June 2017

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Philippine Marines patrol Marawi City.

Philippine Marines patrol Marawi City.

Long before President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte imposed martial law in Mindanao, he was already toying with the idea of declaring martial law, not just in Mindanao but the entire country. Why? What caused him to consider martial law when his supporters in the House of Representatives have provided him with an ironclad defense from any attempt to impeach him? Or are there other reasons – secret and unpublished – that would satisfy his private agenda?

For one thing, one can say that Duterte was a democratically elected “strongman” like Russian President Vladimir Putin. While Duterte is not a “dictator” in the mold of the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos, he was able to exercise near-absolute power in pushing his legislative agenda. Indeed, senators and congressmen who opposed his wishes were severely dealt with.

In the House of Representatives, except for a few party-list congressmen, nobody dares oppose his legislative agenda that includes restoration of the death penalty, the switch to a federal government, and lowering of the age of criminal liability. The House Speaker, Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, a protégée of Duterte, is totally supportive of his legislative agenda. And the congressmen – who are balimbings (political turncoats) as a matter of political survival – fear him.

In my column, “Is martial law just a matter of time?” (January 27, 2017), I asked: “Why would Digong [Duterte] want to declare martial law, when his grip to power is strong? Would it be fair to presume that he might have been thinking of the day when his grip weakens and loses control of Congress? And the specter of that happening could give him sleepless nights, insecurity, and paranoia. Could this be the reason why he is not comfortable sleeping in Malacañang Palace protected by the elite Presidential Security Group?”

Narco list

President Rodrigo Duterte announces the “narco list.”

President Rodrigo Duterte announces the “narco list.”

When the Philippine National Police (PNP) submitted an intelligence report – “Narco list” – to Duterte, several judges’ names were included on the report. Duterte threatened to have them arrested. Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno strongly opposed it and issued a statement that said, “Law enforcers must first secure warrants of arrest from judges before judges allow themselves to be ‘physically accountable to any police officer’ as she warned of a constitutional crisis.” This did not bode well with Duterte who responded angrily, “I’m giving you a warning. Don’t create a crisis because I will order everybody in the executive department not to honor you,” he said referring to Sereno. He added, “Please, don’t order me. I’m not a fool. If this continues, [that] you’re tying to stop me, I might lose my cool. Or would you rather I declare martial law?” But Duterte relented and the matter with the “narco judges” was dropped.

Battle of Marawi

Battle of Marawi. Philippine Marines attack Maute stronghold.

Battle of Marawi. Philippine Marines attack Maute stronghold.

On May 23, 2017 while Duterte was enroute to Moscow for a five-day visit, the rebel group Maute struck. At about 2:00 PM, the Battle of Marawi began. At least 500 members of Maute attacked a Philippine Army brigade stationed at Camp Ranao in Marawi City. They were seen rampaging through the streets waving ISIS black flags.

While in Moscow, Duterte declared martial law at 10:00 pm that same day. He cut short his visit after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin for a short time. In an attempt to acquire weapons from Russia, Putin told him to provide a “shopping list” and he’d look at it. Duterte flew back home without the “bacon” he had expected to bring home.

 Philippine Marine Commandant Major General Emmanuel Salamat (R) listens to US military representatives during a handover ceremony of weapons from the US military, at the Marine headquarters in Manila on June 5, 2017. Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

Philippine Marine Commandant Major General Emmanuel Salamat (R) listens to US military representatives during a handover ceremony of weapons from the US military, at the Marine headquarters in Manila on June 5, 2017. Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

Last June 5, the U.S. handed over – I mean, given free — $150 million worth of brand-new weapons that included 300 M4 assault rifles, 100 grenade launchers, and four M134D Gatling-style machine guns that can fire thousands of rounds a minute. The U.S. Embassy issued a statement, saying: “This equipment will enhance the [Philippine Marines’] counterterrorism capabilities, and help protect [troops] actively engaged in counterterrorism operations in the southern Philippines.”

It’s interesting to note that on June 2 — a few days before the handover – Duterte had complained about the quality of “secondhand” American military hardware. “I will not accept any more military equipment that is secondhand. The ones the Americans are giving, I do not want that anymore,” he said.

Boots on the ground

 Joint Training: US soldiers train a member of the Philippine Coast Guard during one of their joint exercises in Mindanao. (Photo from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines)

Joint Training: US soldiers train a member of the Philippine Coast Guard during one of their joint exercises in Mindanao. (Photo from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines)

But weapons were not the only ones Uncle Sam had given free. A Pentagon spokesman, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross, confirmed the presence of 50 to 100 special-operations forces that are helping the Philippine marines in Marawi. He said that the U.S. also maintains a force of 300 to 500 to support regular bilateral training, exercises, and other activities in the country. He said that they’re in Marawi to provide technical assistance to the Philippine troops. However, they’re authorized to fire back if attacked.

In addition, another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the support included aerial surveillance and targeting, electronic eavesdropping, communications assistance, and training.

One might question the presence of U.S. troops in the country, which the Philippine Constitution bans. Philippine military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla told reporters in Manila, “The presence of armed U.S. troops in Marawi was covered by a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which calls for both parties to aid each other in times of enemy aggression.” He added, “That capacity has been moved to help ground forces in Marawi, and that arrangement should not complicate our military engagement.”

Who’s in charge?

President Rodrigo Duterte and his generals.

President Rodrigo Duterte and his generals.

But what is strange is that the day after the handover of U.S. weapons, Duterte held a press conference and told the reporters that he “never approached America” for help. He said that he was “entirely unaware of their presence until they [the Americans] arrived.” But while he claimed that he didn’t ask for U.S. military help, it begs the question: Did the Philippine military request the aid independently without consulting Duterte? To avoid embarrassment, Duterte told the media that might have been the case. He said that due to years of U.S. training, “our soldiers are pro-American, that I cannot deny.” However, he did not comment on whether the Philippine military asked for U.S. help without his “approval.” And this raises the question: Who is in charge?

Martial law chain of command: AFP Chief Gen. Eduardo Año as the chief martial law implementor (L); Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, a retired major general, as martial law administrator in Mindanao (Center); and President Rodrigo Duterte (R).

Martial law chain of command: AFP Chief Gen. Eduardo Año as the chief martial law implementor (L); Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, a retired major general, as martial law administrator in Mindanao (Center); and President Rodrigo Duterte (R).

While one may wonder whether Duterte is still in charge, the answer is Yes and No. Yes, because he is still the president of the Philippines. No, because by declaring martial law, he turned over certain government functions to the military. He designated Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, a retired major general, as martial law administrator in Mindanao and Armed forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Gen. Eduardo Año as the chief martial law implementor. Año will be directly under the deputy martial administrator, who has yet to be named. He will also work with PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa.

Indeed, little did Duterte realize that he had more power before de declared martial law. With martial law, he has to carefully work with the generals, giving them a lot of latitude. And to make sure that they remain loyal, he has to share power with them. Indeed, they can make or break him. And he knows that.

