March 2017

By Perry Diaz

Duterte-and-Benham-RiseJust when President Rodrigo Duterte became comfortable sleeping in the security of his mosquito net, knowing that those dengue-dengue killer mosquitoes wouldn’t raid his house, a new menace rears it’s ugly head in the Benham Rise, just like the fabled Loch Ness monster. Yes, its appearance in the Benham Rise has Duterte’s men scramble for ways to deal with this “threat” to Philippine sovereignty. But as it turns out, there was no real threat because Duterte allowed this “threat” to happen. It’s all part of the moro-moro that he and his friends in Beijing are playacting for public consumption.

In a press conference last March 13, Duterte admitted that he had an “agreement” with China allowing “research activities” in Benham Rise. He said that he had invited the Chinese to visit the Philippine “shores” anyway. But this invitation should only be taken in the context of Chinese tourists visiting the many resort beaches in the country. As to whether his invitation includes “research activities” – such as exploring for oil, gas, and mineral deposits – it would be stretching the imagination a bit too far.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio

According to Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, China may be allowed to “undertake water survey in the water column in the Benham Rise region.” He said that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), only the Philippines could build structures in Benham Rise. Noting that only the coastal state has the right to put up any structure in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or continental shelf, he added, “No other state can put up a structure within our EEZ and within the extended continental shelf.” He referred to Article 60 of the 1982 UNCLOS, which states that the coastal state has exclusive right to construct artificial islands, installations and structures for exploration in its EEZ.

Benham-Rise.6Benham Rise was awarded to the Philippines in 2012, after the United Nations approved her claim that Benham Rise was an extension of her continental shelf. In December 2013, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) informed the DENR – with finality — that Benham Rise is part of the country’s continental shelf and territory.

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), this 13-million-hectare area off the coast of Aurora province is potentially rich in mineral, natural gas deposits, and manganese nodules that are vital in the production of steel. Studies conducted by DENR have also shown large deposits of methane in solid form (methane hydrate or methane ice). Further studies also showed that natural gas deposits in the area would enable the Philippines to achieve energy sufficiency.

Secret undersea exploration

Benham-Rise-Chinese-survey-shipIn February 2016, the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) reported that several Chinese ships were seen in the Benham Rise. The following July, China Daily published a report about China’s “secret undersea exploration” in the Benham Rise area. The report said that China discovered massive mineral deposits. It also said that the volume of natural gas deposits in the area was at par with what was discovered in the Spratly Islands.

During a press conference last March 10, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that the Philippines can explore and develop the natural resources in Benham Rise as a sovereign right but she cannot take the region as her own territory. “The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) approved the submission made by the Philippines in 2009 in respect of the limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in the Benham Rise region, enabling the Philippines to carry out exploration and development of natural resources in this region,” Geng said.

A question of sovereignty

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.

By raising the question of sovereignty over the Benham Rise, China has kicked into motion the geopolitical game of “territorial dispute,” which is reminiscent of China’s sovereignty claim over the South China Sea, including the mineral-rich Recto Bank.

It is now common knowledge that the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) by the Philippines, China and Vietnam in the Spratly Islands in 2005-2008 gave China an “open window” to claim the Recto Bank and other parts of Philippine territory. But as soon as then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her Chinese and Vietnamese counterparts signed the JSMU, China started claiming Recto Bank. It’s interesting to note that 80% of the JSMU site is within the Philippines’ EEZ. As such, the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction over that region and the only country that can explore and exploit, and conserve and manage its natural resources. And this begs the question: Is Duterte’s agreement to allow China to conduct “research activities” in the Benham Rise legal and binding? And since there is insofar no documentation that an agreement was indeed signed, can the Supreme Court rule on it constitutionality? Yes, as the protector of the Constitution, the Supreme Court should – nay, must! – protect it at all cost.

Chinese Dream

First and Second Island Chains.

First and Second Island Chains.

Sad to say, China’s “research activities” in the Benham Rise would give China an “open window” much larger than what she was given as a result of JSMU, which makes one wonder: Was Geng Shuang’s assertion true that the Philippines can explore and develop the natural resources in Benham Rise as a sovereign right, but cannot take the region as her own territory? No, it’s not true. However, it’s a double-edged dagger intended to achieve one thing and only one thing, which is to initiate China’s “territorial claim” over the region. Yes, it’s déjà vu all over again.

