The Manila Times - Lorenzana’s slip is showing again

News & Interviews
15 December 2020

By Reynaldo O. Arcilla | The Manila Times

DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who was once tagged by no less than President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte as a Central Intelligence Agency man, demonstrated his pro-United States bias when he quickly disagreed with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian’s view that the “overtures” (a very apt term) of US Defense officials, who recently visited the country, were “sowing chaos.”

Without going into the merits, or lack of them, of Huang’s views, I believe it was not the call of Lorenzana to react to them. That should have been the call of the Americans. After all, they were the ones who made the overtures! Why speak for them?

Lately, we have been hearing from the US its oft-repeated assurance that it has our backs covered. Against whom? The Chinese?

What exactly have the Chinese been doing aside from seizing and reclaiming reefs and shoals that belong to us and turning them into military garrisons in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea (WPS)? Oh yes, they are now regularly intruding into our territorial waters and exclusive economic zone ever since, speaking of which, how about the US putting its money where its mouth is by helping us patrol the areas mentioned?

The US did not cover our backs when China did the seizing and reclaiming of reefs and shoals that belong to us. The US knew what the Chinese were up to — to put a stop to the total domination of the contested sea by the US, whose Seventh Fleet has forever been plying the area.

But when we protested against the Chinese move and sought the help of the US, we were simply told that it was “neutral” when it comes to territorial disputes. It is obvious it has now ditched that position to suit its own national interest. Or has it?

Instead of helping us, the US bamboozled the Aquino 3rd administration into filing a protest against China’s move before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) and urged the hiring of American lawyers at the reported cost of P700 million.

As everyone knows, the PCA rendered a ruling favorable to us without China agreeing to and participating in the arbitration proceeding, a condition sine qua non for any arbitration case, thus rendering the PCA’s ruling questionable in its validity in international law.

Be that as it may, the US and some of its Western allies, including Japan, now merrily express their unqualified support for the PCA ruling. Nonetheless, that does not set the ruling, in my view, aright. That is why it has not found support among the huge majority of United Nations members. In fact, it has not even found support among all the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations!

The newly found generosity of the US in donating arms and other military hardware to us, although belatedly, is very much welcome and appreciated. They will certainly help us in combating terrorism and the local insurgents.

However, the government surely must realize that no amount of such donations from the US will ever be sufficient to make us battle-ready to face a Chinese military onslaught, albeit remotely possible.

Fortunately, I do not foresee such an eventuality taking place…unless our leaders continue to turn a blind eye to the dangers of the presence of US troops and military bases on our soil.

We remain friends to the US, just as we are now friends to China. But we cannot remain friends to both if we favor one over the other. “Para tayong namamangka sa dalawang ilog. Hindi tama ‘yun (We are like paddling our canoe on two rivers. That’s not right).” It could only lead to disastrous results for us.

China and the US are protagonists in the economic, political and military fields and will remain so in the foreseeable future.

Heaven forbid, but such a relationship could conceivably, even probably, result in an armed confrontation between the two.

As President Duterte himself said, and even Lorenzana, a military clash between the two will most certainly draw Chinese attack on the Philippines where US troops and military bases are located.

I, therefore, fervently pray that Digong will ultimately find his way into avoiding such a grim scenario by keeping his promise to get rid of foreign troops and military bases on our soil. It will be his greatest legacy to the Filipino people.

Radioactivity in WPS

The director of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute, Carlo Arcilla (no relation to this writer), said a study on corals conducted by the Institute’s researchers had found “elevated radiation levels in the West Philippine Sea, higher than in other coastal areas of the country.”

The radioactivity was supposedly detected through the isolation of Iodine 129 in sea corals.

Arcilla said Iodine 129 is a product of nuclear fission given off by nuclear reactors or nuclear power plants.

One does not have to be a nuclear scientist to conclude that since there is no nuclear reactor or power plant anywhere near the WPS, the radioactivity could only have been caused by nuclear-powered war vessels of the US that have been regularly plying the area and calling on our ports over the years.