The late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and son, former Sen. Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr.

The late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and son, former Sen. Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr.

So, are you for or against martial law? As the Visayans would say it, “Martial law kuno,” while the Tagalogs would say, “Martial law daw.” But the Ilocanos will always say, “Marcos pa rin kami!” And Bongbong Marcos would be so delighted and he would say, “Martial law forever!” But the powerless and poor common tao could only say, “Hay naku, here we go again!” And for Donald Trump, he can only say, “It’s fake news.” And guess what Digong would be saying? “Sons of whores!”

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

SOURCE: BBC NEWS

Image caption A US P3 Orion surveillance aircraft seen flying over Marawi. (Image copyright Reuters)

Image caption A US P3 Orion surveillance aircraft seen flying over Marawi. (Image copyright Reuters)

US special forces are helping the Philippine military retake the southern city of Marawi from IS-linked militants, the Philippine army says.

The forces are providing technical help and are not fighting, it said.

President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier threatened to throw out US troops amid strained relations since taking office.

Militants have been under siege since rampaging through the southern city on 23 May. The latest fighting has claimed the lives of 13 Philippine marines.

Hundreds of militants, who have been flying the black flag of so-called Islamic State and are led by the self-styled IS emir of the southern Philippines, Isnilon Hapilon, and the Maute brothers Omar and Abdullah, are still holed up in the city.

The latest casualties bring the number of Philippine troops killed in the fighting to 58.

At least 138 militants and 20 civilians have also been killed, the government says.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head says there are several reports that the Maute brothers, who lead the Maute group, are among the dead, with intercepted communications from jihadist groups suggesting this.

In a press briefing, Lt Col Jo-ar Herrera said the army was checking the reports. He cited “strong indications” but gave no further details.

The brothers’ parents, who are believed to have helped fund their armed group, have been captured.

Marawi is on the southern island of Mindanao, which has a significant Muslim population in the majority Catholic country and has seen a decades-long Muslim separatist insurgency.

Col Herrera confirmed for the first time that US special forces were helping the army.

“They are not fighting. They are just providing technical support,” he said.

Reuters news agency earlier quoted the US embassy in Manila as verifying the presence of US forces. It would not go into operational details but said the US forces were helping at the request of the Philippine government.

The US has had a small logistical military presence in the Philippines, although a programme to advise the Philippine army on fighting the Abu Sayyaf militant group was discontinued in 2015.

Mr Duterte, a strongman who has supported the extrajudicial killing of drug users and other criminals, has been highly critical of the US since taking power last June, straining a long-time alliance.

But he had what the White House described as a “very friendly” phone call with President Donald Trump in April, and has since said his differences with the US were with President Barack Obama’s administration.

Philippine army spokesman Brig Gen Restituto Padilla Jr has vowed that the national flag will be flying once again over all of Marawi by Monday – the Philippine national day.

The army has missed past deadlines to rid the city of militants amid two weeks of air and ground assaults.

Col Herrera said the militants were now restricted to three districts within the city.

“The world of terrorism inside the city is growing smaller by the day,” he said.

Officials say that foreign nationals are among the militants in Marawi, with the list of countries and territories including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen, India and Chechnya.

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

South Vietnamese general shoots suspected Viet Cong official in the head. (Ed Adams/AP).

South Vietnamese general shoots suspected Viet Cong official in the head. (Ed Adams/AP).

Once enemies, the U.S. and Vietnam have become friends over the course of four decades. While it did not happen overnight, what transpired was a slow process of rapprochement between the two countries. It took two generations of Vietnamese and Americans to set aside the bitterness they both have on each other. Why not?

More than 58,000 American and 282,000 South Vietnamese soldiers were killed from 1955 to 1975. North Vietnam and the Viet Cong suffered 444,000 military casualties and 627,000 civilian deaths.

Last day of Vietnam War: South Vietnamese fleeing from the North Vietnamese try to get into a U.S. Marine helicopter on top of a tower at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.

Last day of Vietnam War: South Vietnamese fleeing from the North Vietnamese try to get into a U.S. Marine helicopter on top of a tower at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.

After the fall of Saigon, tens of thousands of South Vietnamese civilians and former soldiers fled the country. Known as “boat people,” the refugees used boats of all sizes to escape the North Vietnamese communists. They migrated to other countries, in particular the nearby Philippines where the government resettled them. However, the U.S. was their country of choice; thus, the process of looking for sponsors began. American families opened their homes and welcomed them. Eventually, most of them were able to find jobs and own their homes. Over time, the Vietnamese immigrants were allowed to petition for family members provided that they have jobs and financial capability to put them up. By 2014, 1.3 million Vietnamese immigrants resided in the U.S.

Beyond the strong affinity displayed by the Vietnamese people toward their former enemies, government-to-government relations between the U.S. and Vietnam improved considerably. Cultural and economic ties progressed at a pace that surpassed the most optimistic expectations.

Obama and Vietnam

President Barack Obama and his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang shake hands at their meeting in Washington, DC.

President Barack Obama and his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang shake hands at their meeting in Washington, DC.

On July 25, 2013, the historic meeting between President Barack Obama and his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang in Washington, DC broke new ground in U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relations. Obama and Truong decided to form a U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership, which underlined the principles of “respect for the U.N. Charter, international law, and each other’s political systems, independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.” The two leaders pledged that their countries would continue to cooperate on defense and security matters.

On May 23, 2016, Obama visited Hanoi and announced that the U.S. would fully lift a longstanding embargo on lethal arms sale to Vietnam, a decision that may have been precipitated by China’s military build-up in the South China Sea (SCS). Obama said that the lifting of the arms embargo “will ensure Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself and removes a lingering vestige of the Cold War.”

Trump and Vietnam

President Donald Trump and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc shake hands at their meeting in Washington, DC.

President Donald Trump and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc shake hands at their meeting in Washington, DC.

Recently, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited President Donald J. Trump in the White House. His visit is significant because there have been perceptions that Vietnam was leaning to China, and the U.S. is veering away from the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. This caused many countries in the region – including Vietnam and the Philippines – to move closer to China. The leaders of the other eight ASEAN countries are adjusting their alignment as well. They’re preparing themselves in the event that Trump would leave the region altogether.

