Beware the Ides of October

Beware the Ides of October

The generals of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) must be texting each other, saying: “Did you hear what Digong was saying these days? LOL.” Another general would probably respond, “He’s a weakling like Obama. Hahaha… LOLOL.” Another one would probably say, “Well, they both can go to hell so we can take their countries… LMAO.” And President Xi Jinping would probably say, “And he’s willing to give up the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal for a railroad in Mindanao. Well, I think if I asked for Palawan, he’d give it too. Hehehe…” And the generals would all respond, “Long live Xi Dada! Let’s get Luzon, too! ROFLMAO.”

Well, as most of you probably know, LOL is the acronym for “Laughing Out Loud,” LOLOL is for “Lots of Laughing Out Loud,” LMAO is for “Laughing My Ass Off,” and ROFLAO is for “Rolling On Floor Laughing My Ass Off.” These are all Internet slang used in texting messages.

Seriously, we can all make fun of this satirical conversation but it’s not ludicrous at all. The question is: What could possibly make the Chinese generals roll on the floor laughing their asses off? The answer is: Duterte surrendering the Philippines’ territories in the West Philippines Sea to China.

Picture this: After former President Benigno Aquino III had won the arbitration case against China, the new president Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte was telling everybody that he didn’t want to antagonize China and so he ordered that there would be no more patrols beyond the 12-mile boundary. That’s tantamount to surrendering the Philippines’ sovereignty over her Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). He also decided that there would be no more joint military exercises with the U.S. during his presidency. He also told the American Special Forces in Mindanao to leave. He also threatened to distance his country from the U.S., saying he’s about to pass “the point of no return” with the U.S. This is a total reversal of the Philippines’ victory in the arbitration case against China.

Indeed, this is a classic example of the mantra, “To snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Red carpet
Chinese President Xi Jinping must really be tickled pink that he invited Digong to visit China this month. Yep, he’d lay out the red carpet for him, treat him to a 20-course State Dinner, bedazzle him with a tour of the Great Wall, and show him the glitz of Shanghai at night. Xi might even show Digong the ghost cities with hundreds of empty high-rise apartment tenements, and tell him, “You see, we can build these for you in your own country to use in rehabilitating the three million drug addicts that you failed to slaughter,” which was in reference to what Digong had said not too long: “Hitler massacred three million Jews … there’s three million drug addicts… I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

It would probably impress Digong so much that he’d offer to give China a 120-year lease on thousands of hectares of prime real estate land to build these rehabilitation centers. Actually, a “mega” drug rehabilitation facility is now being built in a military camp north of Manila. Funded by Huang Rulun, a Chinese philanthropist and real estate developer, the facility will treat up to 10,000 drug addicts. It is being built using 75 shipping containers of materials imported from China, which begs the question: Why can’t they build it with local materials and Filipino labor?

The Duterte administration announced that four more “mega” treatment centers would be built. Duterte said that the Chinese have expressed their readiness to help him fight illegal drugs. However, he also criticized China for not doing enough to stop the flow of methamphetamines – or shabu – into the Philippines, which makes one wonder: If the smuggling of shabu did not happen, would there be a drug addiction problem in the Philippines?

Chinese drug lords
But the bigger problem is not the smuggling of shabu into the Philippines but the presence of Chinese drug lords who have established clandestine laboratories for the production of shabu all over the country, one of which was right inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) operated by the so-called “Bilibid 19.” This group of convicted Chinese drug lords and their Filipino brokers are believed to be operating one of the largest shabu laboratories in the country, allegedly with the cooperation of NBP officials and staff.

Buoyed by China’s promises of economic and military assistance, Duterte is going to China with an entourage of more than 400 Filipino businessmen – and kibitzers — hoping that they’d benefit from China’s “soft power” resources and investments.

But the infusion of Chinese capital into the Philippine economy has a price… a pretty stiff price. To what extent China would give billions – nay, trillions! – in economic aid depends on what concessions Duterte is willing to give to the Chinese. Needless to say, the Chinese would expect more in return for what they would give financially.

While welcoming Chinese investments in the Philippine economy is a wise move by Duterte, but doing it at the expense of American economic and military assistance is not only dangerous, it reduces the geopolitical leverage that the Philippines has to nothing. Zilch… zero!

American protection
Right now, even though the U.S. forces have left, the Philippines is still enjoying the protection provided by the U.S. in three military and defense agreements, to wit: Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). They provide the mechanism for the two countries to mobilize and unify their forces to repel or expel invaders. However, it would be a different story if U.S. forces were deployed to the Philippines, which would serve as “tripwire” against invaders.

Take the case of Japan where there are 50,000 U.S. military personnel and hundreds of aircraft and naval units. Likewise with South Korea where 28,000 American troops are stationed in several army and air bases. And just recently, Australia and the U.S. signed an agreement for the deployment of 5,000 American military personnel to Darwin, whose geostrategic location is close to six choke points in and around the Indonesian archipelago, including the heavily used Strait of Malacca.

Surmise it to say, Xi would think twice before he’d invade Japan, South Korea or Australia, simply because of the huge presence of American military forces in those countries. But would Xi hesitate to invade the Philippines? Nah! But wait a minute! Didn’t China already invade Philippine territories? Oops!

American withdrawal
Prior to 1992, when all American bases were kicked out of the Philippines – nobody dared to invade the Philippines. However, two years after the American bases were closed, China occupied the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef and the Philippines couldn’t do anything about it simply because she didn’t have warships or warplanes to protect her territories. In 2012, China grabbed the Scarborough Shoal and Mansfield Bank. Two years later, China started building artificial islands on seven reefs and shoals within the Philippines’ EEZ. And the latest word is that China would soon reclaim the Scarborough Shoal whose lagoon is as big as the Philippines’ capital, Quezon City.

Scarborough Shoal is strategically located in the South China Sea where China could control the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. It is also in close proximity to the Strait of Luzon, which is the gateway to the Philippine Sea… and beyond.

Ides of October
Last October 15, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio voiced his apprehension about losing Scarborough Shoal if Duterte concedes sovereignty over it in exchange for China’s economic incentives. He was quoted in a newspaper as saying: “If Duterte concedes sovereignty, it is a culpable violation of the Constitution, a ground for impeachment.” Then he added: “But the more important repercussion is, once Duterte concedes sovereignty, we can never recover it because China will never give it back. This is because even if the Philippine Supreme Court voids a possible concession by Duterte, China will not be bound by the ruling of the Philippine Supreme Court.”

Which makes one wonder, was Carpio’s message an ominous warning of what could happen or what should be avoided when Duterte meets Xi in Beijing? Beware the Ides of October!