framework of the Tripoli Agreement. Their desire for complete secession from Philippine sovereignty led to the establishment of the MILF.

The exploratory and preparatory talks between the government and the MILF started in August 1996, An Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the two parties was signed in July 1997.

Ramos’ term as president ended in June 1998, but the low-level negotiations continued under the new Estrada administration. Before the formal pace talks could begin, Estrada’s sudden policy-shift declared an “all-out war” against the MILF.

Estrada’s all-out war policy led to the capture of Camp Abubakar, MILF’s main headquarters. The President himself led the military in raising the Philippine flag in the rebel stronghold, bringing trucks of lechon and beer for the triumphant soldiers in what was considered as an insult to the MILF–because pork and alcohol are both considered haram in Islam.

When Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency in January 2001, the peace process was revived with a unilateral declaration of cease-fire on the part of the government. With the assistance of the Malaysian government, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Eduardo Ermita and MILF Vice-Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim signed the Agreement for the General Framework for the Resumption of Peace Talks between the government and the MILF.

On March 31, 2001, Republic Act 9054 amended the Organic Act of the ARMM to provide for the region’s expansion from the original four provinces under its jurisdiction. The Provinces of Basilan, North Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Palawan, Sarangani, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, and the cities of Cotabato, Dapitan, Dipolog, General Santos, Iligan, Marawi, Pagadian, Puerto Princesa, Zamboanga, Digos, Koronadal, Tacurong, and Kidapawan participated in the plebiscite. However, only Marawi City and Basilan (excluding Isabela City) and the originals that were in ARMM voted for inclusion in the new ARMM.

Later that year, the peace process fell apart when the military attacked the MILF just a day after the ancestral domain aspect of the Tripoli Agreement was signed in Libya. This attack was based on intelligence reports that the MILF had been aiding the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, which at that time held some American and Filipino hostages in Basilan. A cease-fire would once again ensue after informal talks between the government and the MILF through the intercession of Malaysia.

On October 29, 2001, the MILF and the MNLF held unity talks, but this would fall apart barely a month later when Nur Misuari led a rebellion in Sulu and Zamboanga City in an effort to stall the scheduled ARMM elections. A hundred people died in the incident. The government quelled this rebellion and Misuari escaped to Sabah. On May 6, 2002, the fourth round of formal peace talks between the government and the MILF resulted in both parties agreeing to disband criminal syndicates and kidnap-for-ransom groups in Mindanao, and to implement the Humanitarian Rehabilitation and Development aspect of the Tripoli Agreement.

A final draft of the peace accord was presented to the leaders of Congress on February 10, 2003, but on the next day, a setback would ensue as the military launched an offensive in Buliok Complex against the MILF which would last for more than a week. Cease-fire was enforced three weeks later. By March, the parties began exploratory talks in Malaysia with a commitment from both sides for a “mutual secession of hostilities.” The aspect of a Muslim ancestral domain was laid down as the next agenda for the peace talks. Until the end of 2008, the peace process remained in a deadlock due to constitutional and legal issues surrounding the ancestral domain aspect.

On July 27, 2009, a Memorandum of Agreement on the Muslim Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was finalized in Malaysia. Under this agreement, some 700 villages in Mindanao would hold a referendum within a year to determine if they intend to join the “Bangsamoro Juridical Entity,” an associated state which would be formed after the necessary constitutional amendments were completed by the government. This agreement was scheduled to be signed on August 5, with the final peace agreement set to be concluded by November.

Three days before the scheduled signing of the MOA-AD, local officials of North Cotabato filed a case asking the Supreme Court to block the signing of this agreement. On October 14, the Court voted 9-6 to strike down the MOA-AD as unconstitutional. According to the decision penned by Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, “the Constitution does not recognize any state within this country other than the Philippine State, much less does it provide for the possibility of any transitory status to prepare any part of Philippine territory for independence.” Likewise, the Court held as unconstitutional the guarantees under the MOA-AD that the government will implement the necessary constitutional amendments to create a framework for its implementation. According to the Court, neither the peace panel nor even the president did not have the authority to make such guarantees because they do not have the power to propose amendments to the Constitution, such power being vested exclusively in Congress.

The junking of the MOA-AD marked another setback for the peace process, with the armed conflicts for the year 2008 reaching a record-high of 30 incidents in Mindanao. In an effort to salvage the negotiations, Arroyo declared the suspension of military operations against the MILF a year before the end of her term.


Readers who missed a column can access www.duckyparedes.com/blogs. This is updated daily. Your reactions are welcome at duckyparedes@yahoo.com or you can send me a message through Twitter @diretsahan.

– See more at: http://www.malaya.com.ph/business-news/opinion/long-road-mindanao-peace-1#sthash.sglHaKE8.dpuf

By Michael Punongbayan
The Philippine Star 

Corona-Family-mass.2MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman ordered yesterday the filing of a P130.3-million ill-gotten wealth case against former chief justice Renato Corona and his wife Cristina before the Sandiganbayan.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said additional criminal charges for eight counts of perjury and multiple violations of Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees would also be filed against the former chief justice.

The cases all stemmed from an investigation conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office (FIO) that bared how Corona and his wife accumulated unexplained assets from 2001 to 2011 which were not declared in their statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) during the same period.

In a 22-page resolution that Morales approved on Tuesday, a special panel of investigators determined that for the 10-year period, the Coronas earned a total income of P30.369 million, of which P27.145 million was earned by Corona as an official at the Office of the President, a justice of the Supreme Court, member of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET), and a member of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).

Cristina, for her part, supposedly earned P3.223 million from 2007 to 2010 based on the Alpha List submitted to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) by the John Hay Development Corp. (JHDC) where she was employed.

The Office of the Ombudsman’s probe found out that from 2002 to 2010, Corona’s actual cash deposits ballooned from P1.337 million to P137.937 million.

By 2010, investigators said the cumulative discrepancy between his SALN declaration and his actual cash deposits had amounted to more than P134.437 million.

The Ombudsman said Land Registration Authority (LRA) records on several properties owned by the Corona spouses in Quezon City, Makati City and Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City showed how the same were significantly undervalued by P17.297 million.

Probers said the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) even issued certifications stating that the Coronas have no existing business registered in their name despite Corona’s SALN declaration from 2003 to 2009 that his wife is connected with Basa Guidote Enterprises, Inc.

In sum, the Office of the Ombudsman determined that the total unexplained wealth is at least P130.336 million – which covers a net worth increase of P8.970 million – 134.437 million in undeclared bank deposits, and P17.297 million in undervalued cost of their real properties, less P30.369 million in combined income.

The Ombudsman noted that the total amount of alleged unexplained wealth of P130,336,212.88 is actually a conservative estimate as it includes cost of living allowance commensurate to their stature and expenses entailed by travels abroad.

On the charges for perjury, the anti-graft agency found that the sworn declarations in Corona’s SALN were false as he failed to include the numerous peso and dollar bank accounts in his 2003 to 2010 declarations, a condominium unit at the The Columns in Makati City in his 2004 to 2009 SALN, and a condominium unit at Spanish Bay Tower in Taguig City in his 2005 to 2009 declarations.

The Office of the Ombudsman said Corona was found to have only declared P6.8 million as the acquisition cost of a condominium unit in Bellagio I in Taguig City in his SALN for 2010 when the true acquisition cost is P14.510 million.

In his SALNs from 2003 to 2009, Corona also allegedly undervalued the property located at La Vista in Quezon City by P8 million.

The Office of the Ombudsman said the former chief justice will also be charged for violation of RA 6713 for not filing true and detailed SALN from 2003 to 2010 where the value of his declared cash assets and the actual bank deposits had substantial discrepancies and his real assets in Makati, Taguig and Quezon City were not declared.

Ombudsman Morales said she has directed the filing of a petition for forfeiture of ill-gotten wealth before the Sandiganbayan along with the sets of criminal charges for perjury and violation of RA 6713.

– See more at: http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2014/01/30/1284509/corona-faces-p130-m-ill-gotten-wealth-case#sthash.FJhNAwHT.dpuf

By Jovan Cerda
The Philippine Star  

Metro-ManilaMANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Beating government expectations, the Philippine economy expanded by 6.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, bringing last year’s full gross domestic product (GDP) growth to 7.2 percent, the government announced on Thursday.

The 2013 GDP growth is higher than the 6.8-percent posted in 2012. The country’s GDP grew by 3.7 percent in 2011 and 7.6 percent in 2010.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the economy grew better than the government’s official target of 6 to 7 percent for 2013, but added that it could have been higher had the country not been affected by various disasters.

“Indeed, growth could have been better, had we not been perturbed by various disasters that hit the country such as the Bohol earthquake, the Zamboanga siege and typhoon Yolanda,” he said.