But the U.S. visit of Nguyen has changed all that. Nguyen was the first ASEAN leader to visit Washington, DC since Trump was inaugurated president. With the meeting of Trump and Nguyen in the White House on May 31, it was evident that Trump is not reversing the course of U.S. policy in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. The “Pivot to Asia” that Obama started may have changed in name, but the objectives are the same: to protect U.S. interests in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

The meeting between the two leaders produced a joint statement to “Enhance the Comprehensive Partnership between the U.S. and Vietnam.” Their joint statement reiterates that the “United States is a ‘Pacific power with widespread interests and commitments throughout the Asia Pacific.’ It maintains all elements of the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership that was established during the Obama administration. It goes a step further, stating that President Trump and Prime Minister [Nguyen] Phuc are committed to making the partnership ‘deeper, more substantive, and more effective.’ For the first time the two former enemies stress at the summit level their ‘pledge to strengthen cooperation in the fields of security and intelligence.’ ”

Which makes one wonder: Is this just another diplomatic hyperbole or does it seem like it would lead to stronger defense and economic ties between the two countries?    While a defense treaty would not be politically feasible at this time as it would certainly irk China and would also affect Vietnamese-Russian security relations, an arrangement similar to the U.S.-India Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) just might do the work. But while LEMOA might fall short of a “basing agreement,” it gives the militaries of both countries access to each other’s facilities for supplies and repair. It’s a good start that could lead to a de facto – if not official – defense arrangement.

With this new U.S.-Vietnam Enhanced Comprehensive Partnership, the two countries would be able to deter China’s aggressive behavior in the SCS; thus, protect Vietnam’s EEZ from Chinese encroachment. Indeed, what is at stake is Vietnam’s economic interest in the SCS.

Defense cooperation and the SCS issue were prominently addressed in the joint statement. Trump and Nguyen affirmed that the SCS is a “waterway of strategic significance.” They also discussed the possibility of a visit to a Vietnamese port – Cam Ranh Bay — by a U.S. aircraft carrier and steps to further cooperation between their two naval forces.

Vietnam will never forget the Battle of the Paracel Islands in 1974 when China occupied the islands, which are claimed by Vietnam. Vietnam attempted to expel the Chinese Navy from the vicinity. A battle ensued and the Chinese forces prevailed. China established de facto control over the Paracels. However, Vietnam maintained her claim over the Paracels to this day.

A “first” in U.S.-Vietnam relations

China deploys giant oil rig in the waters near the Paracel Islands.

China deploys giant oil rig in the waters near the Paracel Islands.

In 2014, China deployed her biggest oil rig into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Vietnam then sent to the U.S. her number two man on the ruling Politburo, Executive Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Dinh The Huynh. That was a “first” in U.S.-Vietnam relations.

Indeed, for the most part of the last two decades, the Philippines and Singapore led the rest of ASEAN in engaging the U.S. With the rift that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has with the U.S., the Philippines has cocooned herself into isolation.   With the vacuum created by the Philippines, Vietnam would be more than willing to play a key role in engagement with the U.S.

U.S. donates six coastal patrol boats to Vietnam.

U.S. donates six coastal patrol boats to Vietnam.

As a sign of closer U.S.-Vietnam military ties, the U.S. transferred six patrol boats to the Vietnam Coast Guard last May. The U.S. embassy released a statement, which said, “The handover represented deepening cooperation to maritime law enforcement and humanitarian assistance in Vietnam’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis (5th L) poses for a picture with ASEAN defense leaders after a meeting on the sidelines of the 16th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, June 4, 2017.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis (5th L) poses for a picture with ASEAN defense leaders after a meeting on the sidelines of the 16th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, June 4, 2017.

At the recently concluded Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said during his address to some 500 delegates: “The US can’t accept Chinese actions that impinge on the interests of the international community, undermining the rules-based order that has benefited all countries represented here today including, and especially, China.” He added that while conflict with China is not “inevitable,” the two countries will engage in competition. And that’s where Uncle Sam needs reliable allies to compete with China, which begs the question: Is Vietnam emerging as Uncle Sam’s newest ally in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

 

ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas

Pantaleon-AlvarezPower corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. This tenet has never been more evident than in the recent actions by the House of Representatives led by its Speaker, Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, who threatened to abolish the Court of Appeals because it ordered the House to release six officials of the Ilocos Norte provincial government, who were cited for contempt and detained inside the confines of the chamber.

The six senior Ilocos Norte officials were cited for contempt for failing to answer questions in connection with the House inquiry into the alleged misuse of tobacco funds in the province. Some of the provincial officials said they could not remember the transaction in question while some apparently gave answers that were not to the liking of House Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas, a former Marcos ally who is now in a feud with the Marcoses in Ilocos Norte.

Farinas is in his last term as Ilocos congressman and is expected to challenge the Marcos anointed in the 2019 local elections. Gov. Imee Marcos is also in her last term as governor.

The six Ilocos officials went to the Court of Appeals and sought protection under the writ of habeas of corpus, which empowers the court to order an institution holding the petitioners to present them. The appellate court granted them the writ and ordered their provisional release on a P30,000 bail.

Alvarez, obviously blinded by his newfound power, went ballistic. Alvarez said he would defy the court and the House has not released the six as of this writing. Fariñas said the CA could not infringe on the constitutional power of Congress to cite errant resource persons for contempt.

Alvarez, mimicking the tough talk of his friend President Duterte, told reporters: “That’s gross ignorance of the law. Mga gago yang tatlong justices na yan!” Alvarez said, referring to the justices who issued the order. In different interviews, Alvarez also called the three justices “idiots,” “rotten,” and “crazy.” In debates and discourses, name-calling has been known to show signs of inferior argument or an inability to present solid arguments.

Two days later, Alvarez dropped another bomb on the appeals court, threatening to abolish the court or reducing its budget to one peso, which would effectively shut it down, and insisted that the court had no authority to compel the House to release the so-called “Ilocos Six.”

“The CA is not even our co-equal branch. It is merely a creation of Congress. It exists because it was created by Congress,” Alvarez told a radio interview. “The CA justices had better start thinking because any time, we can dissolve the CA.” If this is not a threat, I don’t know what is.

This is simply a case of bullying by the country’s fourth highest ranking official, who has shown his brute arrogance in many instances in the past. When his girlfriend had a spat with the girlfriend of another congressman, fellow Davaoeño and former friend Rep. Tony Floirendo, Alvarez threatened to scrap the 40-year-old joint venture agreement between the Bureau of Corrections and the Floirendo-owned Tagum Agricultural Development Co., Inc.

Earlier, Alvarez threatened all members of the administration coalition to vote in favor of the death penalty bill or face expulsion from their committee chairmanship and memberships. Akong his victim was former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who was stripped of her functions as a deputy speaker.

Just recently, Alvarez threatened to disobey the Supreme Court if if ordered a joint session of Congress to review Duterte’s martial law declaration.

“They [the SC justices] do not have the right to dictate on Congress what we should do,” he said, citing separation of powers among the three branches of government. “Punitin ko yan [I will tear it up]!” he said, if the tribunal makes such a decision. Preempting the President, Alvarez also said martial law should be extended until the end of Duterte’s term in 2022.

Alvarez was echoing a similar threat by the President, who said: “Until the police and the Armed Forces say the Philippines is safe, this martial law will continue. I will not listen to others. The Supreme Court, Congress, they are not here.” Malacanang spokesmen, however, again backtracked for Duterte, saying that the President would honor any SC decision on martial law.