Given this discovery, the government should now strictly implement measures to prohibit such vessels from entering our territorial waters and exclusive economic zone over which we have sovereign rights in the WPS as mandated by the Constitution.

Reminders

So long as the authorities concerned continue to ignore the items below, so long will they remain in this space.

Is the US coming back to Subic? — About three months ago, this newspaper reported that Maritime Industry Authority Administrator Robert Empedrad, former Philippine Navy Chief, said a contract has already been finalized between Australian shipbuilder Austal and US private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management and will reportedly soon take over the Subic Bay yard from Hanjin Shipping, a South Korean firm that went bankrupt in 2016.

Empedrad also reportedly said the US and Australia were eyeing the yard as a possible ship repair and maintenance facility (read: naval base). He added that US and Australian naval presence at Subic Bay could bolster national security.

That would directly run counter to what Duterte said in his fifth State of the Nation Address in July.

“Kaya ‘yang maglagay lagay ka ng base at this time, this will ensure, if war breaks out because there would be atomic arsenal brought in, this will ensure the extinction of the Filipino race,” he said.

A grim scenario indeed!

So, what will Digong do, or can do, if the contract is already a fait accompli? A reliable source said that Austal and Cerberus are reportedly poised to take over the facility as early as next month.

An authoritative source suggests that the government could insist on renegotiating the contract to include a provision that “there should be a restriction that prohibits the yard from accepting any naval business, whether for repair, routine or emergency, and new construction defining clearly the protocols. It should also prohibit the accommodation of any nuclear powered vessel, armed ships whether they are government or civilian-controlled.”

The source also said that “we should get a clear picture on who the beneficial owners really are. It is just too bad that our local entrepreneurs do not have the appetite for this business.”

The notorious Smartmatic. — In June last year, Digong directed the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to search for a replacement for poll technology provider Smartmatic.

Has Digong changed his mind? If not, shouldn’t he order the DICT to come up with its recommendation forthwith?

With the Comelec now virtually composed of his appointees, it should be a cinch to “convince” them to get rid of Smartmatic pronto.

In his column of Dec. 6, 2020, an esteemed fellow columnist in this paper, Mr. Marlen Ronquillo, had the following to say about the extreme importance of having a clean 2022 election:

“In automated polls, the credibility of the entire electoral process rests on the credibility of the machines. Garbage machines will turn out garbage results. Machines that are 100 percent fraud-proof guarantee the safety and credibility of the process, as simple as that.

“Considering that the bedrock political process upon which the stability and legitimacy of a democracy rests is the electoral process, an assault on the machines and electoral integrity is an assault on the democratic process itself. That is how important fraud-free election machines are to the survival and legitimacy of our democracy.”

Fugitive Andres Bautista — In November last year, Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd urged the National Bureau of Investigation to serve the arrest warrant issued by the Senate on former Comelec chairman Bautista for contempt for ignoring the Senate hearings into his alleged ill-gotten wealth. It was his wife who blew the whistle on him.

Bautista was earlier impeached by the House of Representatives but resigned and left the country before standing trial in the Senate. It was later found that he had fled to the US. Shouldn’t the government seek his extradition from the US to face the charges against him? Isn’t flight a sign of guilt? Maybe his passport should be cancelled to force his return?

In this regard, a reader wrote:

“Bautista is untouchable. He knows too much on both sides of the fence. Bautista acted brazenly because his bases were fully covered. No action for extradition? Of course, there will be no extradition because there are no initiatives. [The] Philippines does not care and US has its own interest. Why did Bautista go to the US? Because he is properly protected there.”

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About two weeks ago, Foreign Secretary Teodoro “Tweeterboy” Locsin Jr. described Vice President (under protest) Maria Leonor Robredo in a tweet as having “superabundantly more sense than her desperate followers who find everything wrong with everything that’s going right.”

A reader reacted thus: “Once upon a time, he called her boba.”

I wonder how President Digong must feel about Locsin’s description of Robredo.