DESPITE chairing the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit this year, in which he could have led Southeast Asian nations in checking Communist China’s imperialist tendencies as shown in the latter’s encroachments on islands off seas surrounding, the region, especially the West Philippine Sea, President Duterte unsurprisingly played cozy with totalitarian Beijing who was represented in the meeting by no less than by Premier Li Keqiang. In the process, he not only failed to press for the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea, but also failed to advance the interest of the Asean, many of whose members, such as Vietnam, had suffered territorial encroachments by China.
Duterte, who goes on a daily harangue of his pet peeves and those who disagree with him, especially women, cursing them and uttering chauvinistic expletives, was suddenly diplomatic if not silent of Chinese expansionism and militarization in the region. Ang yabang-yabang dahil babae “lang” ang kalaban, pero tiklop at bahag ang buntot naman kapag kaharap ang “machong” Tsina! Duwag pala ang hambog na taga-Davao!
During the opening of the Asean summit last Nov. 13, Duterte emphasized the need to address threats of terrorism and violence in the region, but deliberately made no mention of the West Philippine Sea, the potentially oil-rich maritime space being fought over by countries like China, Vietnam and Indonesia.
In a business conference a day before, Duterte said the country’s territorial dispute with China “is better left untouched. Nobody can afford to go to war. It can ill-afford a violent confrontation.”
While Duterte wants the people to believe that he is all for peaceful diplomacy, it is perhaps Duterte has grown more and more closer to China. It seems that he is willing to forego his own country’s interests to please his precious totalitarian bosses and also to satisfy his totalitarian desires.
China has deliberately ignored claims of the 10-member Asean bloc on the West Philippine Sea and especially ignored the ruling of an international tribunal in The Hague that immensely favored the Philippines.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping insisted that China’s “territorial sovereignty and marine rights” were not affected at all by the international arbitration case and that the ruling was “null and void.”
The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling’s in July 2016 overwhelmingly favored the Philippines and said China has no right to exploit the resources in the disputed island “within the Philippines 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.”
In a statement last Nov. 13, Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar has said Asean leaders and China have agreed to start the talks on a proposed legally-binding regional Code of Conduct in the West Philippine Sea, which aims to promote maritime cooperation among involved parties and prevent conflicting territorial claims to evolve into more complicated disputes.
The spokesman said negotiations will probably begin next year when Singapore takes over the Asean chairmanship from the Philippines, and that leaders want an early conclusion of the code, which has already been on the drawing board for 15 long years.
Last August, Chinese and Asean foreign ministers adopted a negotiating framework for the said code of conduct, which only China took advantage off to strengthen its control over the maritime space.
However, there is no assurance that the code will be finished soon enough as Asean leaders have been slow to arrive at unified decisions. The code may be years away from now when China has fully consolidated its power, and this deficiency of Asean leaders in fast decision making has slowed down headway for the interests of the region. Asean has made no clear progress in recent years while China has been conducting reclamation activities and has seen steady progress in constructing military facilities on reefs and islands on the tensed waters, not to mention installing missiles to bolster its solid claim in the region. Duterte, who even threatened to personally ride a jet-ski to the contested waters to underscore the country’s claim when he was running for elections, has hardly done enough to boost the Philippine’s stance on the matter. In fact, just this month, he ordered the military to halt the construction of hut shelters for Filipino fishermen on sandbars off the coast of Manila-claimed Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea to appease China.
Duterte has again missed an opportunity to defend Philippine—and Asean—interests. And he purposely has done so because he’s Beijing’s lackey: China controls not only the West Philippine Sea but also Malacañang.