Congress has used its power of the purse in the past to threaten agencies under the executive department, but this time Alvarez and Farinas are challenging a court order and are in clear defiance of the law. Rather than challenging the court order before the Supreme Court – if they really believe that the appeals court is abusing its authority – Alvarez and Farinas decided to use their vast legislative powers to compel the CA to reverse its order.

Still not content with threatening to abolish the second highest court of the land, the House dynamic duo decided they would move to disbar the three CA justices who issued the order. On Monday, Farinas said 180 members of the House of Representatives have signed a draft resolution asking the Supreme Court to disbar the three justices of the Court of Appeals’ Special Fourth Division for “ignorance of the law and abuse of authority.”

Albeit with questionable intent, Farinas has at least decided to go before the Supreme Court to settle the issue. The Constitution vests the courts the power to issue the writ of habeas corpus precisely to ensure that no government official or entity would abuse its authority to detain individuals. It is a vital element of democracy to check abuse by the people who wield power.

The appellate court was merely enforcing the Rule of Law, which ordains that, in the words of San Beda Graduate of School Law Dean Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, “when a citizen is detained, jailed or otherwise deprived of significant and fundamental liberties, he may turn to the courts and ask them to inquire into the legality of the power that restrains him.”

The CA action should not be interpreted as an affront to Congress. The Constitution dictates that a court can order Congress or any instrumentality of government to present the petitioners and explain why they are being detained. Similarly, Congress can summon court officials to appear before its hearings or reduce the judiciary’s budget if it feels that such funding is not merited. This is how democracy works.

Separation of powers was embedded in the Constitution to ensure that none of the three branches of government – the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary – would abuse their powers and are working within the bounds of the law and the Constitution.

Simply, it is dictated by the rule of law, of which our new set of leaders in both Malacanang and Congress seem to have shown disregard and disrespect. Without the rule of law, the country could easily slip to anarchy or tyranny. But being a lawyer, I’m sure Alvarez knows that.

(valabelgas@aol.com)

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Page 1 of 3

ON DISTANT SHORE

By Val G. Abelgas

06/19/17

The mighty Speaker

Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. This tenet has never been more

evident than in the recent actions by the House of Representatives led by its Speaker, Rep.

Pantaleon Alvarez, who threatened to abolish the Court of Appeals because it ordered the

House to release six officials of the Ilocos Norte provincial government, who were cited for

contempt and detained inside the confines of the chamber.

The six senior Ilocos Norte officials were cited for contempt for failing to answer questions

in connection with the House inquiry into the alleged misuse of tobacco funds in the

province. Some of the provincial officials said they could not remember the transaction in

question while some apparently gave answers that were not to the liking of House Majority

Leader Rodolfo Farinas, a former Marcos ally who is now in a feud with the Marcoses in

Ilocos Norte.

Farinas is in his last term as Ilocos congressman and is expected to challenge the Marcos

anointed in the 2019 local elections. Gov. Imee Marcos is also in her last term as governor.

The six Ilocos officials went to the Court of Appeals and sought protection under the writ of

habeas of corpus, which empowers the court to order an institution holding the petitioners

to present them. The appellate court granted them the writ and ordered their provisional

release on a P30,000 bail.

Alvarez, obviously blinded by his newfound power, went ballistic. Alvarez said he would

defy the court and the House has not released the six as of this writing. Fariñas said the CA

could not infringe on the constitutional power of Congress to cite errant resource persons

for contempt.

Alvarez, mimicking the tough talk of his friend President Duterte, told reporters: “That’s

gross ignorance of the law. Mga gago yang tatlong justices na yan!” Alvarez said, referring

to the justices who issued the order. In different interviews, Alvarez also called the three

justices “idiots,” “rotten,” and “crazy.” In debates and discourses, name-calling has been

known to show signs of inferior argument or an inability to present solid arguments.

Two days later, Alvarez dropped another bomb on the appeals court, threatening to abolish

the court or reducing its budget to one peso, which would effectively shut it down, and

insisted that the court had no authority to compel the House to release the so-called “Ilocos

Six.”

“The CA is not even our co-equal branch. It is merely a creation of Congress. It exists
Page 2 of 3

because it was created by Congress,” Alvarez told a radio interview. “The CA justices had

better start thinking because any time, we can dissolve the CA.” If this is not a threat, I don’t

know what is.

This is simply a case of bullying by the country’s fourth highest ranking official, who has

shown his brute arrogance in many instances in the past. When his girlfriend had a spat

with the girlfriend of another congressman, fellow Davaoeño and former friend Rep. Tony

Floirendo, Alvarez threatened to scrap the 40-year- old joint venture agreement between

the Bureau of Corrections and the Floirendo-owned Tagum Agricultural Development Co.,

Inc.

Earlier, Alvarez threatened all members of the administration coalition to vote in favor of

the death penalty bill or face expulsion from their committee chairmanship and

memberships. Akong his victim was former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria

Macapagal Arroyo who was stripped of her functions as a deputy speaker.

Just recently, Alvarez threatened to disobey the Supreme Court if if ordered a joint session

of Congress to review Duterte’s martial law declaration.

“They [the SC justices] do not have the right to dictate on Congress what we should do,” he

said, citing separation of powers among the three branches of government. “Punitin ko yan

[I will tear it up]!” he said, if the tribunal makes such a decision. Preempting the President,

Alvarez also said martial law should be extended until the end of Duterte’s term in 2022.

Alvarez was echoing a similar threat by the President, who said: “Until the police and the

Armed Forces say the Philippines is safe, this martial law will continue. I will not listen to

others. The Supreme Court, Congress, they are not here.” Malacanang spokesmen, however,

again backtracked for Duterte, saying that the President would honor any SC decision on

martial law.

Congress has used its power of the purse in the past to threaten agencies under the

executive department, but this time Alvarez and Farinas are challenging a court order and

are in clear defiance of the law. Rather than challenging the court order before the Supreme

Court – if they really believe that the appeals court is abusing its authority – Alvarez and

Farinas decided to use their vast legislative powers to compel the CA to reverse its order.

Still not content with threatening to abolish the second highest court of the land, the House

dynamic duo decided they would move to disbar the three CA justices who issued the

order. On Monday, Farinas said 180 members of the House of Representatives have signed

a draft resolution asking the Supreme Court to disbar the three justices of the Court of

Appeals’ Special Fourth Division for “ignorance of the law and abuse of authority.”

Albeit with questionable intent, Farinas has at least decided to go before the Supreme Court

to settle the issue. The Constitution vests the courts the power to issue the writ of habeas

corpus precisely to ensure that no government official or entity would abuse its authority

to detain individuals. It is a vital element of democracy to check abuse by the people who
Page 3 of 3

wield power.

The appellate court was merely enforcing the Rule of Law, which ordains that, in the words

of San Beda Graduate of School Law Dean Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, “when a citizen is detained,

jailed or otherwise deprived of significant and fundamental liberties, he may turn to the

courts and ask them to inquire into the legality of the power that restrains him.”

The CA action should not be interpreted as an affront to Congress. The Constitution dictates

that a court can order Congress or any instrumentality of government to present the

petitioners and explain why they are being detained. Similarly, Congress can summon court

officials to appear before its hearings or reduce the judiciary’s budget if it feels that such

funding is not merited. This is how democracy works.

Separation of powers was embedded in the Constitution to ensure that none of the three

branches of government – the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary – would abuse their

powers and are working within the bounds of the law and the Constitution.

Simply, it is dictated by the rule of law, of which our new set of leaders in both Malacanang

and Congress seem to have shown disregard and disrespect. Without the rule of law, the

country could easily slip to anarchy or tyranny. But being a lawyer, I’m sure Alvarez knows

that.

(valabelgas@aol.com)
house feud with appeals court.docx
Page 3 of 3

ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas

Trump-speakingIn an apparent attempt to please his voter base, President Donald Trump pulled out the United States from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and turned America from the leader of the free world to a potential pariah in the global community, particularly in the field of climate change.

Trump has been found lacking by many of his supporters in many of his campaign promises, and this time he was determined to please his shrinking stream of supporters, never mind what his action would do to the future of this country and that of the entire planet.

He has promised change and although he vows to “make America great again,” with the changes he has been proposing, the only thing consistent with his proposed changes is that they all seek to reverse the policies and programs that former President Obama has instituted in his eight years in office.

In pursuit of his “America First” policy, he pulled out of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that would establish a free trade zone among 12 Pacific nations, threatened to pull out of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with neighbors Canada and Mexico, threatened to withdraw financial support to and refused to affirm the mutual defense provision of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and is considering reducing American commitment to the United Nations.

Foreign relations expert Max Boot wrote in a Los Angeles Times article that Trump’s isolationist policy is actually a “me-first policy.” Boot said Trump sees every international treaty as a racket and every alliance as a rip-off. “But by destroying the foundations of the international order that the U.S. built, he risks destroying the unprecedented power and wealth we have accumulated since 1945,” Boot wrote.

He added: “If the U.S. pursues a “me first” policy, then every country in the world will do the same — and the result will be international lawlessness. Predatory states such as Iran, Russia and China will do well in the resulting chaos, while our allies — if we have any left — will suffer.”

All Trump’s moves, as pointed out by another political analyst, were meant to portray him as a leader who is “standing up for Americans against the world,” which makes his comparisons with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte even more compelling. Duterte has also questioned the effectivity of the UN, slammed the European Union, threatened to sever ties with the US, and in the firs month of his term, said his government would not honor the Paris Agreement for the very same reasons Trump opposed it.

Duterte called the landmark climate change accord “stupid” and “absurd” because, he said, it was unfair that developed nations who caused much of the current level of global warning would now want developing countries such as the Philippines to contain their carbon emissions to certain levels.

“We have not reached the age of industrialization. We’re now going into it. But you are trying to stymie (our growth) with an agreement that says you can only go up to here,” he continued. “That’s stupid. I will not honor that.”

When an unnamed ambassador reminded him that the Philippines was a signatory to the agreement, Duterte replied: “That was not my signature. It’s not mine.”

To his credit, Duterte eventually listened to reason, signed the agreement and sent the document to the Senate last March, which ratified it unanimously within a few days, preventing the Philippines from becoming one of only three nations to reject the Paris accord, which has been signed and ratified by 195 nations, which all agreed to curb greenhouse gas emissions to limit the impact of global change on the planet.

The only two other countries to reject it are Nicaragua, which wanted a stronger commitment to curb carbon emissions, and Syria, which is torn by civil strife and couldn’t worry about climate change at this time.

And now, the United States, which accounts for about 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions next only to China’s 30 percent, has become the third nation to refuse to cooperate with the entire world to save the planet and make it more livable for future generations. Based on cumulative emissions since 1850, the United States is first with 29 percent of the total, then the EU with 27 percent, and finally China and Russia with eight percent each.

These science facts make it even more compelling for the United States to take the responsibility to lead, or at least join the global movement to curb carbon emissions and slow down global warming.

In rejecting the agreement, Trump said: “The Paris climate accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers…and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.”

But economists and political analysts said that leaving the accord will neither bring back jobs nor help the taxpayer, but will instead hurt the United States and the world.

Trump insists, as he had declared of other treaties, trade agreements and alliances from which he has or has threatened to pull out, that the Paris accord is unfair to the US. Political observers point out that the agreement is non-binding and that each signatory country is allowed to determine its own target level of reduction in carbon emissions. How can it be unfair?

Instead of totally withdrawing from the accord, all Trump had to do was reduce the target set by Obama, who pledged to cut carbon emissions in the US by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. In fact, Trump had already started the process of reducing this target through an executive order he signed in March, which according to a study, would lower the reductions to just 15 to 19 percent from the 2005 levels by 2025. Why pull out from the accord then?

Trump claims that Americans have lost jobs and the US economy has suffered because of stringent environmental regulations over the past years. But economic data have shown that in the past several years the coal mining industry has created only 70 jobs compared to, for example, the solar energy sector which now employs twice as much as the coal industry. On the contrary, the renewable energy sector has been seen as a major contributor to the US economy.

Trump said he had to withdraw from the Paris accord “in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens.” But the President was only protecting the interest of a few coal miners that, like him, blame what US Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruit ironically calls “climate exaggerators.”

Trump can’t claim to protect the interest of the American people because, unlike him who said during the campaign that climate change was a hoax, according to a Gallup poll nearly two-thirds of Americans are worried about climate change and according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, almost 70 percent of Americans wanted to stay in the agreement, including half of Trump voters.

Big businesses affected by carbon emission reductions, including PG&E, National Grid, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon-Mobil, BP, Shell, General Motors, General Electric and even some of the largest coal producers, such as Arch Coal, Cloud Peak Energy, and Peabody Energy, informed the president that they wanted the United States to stay in the agreement. But he just wouldn’t listen.

Almost everybody who were affected by recent weather disturbances all over the world are one in saying they have not experienced such storms and blizzards in years, and yet some are unable to relate these to global warming.

In March 2009, the world’s foremost experts on global warming gathered in an emergency meeting in Copenhagen to warn politicians to act now to minimize the impact of what they described could be ‘irreversible’ climate shifts and hopefully save a world that they said was “on the brink.”

The scientists were concerned that any significant delay in reducing emissions would lead to “a range of tipping points” that would make it significantly more difficult to reduce greenhouse gas levels.

The 2,500 scientists from 80 countries who attended the conference warned in their statement: “There is no excuse for inaction.”
Trump just wouldn’t listen.

(valabelgas@aol.com)

 

 By Erick San Juan

Gas-HydrateChina has for the first time extracted gas from an ice-like substance under the South China Sea considered key to future global energy supply.