If China succeeds in taking control of Benham Rise, her dream of extending her power beyond the First Island Chain all the way to the Second Island Chain and the vast Pacific beyond would be achieved.

In my column, “Chinese Dream: Beyond the First Island Chain,” (December 1, 2013), I wrote: “In an article in the Want China Times that appeared on June 27, 2013, Admiral Liu Huaqing, the mastermind of China’s modern naval strategy, was quoted as saying in 1982 that it would be necessary for China to control the First and Second Island Chains by 2010 and 2020, respectively. ‘The PLA Navy must be ready to challenge US domination over the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean in 2040. If China is able to dominate the Second Island Chain seven years from now, the East China Sea will become the backyard of the PLA Navy,’ he said.

“China has yet to control the First Island Chain, which put her three years behind her timetable. But by imposing an ADIZ [Air Defense Identification Zone] over the East China Sea and planning to do the same over the South China Sea, China was hoping that U.S. would be shooed away from the Western Pacific. If China were successful in doing that, then the ‘Chinese Dream’ is within her reach.

“But there is one thing that prevents China from fulfilling the ‘Chinese Dream’ and that is the United States’ intent to remain a Pacific power. And at the rate China’s neighbors are coalescing together to counter China’s aggression, she may have to find a friendlier and less threatening way of winning her neighbors’ goodwill and cooperation. Instead China is stoking fear among her neighbors in the same manner that Adolf Hitler stoked fear in Europe when Germany annexed Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland. Makes one wonder if history is repeating itself?

“At the end of the day, China’s dream of going beyond the First Island Chain could turn out to be just that — a dream. Or it could be a nightmare nobody wants to wake up from.”


Trump's generals.

Trump’s generals.

By Perry Diaz

When President Donald J. Trump unveiled his proposal to increase military spending by $54 billion for next year during his address before a joint session of Congress, one of the things military planners thought about was: How does it compare to Russia’s or China’s military budgets? The U.S. is already spending a whopping $600 billion a year on her military. That’s more money than the next seven biggest defense spending combined, including Russia and China. Indeed, Trump’s proposed increase would be 80% of Russia’s entire military budget. That’s awesome!

Describing his budget proposal as “a public safety and national security budget,” Trump would reduce the budgets for foreign aid and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the same amount; thus, making no real increases to the overall national budget. But it would certainly make a lot of countries currently receiving aid from Uncle Sam unhappy.

But what gains would an increase in military spending be for the U.S.? Isn’t the current level of spending enough to safeguard America? While it can be argued that the current U.S. military expenditures would suffice for now, there is no guarantee that it would be in a few years. And for sure, the U.S. would lose her military advantage in 10 years if nothing were done to keep pace with Russia and China.

There is a big “black hole” in the U.S. future defense planning, which makes her vulnerable to surprise enemy attacks, in particular, submarine attacks and hypersonic ballistic missiles. At the rate Russia and China are building stealth submarines capable of launching nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, the U.S. might find her open to such attacks within a decade.


Ohio-class “Boomer” ballistic missile submarine.

Ohio-class “Boomer” ballistic missile submarine.

Currently, the U.S.’s fleet of 14 ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) – known as “boomers” — is enough to counter any attack with devastating nuclear power. Each submarine carries 24 Trident missiles and each missile can carry up to 14 warheads. Together, the 14 Ohio-class subs carry approximately 50% of the total U.S. active inventory of strategic thermonuclear warheads.

However, the fleet of aging Ohio-class nuclear submarines, would be headed for the graveyard in a decade and the new Columbia-class replacement submarines wouldn’t be able to keep up with the planned decommissioning of the Ohio subs.

Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine conceptual design.

Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine conceptual design.

The first Columbia-class submarine is scheduled to begin construction in 2021 and enter service in 2031 with a life span of 50 years. The question is: Would the U.S. be able to maintain her naval superiority in terms of quality to compensate for the anticipated decrease in submarine fleet size?

Prompt Global Strike

Prompt Global Strike.

Prompt Global Strike.

Trump’s defense planners must have thought about this potential problem. Playing catch-up with Russia and China, Pentagon’s think tank strategists are busy designing ways to counter the enemy’s attack plans, which would most likely happen as an all-out “first strike” nuclear assault.