The Philippines remains as one of the best performing economies in the Asian region in the fourth quarter of 2013, second only to China, which grew by 7.7 percent, Balisacan said.

On the supply side, the services and industry sectors continued to be the drivers of economic growth, expanding by 7.1 percent and 9.5 percent in 2013, respectively.

“The services sector contributed 3.6 percentage points of the real GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2013. This was followed by the industry sector with 2.8 percentage points and agriculture with 0.1 percentage point. Fourth-quarter growth on the supply side was mainly propelled by manufacturing, trade, finance and real estate,” Balisacan said.

Meanwhile, on the demand side, growth was boosted by household consumption, which contributed 4.2 percentage points, and net exports, which contributed 1.6 percentage points.

Philippines-GDP-2013Despite the better-than-expected growth, however, some sectors tamed overall growth for 2013, Balisacan said.

“Construction had the biggest setback in the fourth quarter. The subsector contracted by 0.8 percent due to stricter rules imposed on real estate lending in compliance with prudential regulations. The Board of Investments has also tightened mass housing incentives. The rule requiring developers to allot 20 percent of their total housing investment for low-cost mass housing units is now being closely monitored and enforced.”

Government spending also slowed down by 5.2 percent, dipping from the 9.5 percent growth posted in the fourth quarter of 2012. The deceleration was due to lower disbursements in personnel services and maintenance and other operating expenditures. For the full year, however, government spending jumped by 8.6 percent.

Imports also slowed down by 1.9 percent during the last quarter of 2013 from the 8 percent posted in the same period in 2012.

Aside from slowdowns in certain sectors, the combined impact of typhoons and other disasters may have also reduced the full year real GDP growth by at least 0.1 percentage point, Balisacan said.

Looking forward, Balisacan said the agriculture and industry sectors are expected to be vibrant this year, as the government promotes linkages between the two sectors to increase value added as a key strategy identified in the Philippine Development Plan midterm update. Major infrastructure projects, especially in the transport sector are also expected to boost growth this year and beyond.

“…[W]e are optimistic that the Philippine economy will remain strong in 2014, especially that the outlook on the global economy is becoming more favorable and as the domestic economy remains robust,” he said.

– See more at: http://www.philstar.com/business/2014/01/30/1284723/philippine-economy-expands-7.2-2013#sthash.0MaX7lYV.dpuf

By Trefor Moss
The Wall Street Journal

Disputed-South-China-Sea.9MANILA—The Philippines cried foul this week when China announced plans to begin regular patrols of the South China Sea, known here as the West Philippines Sea. The two countries have been engaged in a tense dispute over the region since 2012, when Chinese ships took control of Scarborough Shoal, which is just one of the areas Beijing and Manila contest.

Government spokesman Raul Hernandez insisted any such patrols would be illegal because the area in question is Filipino, not Chinese, territory: Under international law, he said in a statement sent by text message to reporters on Jan. 22, China’s Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, “cannot extend beyond 200 nautical miles” from the Chinese mainland and Hainan Island, a province at the southernmost end of China.

* What does that mean? Every country with a coastline has ownership of the seas immediately around it. This area of “territorial sea” extends 12 miles from the coast, and foreign ships are not allowed to enter those waters without permission. Every country with a coastline also has an EEZ. This zone stretches 200 miles from the coast, and the controlling country has exclusive rights to exploit the resources within that area. That includes fishing and undersea drilling. Foreign ships are free to sail through an EEZ.

* And beyond that? These are the high seas, and global commons: All nations have the right to sail them and to exploit their natural resources.

* Says who? The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, is the main piece of international law that sets out maritime rules. Not all countries have ratified UNCLOS, but both China and the Philippines have. So, in theory, both are committed to respecting the system it prescribes.

* How does this apply to the small islands in the South China Sea? There are three types of features to think about – islands, rocks and reefs. An island is an inhabitable, though not necessarily inhabited, feature. Whichever country owns it also own 12 miles of territorial sea plus a 200 mile EEZ – even if the island is hundreds of miles from the mainland. That explains their great value to the claimants – a remote spec of land can potentially yield a huge EEZ, complete with all the resources it contains. Only about 20 of the 150 features comprising the Spratly Islands – a scattered South China Sea group claimed by China, the Philippines and others – can be classed as proper islands. A rock, on the other hand, is an uninhabitable feature. It gives the country that owns it 12 miles of territorial sea, but no EEZ; so rocks have limited value. A reef, or other submerged feature, provides neither territorial sea nor an EEZ – even if you build a structure on the reef that protrudes from the water (a tactic that some countries have tried).