Chinese authorities have described the success as a major breakthrough.

Methane hydrates, also called “flammable ice”, hold vast reserves of natural gas.  Many countries including the US and Japan are working on how to tap those reserves, but mining and extracting are extremely difficult.

The element, a kind of natural gas hydrate, was discovered in the area in 2007, but this is the first time the country is able to successfully extract combustible ice from the seabed, in a single, continuous operation on a floating production platform in the Shenhu area of the South China Sea, about 300km southeast of Hong Kong, state-run Xinhua news agency reports.”

Methane hydrate global sources are estimated to exceed the combined energy content of all other fossil fuels.”

Estimates of the South China Sea’s methane hydrate potential now range as high as 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas equivalent, sufficient to satisfy China’s entire equivalent oil consumption for 50 years.

The commercial production of methane hydrate would reduce China’s dependence on energy imports, which accounts for nearly 60% of its crude oil needs, making it the world’s No. 2 importer by volume, after the U.S.

Methane hydrate will also aid China’s efforts to shift to natural gas from coal, which accounts for nearly 70% of its primary-energy consumption, which has caused harmful pollution to China’s cities.

China’s discovery of methane hydrates off the coasts of Vietnam and the Philippines is what has prompted China to aggressively pursue the occupation of Philippine and Vietnamese shoals and their conversion to artificial islands in order to safely conduct its exploration and production of methane hydrate.

This explains China’s placement of an oil rig platform off the coast of Vietnam which triggered international showdowns with Vietnam.

The Recto Bank (Reed Bank) area located only 50 miles west of the Philippine island of Palawan is considered a methane hydrate honey pot. The Philippines estimates that the Sampaguita Field within Recto Bank may also hold large deposits of natural gas equivalents in the form of methane hydrates. (Source: Rodel Rodis, Why China will declare war if PH drills for oil)

Now that the question was answered on the real intention of China in the disputed area in the South China Sea especially on our territories, there is no doubt that what China’s soft power approach now with our President is part and parcel of China’s ‘looting’ of our mineral resources.

The threat of war is real because China has already succeeded in extracting methane hydrates (flammable ice) in the SCS and if we will conduct our own oil exploration and extraction, we will disrupt their flammable ice operation in the process.

With our domestic problems on terrorism and the war on drugs, China easily extended help with these two problems. We all know that President Duterte has somewhat gave up on our claim in the disputed areas in the SCS by saying that there is no point of going to war if we are establishing friendship with China. In effect we are allowing the extraction of this mineral by China without doing anything. And not even a joint project? Where is the so called bilateral talks towards bilateral agreement to peaceful resolution of the territorial dispute? Are we taken for a ride here with our full consent? Just asking? Pres. Rody Duterte should be very careful with his discreet plan of action ‘coz so many international think tanks are watching and studying his ‘chess game’. One example is the perception that a China inspired revolutionary government was sabotaged by international terrorist organuzation, ISIS.

According to Solgen Jose Calida, Pres. Duterte knew about the plan of the Maute group to attack Marawi. It jibes with my info of a bigger plan of terrorism which could affect the nation.

Even before Pres. Duterte left for his China trip, I alerted him through Sec. Bong Go, NSA Sec. Jun Esperon and other cabinet secretary friends to make sure that my assessment will reach him. I told all of them to reactivate the ‘Situation Room’ so PRD can preempt any possible threat and mishief.

This plan had been successful during the time of former Pres. Fidel Ramos because of former NSA Joe Almonte’s appreciation of strategic intelligence. Any one who knows me and internet information about me will prove me right. Maybe they thought all the while that I was just scare mongering.

Before Duterte left for Russia, he only secured Davao city by putting additional military contingent there. He even brought his top level officials to Moscow and let Budget Sec. Ben Diokno as his caretaker head.

When the Maute siege started, Pres. Duterte knew that the Maute’s plan is real and immediately returned to Davao. Despite his statement of giving timetable to finish the Maute’s it all failed due to the support of the ISIS to the Maute group.

Good thing that DND Sec. Delfin Lorenzana seeked the assistance of the US forces in fighting the real enemy, the ISIS. Despite the noise of the pro-Beijing left, now is the ripe time that the US can prove them wrong by finishing the ISIS terror group before a spill over can reach Metro Manila which could fully destroy Duterte’s sdministration.

There are so many Filipino experts who can be of help. We have to swallow our pride once and for all and tap them for our nation’s sake.

This is a matter of sovereignty, we are in a dire strait and we need an immediate solution to this problem. Many soldiers and people died. We have to remind the president that his nationalism is now being tested. We dont even have to give up our mineral resources to anyone, its for our country’s future generations. There are other ways than going to war to assert our rights to our resources, there is still time to find solutions to such predicaments.

As Filipinos, this is the right time to do action and unite. Let us help our President, our nation. God bless our country.

GLIMPSES
By Jose Ma. Montelibano

Duterte-and-Ano-Marawi-crisisFor a while, for a few days, I felt apprehension. A President does not disappear from the public scene on the country’s Independence Day, and continue his disappearance with a raging battle in Marawi. The pathetic attempts to explain his absence by some of the officials closest to him only served to provoke new questions instead of answering any. On the fourth day of his public absence, I went on my Facebook blog page and asked, “Where is the President?”

That the President is suffering from some illness has long been admitted by him. Just exactly what is ailing him is unconfirmed, but his steady public appearances always assured me that the President is well enough to perform his duties. It would take a very active and focused President to confront the deadly drug menace, negotiate peace with Muslims and communist rebels, and dramatically dismantle the roots causes of poverty. At the same time, The President is 72 years old. Any senior citizen accepts that the odds are against him or her as the average life span of a Filipino is only around 70 years old.

It is unexplained absence from official and public functions that alarms me more than the absence itself. The truth may be hard to accept but the imagination can be even more frightful. People speculate because they have reason to, and inept explanations push people to speculate even more. At one point, it seemed to me that health was less of a bad issue than ineffective communications. I almost fell of my chair when I read that the Secretary of Justice accused anti-Duterte partisans of wanting to destabilize the administration. What was truly destabilizing was the inability of government spokespersons to give credible explanations. The more they tried to say nothing was wrong made me believe something was very wrong.

Fortunately, the President appeared in Agusan after five and a half days. It was a great relief to see the Chief Executive visibly leading a whole administration in serving the public. The day to day requirements of executive leadership is difficult enough but some days are worse than others – as today is. There is a siege in a major city and there is martial law in Mindanao. These situations demand the presence of the highest leadership yet neither the Senate President, the Speaker of the House or the Chief Justice was questioning a most unusual absence by the Commander-in-Chief. It was an eerie silence made more eerie by statements like “the President is only resting.”