The U.S. is currently developing Prompt Global Strike (PGS), a system that can deliver a precision-guided conventional weapon airstrike anywhere in the world within one hour, in a similar manner to a nuclear Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). Such a weapon would allow the U.S. to respond far more swiftly to rapidly emerging threats than is possible with conventional forces. A PGS system could also be useful during a nuclear conflict, potentially replacing the use of nuclear weapons against 30% of targets. The PGS program encompasses numerous established and emerging technologies, including conventional surface-launched missiles and air- and submarine-launched hypersonic missiles, although no specific PGS system has yet been finalized. [Source: Wikipedia]

What makes PGS dangerous is that war can be waged and won without the use of nuclear weapons; thus, sparing the world from nuclear holocaust. And since the U.S. is the only superpower that is far ahead in developing PGS, it makes the Russian and Chinese leaders nervous. And this makes PGS a more effective deterrent than MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), which guarantees global nuclear annihilation.

Trump’s proposed $54-billion defense budget augmentation would seem to fit into what PGS is supposed to achieve. The main thrust is in building a 350-ship Navy, which increases the battle force of 272 warships in service today. However, this buildup doesn’t surpass what the U.S. had in 1998 when the Navy had 12 carriers, 30 cruisers, 53 destroyers, 40 frigates, and 70 nuclear submarines. In 2003, the Navy broke through the 300-ship mark to it present size of 272 ships today, which includes 10 carriers, 22 cruisers, 62 destroyers, no frigates and 54 nuclear submarines. In 2011, the defense budget was cut by nearly $80 billion due to the sequester provisions of the Budget Control Act.

Geopolitical playbook

U.S. bases worldwide.

U.S. bases worldwide.

Having said that, one wonders how does Trump’s awesome war budget fit into Uncle Sam’s geopolitical playbook? Would it enhance U.S. commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)? Would it increase the viability of the rebalance strategy, which is to move 60% of America’s naval assets to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region? Would the U.S. be able to assert her supremacy in the South China Sea and the Western Pacific waters? Would the U.S. be able to rein in North Korea and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula? There is a lot more questions to ask, but for now these are just for starters. And there are no answers yet.

However, while Trump is busy concocting how he’s going to deal with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, American special forces are busy operating under the radar doing what they do best: penetrate hostile territory.

Meanwhile, the USS Carl Vinzon carrier strike group began patrolling in the South China, which is aimed at ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight in one of the busiest waterways. Based in Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan, the Carl Vinzon is part of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, which is responsible for patrolling the vast Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Indeed, with more than 150 bases in foreign countries around the world, there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the U.S. would continue to exert her worldwide influence for a long time to come.


By Perry Diaz

Duterte-and-De-LimaWhen then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima ran for the Senate in 2016, little did she know that she was on a road taken by a growing number of politicians, one that leads to incarceration. These include former presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Joseph Estrada, former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile, and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla. And if the “tradition” of imprisoning previous presidents continues, then former president Benigno Aquino Jr. would be next in line. President Rodrigo Duterte is looking for “evidence” to file charges against Aquino. And who knows, Duterte’s successor – unless it’s Bongbong Marcos – might find ways to detain Duterte when he finishes his term of office? But that’s still a few years into the future. His time will come.

De-Lima-mugshotToday, it’s De Lima’s time to be in the limelight. But for someone who enjoyed being in the limelight throughout her career, De Lima might find it a little uneasy this time with life behind bars. The prospect of a long detention like Erap and Gloria seems likely since President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte has taken personal interest in building the charges against De Lima. But that doesn’t seem like she’d be muzzled into silence. On the contrary, her detention energizes her into focusing on one goal: to bring down Duterte.

Surmise it to say, bringing Duterte down would most likely result in release from detention. However, given the enormity of Duterte’s power over the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which are both headed by Duterte loyalists, there is nobody in the country with the capability to depose Duterte. It takes muscle to bring Digong down and Digong has all the muscle right now.

De-Lima-feistyKnown for her feistiness, Leila is like a pit bull: once her jaws are locked on your neck, you might as well say your prayers and hope that you’d be able to say “Amen” before your life expires. But a pit bull as she is, she couldn’t get near Duterte close enough to do him harm.