* So are Chinese patrols in the South China Sea legal, or not? China claims about 90% of the South China Sea, even areas that lie well beyond 200 miles from the mainland. Beijing says it has controlled these waters for centuries. Other claimants, including the Philippines and Vietnam, reject that argument. If we accept China’s claim to most of the South China Sea, then of course China can patrol wherever it wants within that area, since a ‘patrol’ is an obvious way of staking claim to those waters. If we reject China’s claim, Chinese ships still have the right to sail through the South China Sea, provided they stay out of the 12-mile territorial waters surrounding any islands or rocks owned by the Philippines, or other countries. Active ‘patrols,’ however, would be seen as a statement of ownership, and therefore potentially provocative.

* Is there a way to settle whether China or the Philippines owns the disputed islands? The Philippines has taken the matter to arbitration at the United Nation’s International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. It argues that China’s broad-brush claim to most of the South China Sea is arbitrary and unlawful, since it is based on a vague, broken line drawn around the claimed area, which Beijing has never properly defined. The Philippines says that the line is not recognized under UNCLOS, and that China’s claim therefore has no legal basis. The U.N. court is expected to rule on the case between March and September of this year. However, China has refused to take part in the process, and is unlikely to accept the verdict if it loses.

* So will the dispute just rumble on? And on, and on.


By Adam Pasick

Stormy weather ahead? 

National Science Foundation

National Science Foundation

Political tensions in the South China Sea have seldom been higher, with China’s “marine identification zone” deemed a provocative threat to peace by neighboring countries and the United States. The vast area, variously claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other southeast Asian countries, is hotly contested in part because it is thought to hold vast reserves of oil and natural gas.

It’s easy, then, to foresee some sticky scenarios emerging from an unusual joint research trip set to embark this week. Thirty-one geologists from 10 countries—including 13 from China and nine from the United States—will spend two months drilling rock samples in the South China Sea. The trip is funded mostly by China, but will take place on a US-operated drilling vessel, the JOIDES Resolution, under the auspices of the International Ocean Discovery Program.

Disputed-South-China-Sea.10If the group finds oil deposits, as a previous research expedition did in the late 1990s, it will raise the diplomatic stakes for the countries vying for control of the South China Sea waterways and islands, such as the Spratleys and Paracels.

“Oil and gas fields lie close to the coast, but the key is to open the treasure box buried beneath the basin,” Wang Pinxian, a marine geologist and member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the South China Morning Post. Estimates vary widely, but the South China Sea could hold up to 17 billion tonnes (18.7 billion tons) of oil and 498 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to Cnooc, China’s state-controlled energy group.

South-China-Sea-continental-shelf.2The JOIDES Resolution was previously funded largely by the National Science Foundation, a US federal agency, but thanks to budget cuts last year China needed to step in to finance the South China Sea trip. “The generosity of the Chinese government—which is paying US$6 million, or 70 per cent, of the expedition’s cost—was a deciding factor,” the Post reported.


– – – – – – – – – – – –


Bridges for Asia’s island disputes

Christian Science Monitor
The Monitor’s View

As China asserts stronger claims over its coastal seas, the US and others need to be more proactive in engaging Beijing. A joint research trip in the South China Sea hints at one way.

By the Monitor’s Editorial Board / January 27, 2014

Vietnamese fishing boats are seen in the Spratly archipelago Jan. 5. A group of anti-China protesters plan to gather on March 14 to mark the anniversary of the 1988 naval battle between China and Vietnam near Spratly reefs, in which 64 Vietnamese sailors were killed. Both Vietnam and the Philippines have previously complained about Chinese activity and even harassment in contested parts of the South China Sea. (Reuters)

Vietnamese fishing boats are seen in the Spratly archipelago Jan. 5. A group of anti-China protesters plan to gather on March 14 to mark the anniversary of the 1988 naval battle between China and Vietnam near Spratly reefs, in which 64 Vietnamese sailors were killed. Both Vietnam and the Philippines have previously complained about Chinese activity and even harassment in contested parts of the South China Sea. (Reuters)

If peace is not merely the absence of war, take note of this news: A research ship will depart Hong Kong on Tuesday with 24 scientists from China and the United States onboard. Its mission? To drill into the seabed of the South China Sea and gather geological information.