As far as Cabinet members are convened, there is little to be concerned about beyond one’s attachment to one’s position. The Constitution has a ready protocol that is automatically triggered when any President dies, is incapacitated or impeached. While most undesirable, the fact is that everything does come to an end, whether it is a term of office or life itself. That is why the laws of the land anticipate the mortality or the temporary state of things and still assure as smooth a continuance of service as possible. What matters is that the Filipino people and nation live on – and they will as Presidents come and go, as Cabinet members come and go. Even bureaucrats stay longer with many civil service career people calling themselves permanent and regarding politicians and political appointees as temporary hires.

In about a week’s time, the President and his administration would be marking the end of their first year in office. It is a good moment to reflect on what has been done, and what else needs urgently to be done in their second year. The good health of the President is important, but more important is his capacity to serve despite whatever illness. Presidential leadership is more crucial than presidential health. Many presidents have served with sicknesses or disabilities, but the people see them and know their leader is actively leading. Unexplained absence generates concern, then panic when extended.

The President is a senior citizen, and the President by his own admission is not in the pink of health – as is normal for people his age. But whatever doubts people may have about his ability to perform his duties is neutralized by his presence. President Duterte, from the beginning of his campaign up to today, is one of the most covered by media, traditional and social. No one in the Philippines is more the center of attention for over one year. Any absence by him is not the same as the absence of any other personality because an attention cult has been built around him by traditional and social media.

The reality is people get sick, and older people do get sick more. Ask the health insurance industry because most of them will not cover people who are 70 years old or over. If they do, they impose not only higher premiums but only stiffer conditions. The President had never tried to hide his physical frailty or the fact that he can go anytime. This issue was already part of the campaign strategy of those who were partisans for others. Yet, people voted for him more than they did for anybody else healthier than him. In other words, people knew yet they took the risk. It is too late to paint the President as in the pink of health.

As much as the President is expected to try to take care of himself as best he can, as best as his doctors can, the greater challenge might be on how his key people, those personalities close to him who would know or should know about unusual presidential absences, will communicate to the rest of us. It can be that the greater problem is communication, not health. In a world now aggressively wired by technology and all sorts of media, communication is central.

It is very Filipino for family and friends to pray for one another when difficult times come. When the President’s health is severely challenged from time to time, the Filipino people must be allowed to pray for him.

Read more: http://opinion.inquirer.net/105001/a-communications-issue#ixzz4ks3h1hsO
Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

Reflections
By Fr. Shay Cullen
PREDA Foundation

Preda Home for Girls.

Preda Home for Girls.

The desire and longing to be a free and fully human is perhaps the deepest and strongest need of every person. It seems all creatures want freedom. Birds want freedom to fly from a cage, beasts to roam the land, monkeys to swing in the trees of the forest, fish to swim in the seas.

Humans want to be free to walk the earth without chains, guards, and fear in the power and custody of others. Personal freedom to speak the truth to power and political freedom are among the most important of all human freedoms.

What is it that makes us a human being I often ask the college students who come to study college-level psychology, social work and other subjects in their practicum internship at the Preda Foundation.

They come from many countries in Europe, from Canada, Japan, the Philippines and USA. I ask them to answer that basic question. “Tell me in a few words, the attributes of the human person that set us apart from the other animals and makes us uniquely human.” I ask that just to help us focus on whom and what we are. I am amazed as I am frequently met with embarrassed silence. What do you think makes us humans?

Well, the children at the Preda Home for Girls, ages 6 to 16 years, are pretty smart and they will raise their hands and speak up and they have true answers to the question. And that knowledge is what encourages and inspires them to be strong, resilient, brave and courageous in facing up and dealing with the most horrific thing that could happen to them- child rape and acts of sexual abuse.

Society has always unrated children, denied them their rights and dignity and used, enslaved and physically and sexually abused them as if they were not human. Many people do not see children, especially those not their own, as having rights especially the poor, skinny, malnourished and sickly children of the streets, those in prison as equally human. That’s why so many are left to go hungry, uneducated and die of diseases before they reach ten years old.

In the Philippines, the Secretary of Justice justified the killing of the youth on mere suspicion of wrong-doing because they were “not humanity,” he said. Therefore there could be no crime against humanity if they were summarily executed. I wonder if that argument would hold up in the International Criminal Court one day.

The amazing fact seems to be emerging of a Catholic country that has lost it Christianity. Archbishop Socrates Villegas says many Filipino “Catholics” love the trappings and processions and outward devotions of Catholicism but he worries profoundly about what lies underneath the surface. They say they are Catholic but are they Christian is what the archbishop seems to ask.

In asking how Catholic they are, the outspoken Archbishop has said that they “declare faith, but agree that drug addicts should be shot… and many approve corruption in government.” (See the full report on the Sunday Examiner 30 April 2017 and www.preda.org) The outspoken bishops are attacked online by thousands of critics. “When we speak, they want us muted, when we oppose they want us maimed, when we stand for life they want us dead,” he said. Sad to say many bishops don’t know what it is to be fully human and as a result they fail to act for justice and truth and gospel values.

Many have been silent so long they are now dumb. Fear is a powerful weapon. But the children, even when they are threatened even by death, they find the courage to speak out. When given the freedom, protection and empowerment they need they can speak out for justice and truth especially when they are the victims of injustice, rape and abuse.

The childhood of Anna Darling, 15, was taken away by a male pedophile known and approved to her mother and together they conspired to have Anna Darling made a sex slave with threats of killing her if she told. The fear kept her silent. She had nowhere to run to. Yet, the pain became unbearable and eventually she found a woman she trusted that listened to her and believed her and Anna Darling told her story.

She was rescued and after months in therapy at the Preda home with 42 other abused children, she began to heal. Soon she was ready and bravely asked to be able to testify against her abusers. The case is now in court and justice, we hope, will be done and be seen to be done.

Anna Darling discovered and believed that she has human rights, profound dignity, equality before God, that she was a child and the most important in the Kingdom of God and had civil and legal rights. She was empowered and overcame her fear. She learned too that her humanity is based on having reason and the ability to think for herself, to have knowledge of right and wrong and to have free will to choose the right over the wrong. She also found that she has the unique human ability to communicate and speak out the truth and to love others.

Anna Darling 15 used all five attributes of humanity to get justice. What a girl! If we could all be more reasonable, be actively thinking, knowing, choosing right over wrong, good over bad, truth over falsehood, speaking out and loving our neighbor what a different world we would live in.

shaycullen@gmail.com
www.preda.org.

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Three U.S. supercarrier battle groups sail in formation.

Three U.S. supercarrier battle groups sail in formation.

In my column, China’s gunboat diplomacy” (July 19, 2012), I wrote: “ ‘China frigate leaves shoal: [Malacañang] Palace happy,’ said a huge electronic billboard, which I saw on the way to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to catch a plane home last July 16, 2012. The news of a grounded guided missile Chinese frigate near Half Moon Shoal (Hasa-Hasa Shoal) in the Spratly archipelago, 69 miles west of Palawan, raised the tension level between the Philippines and China ever since the latter declared the entire West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) an extension of her territorial continental shelf in 2010. And China made it crystal clear that this vast body of water — rich in oil and natural gas deposits — is a ‘core national interest,’ which in diplomatic parlance means ‘non-negotiable.’

