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The day PH lost Panatag Shoal

July 16, 2019 - Tuesday 4:07 AM by Jimmy Laking

Seven years ago or one day in April 2012, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (the largest Philippine warship at that time) faced off with two Chinese surveillance ships over a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.

The crew of the Philippine warship, according to the Associated Press, was in the process of arresting Chinese fishermen that stripped the shoal of clams when the Chinese vessels blocked the navy boat.

It was a Mexican stand-off. The BRP Gregorio del Pilar held its ground. The Chinese ships did not budge either.

Yet for a warship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar was the first to blink. Probably at the say so of higher authorities, its commander chose to disengage. The Chinese ships remain there to this day and are in actual possession.

In President Rodrigo Duterte’s prognosis, the Philippines lost its case on that day the warship hightailed it back home.

“Nag-atras ang ating Navy, umuwi. That day we lost Spratly. Hindi na sila umalis doon. Hindi naman ako ang nagbigay, kayo. So what is the use of arbitral ruling kung nandiyan na sila. You claim the house but the house is already occupied by somebody else,” he said.

This is pure and simple language. And it is a language Filipinos familiar with land cases can readily recognize.

It is a story you encounter in both urban or rural areas. Somebody owns the title but the actual occupants have long been residents in the area since time immemorial. Or in some cases, professional squatters have intruded or have actually taken over private properties. Sa inyo ang titulo, sa amin ang lupa.

The only difference is that while court orders are generally enforced in matters of land cases, the Hague arbitrary ruling that favored the Philippines over China in so far as the West Philippine sea is concerned cannot be enforced for the most obvious of reasons.

On Thursday during the pre-State of the Nation Address interview, Duterte underscored that the Philippines does not have the capability to enforce the 2016 United Nations ruling that dismissed China’s claims in the disputed sea.

In contrast, Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio has been insisting that the President invoke the ruling.

How exactly and with what, Carpio did not say. Refusal, Carpio added, is bowing to China’s tune.

In the back of his mind, he was hoping that Duterte can be stampeded into action. Carpio’s proposal, if you have to call that way, is actually a form of mischief. “Matapang ka man kaya, Digong. Let us see how you stand up against the Chinese.”

Wrong mistake. Duterte is too astute a chess player not to recognize a trap when he sees one.

Had Duterte acted foolishly and sprung into action without any chance of success, he would have become meat for his opponents who are waiting for just the opportunity to whip out a storm against him in the hope of eventually bringing him down.

Besides, for a squatter, China came loaded for bear and for the long haul. It did not only garrison the Panatag Shoal, it planted missiles just in case others get the notion.

And if you read between the lines, the commercial ships it fielded to patrol the West China Sea are actually naval militia disguised as fishing boats. In short, it is not leaving anything to chance.

How will Duterte invoke the ruling in the face of this reality staring the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea? Carpio and company did not exactly say.

Duterte’s pragmatic approach has not gone unnoticed. In fact, as the latest Social Weather Stations survey showed, Duterte raked a “personal record-high” in his approval rating.

The SWS said Digong’s net satisfaction rating rose to a very good +68 per cent and that 80 per cent of adult Filipinos are satisfied with his performance. The satisfaction rating surpassed earlier marks registered by the SWS in 2017 and in the first quarter of 2019. Now who can argue with that?

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