The joint scientific expedition will provide the subseafloor data that could lead to cooperative development of the abundant oil and gas buried under those hotly disputed waters. For now, the trip is a positive symbol of what should be happening in East Asia – a search for overlapping interests where now there are big differences.

The research trip, funded largely by China but on a US-operated vessel called the JOIDES Resolution, is the kind of goodwill step needed to cool regional tensions. China is making aggressive claims to dozens of small islands, causing the US and others to merely react, beef up their militaries, strengthen trade and defense alliances, and allow the various disputes to drift. Japan even warns that its relationship with China is similar to tensions between nations in Europe before World War I.

Of late, China has taken the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines while sending planes and ships closer to the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands (known as the Diaoyu in China). In violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Beijing also claims ownership over vast portions of the seas and airspace off its coast. Such claims could bring it into conflict with countries from South Korea to Malaysia.

Various ways have been proposed to engage China proactively as a way to cool its maritime expansion. The US seeks regular military-to-military contact to avoid any incident at sea blowing up into a crisis, such as the near-miss of a Chinese Navy vessel and the USS Cowpens last month. Some experts propose a multilateral meeting to settle all the island disputes. Over the past decade, Southeast Asian nations have tried to get China to abide by a code of conduct in the South China Sea disputes – with little success.

One hope is to bring China into joint development of the resources in disputed areas. China has tried to negotiate such pacts in the past, such as with Japan on fisheries. And even now, it is proposing bilateral deals with individual neighbors. But the effort is sometimes seen more as divisive or inconsistent than a signal of setting aside sovereignty claims over islands.

Take China’s talks with Vietnam on joint development of offshore hydrocarbons in the Gulf of Tonkin. On Jan. 1, China shocked Vietnam and other neighbors with a new law that declares most of the South China Sea to be out of bounds to foreign fishing vessels. The US called the move “provocative and potentially dangerous.”

Such actions by Beijing are mostly incremental for now – on purpose. China seeks a slow acceptance of “facts on the water” without posing the risk of war. To counter this salami-slicing approach, the best response by the US and its allies is to find ways to engage China constructively in the region.

President Obama, who promised a “rebalancing” of US global strategy toward Asia, needs to lay out a definitive white paper along these lines. Joint development of ocean resources, if done well, is one possible path. It signals a pause in territorial disputes and puts regional economics ahead of assertive nationalism, much like the regional trade pact now in the works for Asia and the US.

One lone ship like the JOIDES Resolution isn’t a big breakthrough on such cooperation. But at least it’s a start.


You can’t move so fast that you try to change the mores faster than people can accept it. That doesn’t mean you do nothing, but it means that you do the things that need to be done according to priority.” — ELEANOR ROOSEVELT

By Alex P. Vidal

Vhong Navarro

Vhong Navarro

We became a laughing stock in the world in 2009 when we wasted taxpayers money and time in the senate hearing tackling the case of the lover of a famous female cosmetics surgeon and several showbiz girls and models which became known as the “Hayden Kho video sex scandal.”

Aside from being romantically linked to the celebrity lady surgeon, nothing can be said to justify the misuse of public funds for the senate inquiry involving Kho, a private medical practitioner; henceforth, there was no logical reason why taxpayers money should be wasted.

A sex scandal involving a private person and his conquests who were all adults was far from being a national concern. It’s mind-boggling how the sex ruckus was allowed to be tackled in the august halls over other urgent national issues while most people couldn’t make both ends meet and were wallowing in abject poverty and lack of opportunities.


The issue did not threaten national security; it did not involve the welfare of the nation; it was not about classroom, water and rice shortage, massive graft and corruption, economic and political stability, health and environmental problems. Yet, the sex scandal inquiry authored by Sen. Bong Revilla pushed through. This explains the kind of mentality and quality of senators we elected.

And now, there is a possibility that the senate hearing zarzuela will be repeated again. Senator Jinggoy Estrada, Revilla’s former showbiz colleague and co-accused in a plunder case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in relation to the multi-billion pesos “pork barrel” scam, is poised to calling for a senate inquiry regarding the mauling incident that involved his comedian “best friend” Vhong Navarro.