“And to make sure that everybody — including the United States — knows that she is serious about her stand on the issue, China is building a naval force that would make her the dominant sea power in Asia-Pacific by 2020. And to let everybody know that she means business, she acquired an old aircraft carrier from Russia and retrofitted it with state-of-the-art technology and is now undergoing sea trials.”

Floating airbases

New supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford.

New supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford.

With 10 operational supercarriers and a new one — the USS Gerald R. Ford — joining the fleet in a few months, that means that the U.S. could deploy up to six carrier battle groups to cover the entire Indo-Asia-Pacific region. In addition to these supercarriers, the U.S. has nine amphibious assault ships that are more like aircraft carriers on a smaller scale.

Although China is way behind in her aircraft carrier-building program, she has now two carriers. The first one, a refurbished Cold War-era Russian carrier, is barely operational and the second – which was her first to build indigenously — is currently undergoing sea trials before she’s commissioned for deployment. With a 10 to one ratio in favor of the U.S., the Chinese Navy wouldn’t stand a chance against America’s large fleet of supercarriers.

USS Langley (CV-1), the first aircraft carrier built in 1920.

USS Langley (CV-1), the first aircraft carrier built in 1920.

Ever since the U.S. converted the collier USS Jupiter into an aircraft carrier — the USS Langley (CV-1) — in 1920, the U.S. became the world’s dominant naval power because of her ability to deploy aircraft to these floating airbases at sea. Consequently, two more colliers were converted into aircraft carriers. After that, the U.S. built six brand-new aircraft carriers. By the time World War II erupted, America had the naval advantage no other world power had.

Big Stick ideology

Big Stick ideology.

Big Stick ideology.

With the capability to project air power in the high seas, the U.S. pursued her foreign policy objectives with what had come to be known as “gunboat diplomacy” or “Big Stick ideology.” In other words, the conspicuous display of naval power anywhere in the world implies a direct threat of warfare, which forces another country to agree to terms America demands.

In World War II, the U.S. was able to defeat the Japanese naval forces in the Pacific because of the use of aircraft carriers. Had Japan destroyed America’s aircraft carrier fleet based at Pearl Harbor in 1942, the outcome of the Pacific war might have been different. Fortunately, due to intelligence reports of an impending Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. moved her entire aircraft carrier fleet out of harm’s way into the open sea.

During the Cold War, the U.S. started building large nuclear-powered aircraft carriers that came to be known as “supercarriers.” Following the new 100,000-ton Gerald R. Ford-class (CVN-78) of supercarriers, two others — the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) and USS Enterprise (CVN-80) — are in various stages of construction.

Clinton’s gunboat diplomacy

Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan Strait.

On July 21, 1995, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) triggered what is called the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis. That was when she fired a series of missile “tests” in the waters surrounding the Republic of China (ROC) – commonly known as Taiwan. It was believed that the first set of missiles was intended to send a “strong signal” to the Lee Teng-hui’s government, who was perceived as moving the ROC’s foreign policy away from the “One-China Policy.” The second set of missiles was fired in early 1996. It was believed that it was intended to intimidate the Taiwanese voters in the run-up of the 1996 presidential election.

In March 1996, with the threat of PRC invasion, President Bill Clinton ordered the deployment of two supercarrier battle groups – the USS Nimitz and USS Independence – to the region. The Nimitz and the amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood daringly sailed through the Taiwan Strait, the narrow channel that separates the PRC from Taiwan. Unable to respond to the Nimitz’s “provocation,” the PRC realized then that she couldn’t stop the U.S. from coming to the aid of Taiwan, and the PRC humiliatingly backed off.

Since then, the PRC embarked on a massive build-up of her naval forces. But today, she is still short of catching up to America’s naval prowess. However, with more than a thousand land-based missiles deployed along China’s coast facing Taiwan, China might be bold enough to respond next time the U.S. deploys a carrier battle group to the Taiwan Strait.

North Korea problem

North Korea launches multiple test missiles.

North Korea launches multiple test missiles.

Recently, North Korea took a big step in the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). She is also believed to possess of more than a dozen nuclear warheads that can be delivered by ICBMs, which would make the U.S. vulnerable to North Korean nuclear attack. It couldn’t be ascertained if they’re already operational. However, at the rate North Korea has been conducting missile tests, which seem to be successful, it would just be a matter of time before she becomes a threat to America’s security.

Sea of Japan.

Sea of Japan.

In a move reminiscent of the 1995-1996 Taiwan Crisis, the Trump administration deployed two carrier battle groups – the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson — to the Sea of Japan, which is within striking distance of North Korea.

In addition to the two battle groups, the USS Nimitz has been ordered to deploy to the Western Pacific to join the other two carrier battle groups. The deployment of Nimitz marks a rare situation, when a total of three carrier battle groups are simultaneously deployed in one region. Some analysts say that the Nimitz’s deployment might be a “special contingency plan.” With four to five guided missile cruisers and destroyers and one or two nuclear attack submarines accompanying each supercarrier, the large assemblage of naval assets in a theater of operations has never been bigger since the end of World War II.

There has been a lot of speculation about what’s in President Donald Trump’s mind when he allowed three carrier battle groups to converge in waters near North Korea. In a recent telephone conversation between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Trump told Duterte: “We have two submarines — the best in the world. We have two nuclear submarines, not that we want to use them at all.” In response to news report of their conversation, North Korean officials said that their country was ready for nuclear attacks in the event of “U.S. military aggression.”

With the White House loaded with retired military generals whom Trump has given a lot of latitude to decide what military action to take when the need arises, there are two ways this situation could lead to. One would be to use the template of Clinton’s “gunboat diplomacy” during the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis that could compel North Korea to back off and sue for peace. If that is going to happen, then Trump’s “gunboat diplomacy” works. However, if North Korea fights back with a nuclear attack on South Korea, then all hell breaks loose!

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Chinese oil rigs in the South China Sea.

Chinese oil rigs in the South China Sea.

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?

 Presidents Rodrigo Duterte and Xi Jinping shake hands during Duterte’s China state visit.

Presidents Rodrigo Duterte and Xi Jinping shake hands during Duterte’s China state visit.

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

“China threatened war over sea dispute.” - Duterte.

“China threatened war over sea dispute.” – Duterte.

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!

Retreat

Nine-dash line.

Nine-dash line.

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”

 Vice-Presidential candidate Alan Peter Cayetano and Presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte during the campaign.

Vice-Presidential candidate Alan Peter Cayetano and Presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte during the campaign.

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

Gas Hydrate or "Flammable ice."

Gas Hydrate or “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.

How methane hydrates are formed?

How methane hydrates are formed?

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.

 Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

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)