So, does it mean that Leila is in a Catch-22 situation? It seems like it. Does it also mean that she has to wait until Duterte is out of office in 2022, at which time the next president might release or pardon her? That’s a long wait.

Perhaps, Leila should have remained in the private law practice, a top-notch lawyer who scored the 8th highest mark in the country’s annual bar exams in 1985. She built a successful law practice with a specialty in helping prominent politicians in election court cases.

Fighting lawlessness

Filipino women from Davao City, hold pictures of their dead or missing sons. © 2004 Reuters

Filipino women from Davao City, hold pictures of their dead or missing sons. © 2004 Reuters

In 2008, De Lima took a detour from her lucrative private law practice and took a government job as chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), a government independent agency. It must have been an eye-opener for her because for the next two years, Leila worked with a handful of lowly paid lawyers fighting lawlessness. They investigated extrajudicial killings (EJKs), abductions, and human rights violations. And this was where she crossed paths with Duterte, then the mayor of Davao City, who was rumored to have authorized killing hundreds of drug addicts.

In my article, “Lawlessness in Davao City” (July 7, 2011), I wrote: “Rodrigo Duterte, who was mayor from 2001 until he was termed out in 2010, gained notoriety when a vigilante group known as the ‘Davao Death Squad’ was believed to have been responsible for the murder of more than 1,000 citizens including children and young teens. Although he was never proven to be associated with the death squad – which was often referred to as ‘Duterte Death Squad’ — he had made public statements that seem to encourage or condone those killings.

“In February 2009, according to the Human Rights Watch, Duterte told reporters: ‘If you are doing an illegal activity in my city, if you are a criminal or part of a syndicate that preys on the innocent people of the city, for as long as I am the mayor, you are a legitimate target of assassination.’

Stop-Summary-Executions“The report, ‘You Can Die Any Time: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao,’ details the ‘involvement of police and local government officials in targeted killings of alleged drug dealers and petty criminals, street children, and others, and describes the lack of any effort by the authorities to investigate the killings and bring those responsible to justice.’

“The report further said, ‘The longtime mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte, has made numerous statements attempting to justify the killing of suspected criminals, believing that such killings have a deterrent effect on crime and have made the city a safer place. But according to statistics provided by the Philippines National Police, the number of annual crime incidents has increased some 219 percent in the last decade, while the city’s population rose only by 29 percent. An increasing number of death squad killings appear to have made crime rates worse in Davao.’

“The administration of then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ignored the ‘targeted killings’ in Davao City. Not only did she ignore those extrajudicial killings, she appointed Duterte in 2003 as her consultant on ‘peace and order,’ which seemingly indicated that she approved Duterte’s modus operandi of operating outside the law in fighting criminal elements.”

In the crosshairs

New-Bilibid-PrisonDuterte became Leila’s main target for the spate of EJKs in Davao City. She opened a probe into the Davao Death Squad. In 2010, however, she left the CHR with the probe unfinished to take the job as Secretary of Justice under the Aquino administration.

It was then that she raided the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) to dismantle the perks and amenities accorded to inmates convicted of illegal drug trafficking. It was an act that put her in the crosshairs of the drug lords.

In 2016, she ran and won a seat on the Senate. That’s when she got herself in trouble. She tried to revive the old charges of EJKs against Duterte during his 20-year reign in Davao City. Add the more than 7,000 EJKs since Duterte took over last June and Leila had a truckload of cases that she could pore over to look for evidence that would nail Digong down as a “serial murderer.”

Duterte could respond the only way he does and that is to launch a deadly counter-attack against Leila. “I will have to destroy her in public,” said Duterte in August last year. He then proceeded to build a case alleging she was one of the nation’s biggest drug traffickers. He lined-up several convicted drug lords who testified against Leila before a Senate investigation panel. Gee, that’s like using Al Capone’s testimony against Elliot Ness. And it worked!

The government finally filed drug charges against De Lima based on the testimony of several convicted drug lords at the NBP.

A Muntinlupa trial court judge ordered the arrest of Senator Leila de Lima on Thursday, February 23, over drug charges. The question is: Can they convict a Philippine Senator of drug trafficking based on the testimony of drug traffickers?

At the end of the day, just like previous political prisoners before her, she, too, would be freed after serving time for opposing Duterte.

Who’s next?