Aside from being Estrada’s “best friend” and a known sitcom mainstay and noontime TV show host, Navarro has no significant contribution or involvement in government or public service for that matter that will justify why his mauling should be given importance over other more pressing national issues.


In a nation where public servants are easily elected into office based on popularity and name-recall, it isn’t far-fetched for the now famous Navarro to join his former showbiz ilk in government via electoral process once he decides to enter politics given our defective electoral system.

But the real cacophony is not only about scoundrels joining the government, but the excessive and blatant misuse of public funds and government time for useless and unproductive public hearings both in the lower and upper chambers of the House which are only always used in aid of pogi points for grandstanding politicians.

These unnecessary senate and congressional inquiries, a myopic priority, also send a wrong signal to the young generation. Intelligent citizens hooked on social media have become sophisticated and incandescent; and are now the force to reckon with in molding public opinion.

Our elected officials should now zero in on the plight of our OFWs in Malaysia and other countries in the Middle East who are being abused, harassed and murdered. Foreign and local pedophiles have forged an alliance to perpetuate child pornography via internet as recently reported. Graft and corruption, rice smuggling, arrival of powerful drug cartels in the country, oil spill, power and gas hike, among other critical issues.

By Val G. Abelgas

BIFF-rebels.2Mindanao gets another chance at lasting peace with the signing of the final annexes to the framework agreement that would pave the way for a Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro. Members of the negotiating panels were optimistic that the final peace agreement would be signed in March or April in Kuala Lumpur.

As a Filipino and as a journalist who has watched developments in Mindanao for decades, we have always hoped that peace would finally come to that land of promise and give the beleaguered people a chance to finally lead normal lives and the region’s economy an opportunity to finally live up to its promise.

The promise of Mindanao has been stunted by the decades-old insurgency and hopefully, with peace in the horizon, the region would flourish with its rich mineral resources, verdant agricultural lands, and rich fishing grounds. And hopefully, with the Moro people finally no longer feeling abandoned and ignored, they will live in peace with the Christians and other tribes to lead Mindanao to its long-delayed prosperity.

But while the new peace agreement gives us hope, it also brings fears and uncertainties. Will the new peace accord be acceptable to all parties in the region? Will the Muslim rebels finally lay down their arms – all their weapons – as mandated by the peace accord? Will the Moro National Liberation Front, under Nur Misuari, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, under MILF renegade Ameril Umbra Kato, finally decide to join the MILF in embracing peace?

Will the final peace agreement and its enabling law be approved by the people of Mindanao in a plebiscite? Remember that Christians remain the majority in the region, and that many of them feel that they were not consulted on the issues raised in the negotiations.

It is almost certain that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, once signed, would be challenged before the Supreme Court as to its constitutionality. Will it pass muster before the justices? Or will the peace accord go the way of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, which was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in August 2008, sending the negotiating panels back to square one?

If Congress convenes to amend the Constitution to legalize the peace accord’s provisions, will the sought-after provisions pas the body even without President Aquino dangling pork barrel funds?

What if the Supreme Court junks the Comprehensive Peace Agreement or any of its provisions or Congress fails to amend the Constitution to fix whatever unconstitutional provisions it has, will it not trigger an even bigger war? This was what happened in 2008 after the Court junked the MOA on Ancestral Domain when forces of Umbra Kato and two other MILF commanders attacked several towns in Central Mindanao, resulting in the death of 44 people, including 23 soldiers.

But the biggest stumbling block to peace remains Misuari’s MNLF and Umbra Kato’s BIFF.

In August last year, Misuari criticized the government’s failure to comply with the provisions of the 1996 Tripoli peace agreement and warned of renewed war if the government abrogates the accord that was reached during the time of President Ramos. MNLF leaders also warned of war in Mindanao if the government were to sign a final agreement with the MILF and continued to ignore the peace pact with the MNLF.

As if to prove they are still a force to reckon with, rebels belonging to the Nur Misuari-led MNLF attacked several villages in Zamboanga and Basilan provinces in September, resulting in the death of 203 people, the destruction of several homes, and the evacuation of thousands of war-weary residents.

“The MNLF has demonstrated its capability to make trouble,” said Rommel Banlaoi, executive director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research. He was referring to the MNLF headed by Misuari, a former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor, which was involved in the Zamboanga standoff. “It can undermine the peace dividends; it can spoil the whole process and even hijack the agenda of the new Bangsamoro government.”

