TURNING POINT: Repetitive Response to Repetitive Aggression

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 23 March) – The Chinese are doing it time and again.

Steeled and assured protection by their country’s maritime militia that nonchalantly roam the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Illegal Chinese fishers pouched without any qualm  the priced coral reef resources in the area leaving behind in their wake massive destruction of the reefs and the utter degradation of the marine environment. The giant clam, tridacna gigas, grown in Panatag shoal by Filipino marine scientists have not been spared by the looting.

Chinese coast guards stop Filipino fishers of Zambales from entering the Panatag shoal, their traditional fishing ground, shooing them away with water cannons, but on occasions would board their fishing boats and commandeered their catch.

Chinese research or survey vessels also move around Philippine waters without any arrangement or permission from rightful authorities of the country.

The first aircraft carrier of China had been monitored to have passed the Sibutu Strait without due notice. Nine more warships had also passed in said channel in Tawi-Tawi, as well as in Balabac Strait in Palawan without clearance from the Philippine government.

Many of these violations of our territorial sovereignty happened during the last four years of the Duterte government that has established cozy relations with Communist China.

Diplomatic protest had been filed almost after every violation. But after a little while the violation of our territorial sovereignty is repeated all over again and becoming more aggressive every time.

For instance, it is still very fresh in our memory, that late last year the Department of Foreign Affairs lodged a protest with the Chinese government over the swarming of 110 fishing and survey vessels and maritime militia in Pag-asa island on December 7, 2020.

And then just three months after the Pag-asa incident or on March 7, 2021, 220 Chinese naval ships were again sighted by the Philippine Coast Guards moored in imperious formation at the Julian Felipe Reef, also called Whitsun Reef, within the country’s EEZ, some 320 km west of Palawan Island.

It’s difficult to suppress the suspicion that, this time around, the Chinese were  exploiting the euphoria of gratitude the national leadership was still basking over their donated Sinovac vaccine that arrived in the country three weeks ago, thinking perhaps that a grateful people would not be that sensitive enough as to make an offending response to a benefactor’s little excesses.

Indeed, can this vassal state make a response to such blatant aggression beyond a diplomatic note of protest, which however strong, would simply subside in a sizzle at no time at all?

Anyway, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the country did file on Sunday night, March 21, a diplomatic protest against China over the March 7 Julian Felipe incident.

In a statement that Sunday that prompted the diplomatic protest, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana described the presence of the 220 militia vessels within the country’s EEZ and continental shelf as a “clear provocative action of militarizing the area” and said he viewed their presence in the area with grave concern.

But with a Commander-in-Chief playing a grateful host to Chinese aggression in various forms and approaches, what response would you expect from him?

If the raging and devastating pandemic is but a small thing in our lives, the aggression in WPS may not count anything at all for us.

So as usual, we will hear again from our government the assuaging mantra that it will monitor the situation and “will peacefully and proactively pursue initiatives on environmental protection, food security and freedom of navigation” in the troubled waters.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental)