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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    2 July 2012

‘Philippines lacks military muscle to defend itself’, says Philippine senator


Philippine Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile blamed the occupation on the Philippines’ lack of military muscle to defend its own territory.

He said the Philippines’ weakness in the Scarborough Shoal dispute should be seen as a reason for Charter change (Cha-cha) to give priority to military spending in the national budget.

Enrile cited the Philippines’ military weakness as the reason behind the government’s sorry handling of a maritime accident in the West Philippine Sea on June 20 that took the life of a Filipino fisherman, injured three and left four others missing.

In that accident, a Hong Kong-registered cargo vessel struck the Filipinos’ fishing boat, but Enrile said the government appeared to be playing down the incident, apparently so as not to start another row with China.

A rising economic and military power, China has become more aggressive in its territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) that it insists it has established since ancient times.

Enrile said history would show that the ancient Chinese settled on Batanes and Fuga islands in northern Philippines.

History books also mention that Chinese merchants traded regularly with natives in the archipelago before the Spanish colonisers arrived in the 16th century.

“It is known that (historical figure) Limahong, who was a prince, settled in Fuga at length,” Enrile said. “And the ethnic Chinese also lived in Batanes. This can still be gleaned [from] the features of the people there. Does that make Batanes or Fuga Chinese territory simply because they were there?”

China insists that Scarborough Shoal, which it calls Huangyan Island, is part of its territory and shows ancient maps to prove it.

Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines calls Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (ECC) recognised under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

Enrile refuses to accept China’s citing ancient maps to bolster its claim to Scarborough Shoal.

“If we stretch this argument further, does that make India the owner of everything in the Indian Ocean?” Enrile asked, speaking in Filipino.

“Does the Strait of Magellan near the tip of Argentina and Chile belong to Portugal or Spain?”

In apparent reference to China’s recent launching of the spacecraft Shenzhou 9 that carried three astronauts, Enrile said he would not be surprised if Chinese inscriptions would eventually be found on Mars or Venus or the moon, and if China would claim those planets and the moon, too.

Enrile said it would be unreasonable for China to claim an island or other areas belonging to another country “simply because their migratory birds settled there.”

He said China’s claim to Scarborough Shoal was “legally weak.”

“How would they justify their occupation of the area? Because their birds flew there? That they marked some fish and ordered these to swim there?”

“What if I also drew a map and occupy their islands? Would that be right?” he added.

Enrile pointed to the Philippines’ lack of military resources as reason for the country’s weak defense of its territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea.

“The Coast Guard has a World War II cutter given by the US government,” he said. But all it takes to sink it, he said, is one shot.

Survivors’ report

Enrile lamented the government’s seeming dismissal of the report of the survivors of the June 20 accident in the West Philippine Sea that the cargo vessel rammed their boat.

“We have yet to confirm the whole story behind that, and yet there are already parties raising eyebrows over the fishermen’s story,” Enrile said.
The playing down of the fishermen’s report makes them look like “fools and liars,” he said.

Enrile also mentioned China’s warning the Philippines over the opening of an elementary school last month on Pag-asa Island, one of five islands claimed by the Philippines in the Spratly archipelago in the West Philippine Sea.

China claims all of the Spratly archipelago, parts or all of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. It took the opening of the school on Pag-asa Island as a "provocation”.

“The solution to this problem rests with us,” Enrile said. “We need to beef up our security. That is the only solution. If your neighbour commits acts of aggression, it would be your fault if you refuse to prepare.”

To prepare, the government should spend more for the modernisation of the military, which means it may have to review the priority given to education in the Constitution.

Enrile hinted at the need for Congress to make that review.

“If you insist on a bigger budget for education and [we are threatened by war], what will you do, limit yourself to what the Constitution says?” he said. “That’s stupidity.”

“Let us make a Constitution that is flexible,” Enrile said. “Leave it to the representatives of the people to decide what are the priorities at any given time.”

The government has asked China to take their dispute over Scarborough Shoal to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos), but China has refused, insisting on its policy of dealing one on one with its territorial rivals in the West Philippine Sea.

The two countries have yet to resume talks to resolve their dispute over Scarborough Shoal.

Tasked with resuming contact with Beijing is the Philippines’ new ambassador to China, Sonia Brady.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario on Sunday said that Brady, 70, had been given orders to “continue the consultations in pursuit of a peaceful resolution” of the dispute over Scarborough Shoal.

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