Muslimin Sema, chairman of the MNLF Committee of 15, said on Sunday: “The MNLF has spoken. We do not reject outright any agreement to be reached by the GPH and the MILF. Our reluctance to recognize stands from the point of view that the 1996 Final Peace Agreement is a final agreement for one people and one territory that has never reached culmination, it is still under review.”

The MNLF said if the new peace accord is signed, Mindanao will see a realignment of forces, with several MILF rebels joining Umbra Kato’s BIFF and eventually the MNLF.

Just two days after the signing of the final annex of the framework agreement, the military preempted any moves by the BIFF when government forces raided several camps of the BIFF in Maguindanao, killing 17 rebels and sending civilians scampering to safety.

The raids would only send wrong signals to both MNLF and BIFF rebels that the government is indeed leaving them out. Besides, the amnesty offered by the government was exclusively for MILF rebels and excluded any other insurgent groups. Perhaps, the government should have offered the amnesty to all Muslim insurgents just to prove that the peace the agreement offers is for everybody, not just the MILF.

In any case, let us just hope that the peace pact with the MILF would overcome all obstacles and that peace would reign at last in the troubled region of Central Mindanao. The people of Mindanao deserve it; the country needs it.



By Christina Mendez
The Philippine Star 

Smuggled-rice.2MANILA, Philippines – As much as 50,000 tons of rice were smuggled every week last year, a ranking Customs official revealed yesterday.

Responding to a question of Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile at a Senate hearing, Customs Deputy Commissioner Agaton Teodoro Uvero said, “At its height they were bringing in 2,000 containers a week.”

Uvero said that would translate to 50,000 tons a week at 25 tons per 20-foot shipping container.

Dissatisfied with Uvero’s answers, Enrile said the Bureau of Customs (BOC) must strengthen its intelligence units to fight smuggling.

“We give you money for intelligence, what do you use it for?” Enrile asked.

Uvero said BOC operations were limited since its intelligence funds amounted to only P5 million last year.

He also lamented that BOC collectors who are tasked to collect P25 million are paid a “low” P60,000 a month.

Enrile said the BOC must have Malacañang’s backing and the cooperation of different agencies to wipe out smuggling.

“I’m not trying to embarrass you,” he said. “But I’m raising this question by way of triggering an effort because this is happening. We know it… This is a government effort, not just a BOC effort, to arrest the entry of untaxed products into the country. You cannot stop smuggling without the participation of Malacañang, and I’m talking from experience.”

Enrile said when he was Customs commissioner during the Marcos administration, he had the full backing of Malacañang to stamp out smuggling.

“I’m sure the President is interested, he must be giving you full backing,” he said. “What I’m saying is the entire government must exert effort, not just one agency.”

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, Senate committee ways and means chairman, agreed with Enrile that any effort to crush smuggling needs the support of the administration.

“I think the signals from Malacañang had been clear that it has the backing, and I agree with Senator Enrile’s assessment that without the backing of the Palace any campaign against smuggling will not succeed.”


Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla said computerization will maximize efficiency at the BOC and sought the private audit of Customs operations to ensure transparency.

Sevilla told the committee that the BOC must maximize information technology (IT) systems to allow it to minimize exemptions in their transactions.

With an effective IT system in place, human contact and human intervention will be minimized to curb corruption, he added.

Angara said he supports calls to modernize the BOC to stamp out corruption and smuggling.

“Although enforcement is largely a fight of the executive branch, we are prioritizing these anti-smuggling measures so Congress can aid the government in the fight and we want to ensure that they have the weapons to do so and are not unduly hampered,” he said.

Angara said the BOC needs a “shake-up” or reshuffle of port collectors to avoid too much familiarization with anomalous businessmen, who try to go around the laws and smuggle goods to the country.

He was quite satisfied with the answers of BOC officials, particularly since they had just been appointed, he added.

The committee will be requiring more thorough data and figures in future hearings, Angara said.

The Senate committee tackled the Customs and Tariff Modernization Bill and different versions of anti-smuggling bills, including S. No. 168 – Customs and Tariff Modernization Act of 2013; S. Nos. 442, 456, 741 & 882 – Anti-Smuggling Act; P.S. Res. No. 444 – Inquiry on the study conducted by the Federation of Philippine Industries which found that the government lost more than P1.33 trillion in revenue from 2002 to 2011 due to technical smuggling through the country’s ports.

Conducting the hearing was the Senate ways and means committee chaired by Angara.