Something interesting happened yesterday. Early in the afternoon, the Palace alerted media, saying it should cover the President’s speech in Mindanao, because she would announce the revocation of Executive Order 464. ANC dutifully started covering the speech.
Then it was interrupted by a live press conference at the Palace (see Jove Francisco’s account).
Speaking to reporters were Secretaries See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Say No Evil, otherwise known as Favila, Ermita, and Mendoza. Favila told a touching tale of a befuddled President who left her (potentially dying) husband so that she could honor a request from Fidel V. Ramos to address the Asian equivalent of the Davos gabfest; she got a call, though, from her husband’s doctors and so, rushed home (the Chinese officials couldn’t speak English, Favila said, most undiplomatically, and so he had to converse with them through sign language). Ermita then did his usual folksy uncle schtick about his (not the President’s, mind you) setting up a committee to review E.O. 464. And Mendoza launched into his usual monologue about how utterly above-board the NBN-ZTE deal was. At a certain point, Palace admits Arroyo said ‘anomalya’ in radio interview: but only after the three cabinet members had their bluff called by reporters.
End result? Even if the President had announced she was revoking E.O. 464, it would have been drowned out by the live Palace press conference; but anyway, she didn’t, and the best anyone’s been able to gather is… She changed her mind.
Who knows. But let me hazard a guess. I think a power play took place, between the time the media was alerted to expect a presidential announcement, and the unscheduled Palace press conference.
I say this, because by some accounts, it’s happened before. The President’s plans to impose martial law were foiled by a rebellion of sorts on the part of her Secretary of National Defense, Avelino Cruz, Jr., with the tacit approval of the generals, in November, 2005 (See Philippine Commentary for details). In February, 2006, the President, never short of clever lawyers, had decided that if she declared a State of Emergency, she could wield martial law powers without defying the United States. This is why, as many people subsequently noticed, the President’s declaration of a State of Emergency was virtually a word-for-word copy of Marcos’s Proclamation of Martial Law in 1972.
And here enters the cabinet rebellion. Soon after the President made her announcement, some of her cabinet then appeared on TV to state that the proclamation authorized the President to wield considerable extraordinary powers; this was followed by Cruz and others appearing on TV to say that no, the President’s proclamation did not confer on her additional powers; at that instant the attempt to wield extraordinary powers was nipped in the bud.
I’m convinced something similar happened yesterday, but unlike Avelino Cruz, Jr. heading off martial law and then an effort for the President to assert extraordinary powers, this time around, Favila, Ermita, and Mendoza engineered the scuttling of the revocation of E.O. 464.
This is part and parcel of their efforts to counteract the President’s efforts to wriggle her way out of the NBN-ZTE mess by claiming that she knew, all along, that the deal was defective (somehow) and that it took her a long time to scrap the deal because she didn’t want to offend China. Had the President pursued that excuse, it would have left members of her cabinet exposed as liars and accomplices to the wrongdoing the President disowned.
So the President’s story was disowned, regardless of the reversal beggaring disbelief. So the President’s effort to pander to the bishops was scuttled, regardless if by doing so, it weakens the ability of the President’s bishop-allies to help her in the future: these cabinet members aren’t about to take a dive any more than they already have, for a President obviously prepared to feed them to the wolves.
Just a hunch. Meanwhile, enjoy this: Palace story on P.5M given to Lozada now on 3rd version.
My column for today is Today the Spratlys, tomorrow Palawan. I have been following the unfolding diplomatic tack taken by this administration for some time now. For a backgrounder, see my Inquirer Current entry titled “The China Card.” It traces my articles on the subject and other relevant readings about the ongoing positioning among the Great Powers in our region as well as ASEAN, collectively, and its member countries.
At a time of American indifference with regards to Southeast Asia, and uncertainty over American attitudes towards the present government, courting China has become a major diplomatic priority of the Palace: on a commercial basis, this is no different from any other country eager to partake of China’s booming economy. But in terms of security and natural resources, American ambivalence about ASEAN has fostered a sense of regional solidarity among member nations, in the hope that acting as a bloc, it can extract better concessions from China as well as resist Chinese pressure better.
Because of her unique political problems, the President has had no qualms about projecting China as a potential -and at times, actual- replacement for the United States as an ally and source of assistance. But the diplomatic gambit has had domestic repercussions, too: NBN-ZTE.
Lately, however, besides domestic problems, the President’s relying on the China Card has upset ASEAN, too. This was revealed in a Far Eastern Economic Review article, Manila’s Bungle in The South China Sea. In our own media, Ricky Carandang tackled the issue in The Correspondents, in a segment you can watch on YouTube. And the papers have picked it up, for example, Malaya’s Treason in dirty Chinese loans? Under Beijing gun, Gloria commits RP to Spratly deal.
In light of the above, something John Mangun wrote on April 25, 2005 in The Philippines and China: A Bad Match now makes perfect sense:
Malacañang refuses to accept and deal with the fact that China invaded, occupied, and stole Philippine territory in the South China Sea. The Spratleys may be worthless outcroppings or the gateway to boundless treasure. It does not matter. Those atolls and islands are Filipino property as much as the ground on which the President walks each day. China’s conduct and treatment of the Philippines shows their inconsistency and lack of honesty in their conduct of foreign relations.
To view China and Japan similarly in our economic relations is a disaster for the nation. Madame President, listen well: China is a business COMPETITOR; Japan is a buying CUSTOMER. Fifteen years ago, ninety percent of all Christmas ornaments and decorations sold in the United States were imported from the Philippines. Now that ninety percent comes from China. The same trend occurred with Philippine garments and shoes.
According to the FEER report, there are two agreements of significance. The first is “Agreement for Seismic Undertaking for Certain Areas in the South China Sea By and Between China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Philippine National Oil Company” signed on Sept. 1, 2004, and later superseded by a “Tripartite Agreement for Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking in the Agreement Area in the South China Sea,” signed on March 14, 2005. The agreements were kept hush-hush by the three governments, understandably so in the case of Socialist Vietnam and The People’s Republic of China, but not so in the case of the ostensibly democratic Philippines.
As the FEER report says,
…the details having leaked into research circles, the reasons for wanting to keep it under wraps are apparent: “Some would say it was a sell-out on the part of the Philippines,” says Mark Valencia, an independent expert on the South China Sea. The designated zone, a vast swathe of ocean off Palawan in the southern Philippines, thrusts into the Spratlys and abuts Malampaya, a Philippine producing gas field. About one-sixth of the entire area, closest to the Philippine coastline, is outside the claims by China and Vietnam. Says Mr. Valencia: “Presumably for higher political purposes, the Philippines agreed to these joint surveys that include parts of its legal continental shelf that China and Vietnam don’t even claim.”
Worse, by agreeing to joint surveying, Manila implicitly considers the Chinese and Vietnamese claims to have a legitimate basis, he says. In the case of Beijing, this has serious implications, since the broken, U-shaped line on Chinese maps, claiming almost the entire South China Sea on “historic” grounds, is nonsensical in international law. (Theoretically, Beijing might stake an alternative claim based on an exclusive economic zone and continental shelf from nearby islets that it claims, but they would be restricted by similar claims by rivals.) Manila’s support for the Chinese “historic claim,” however indirect, weakens the positions of fellow Asean members Malaysia and Brunei, whose claimed areas are partly within the Chinese U-shaped line. It is a stunning about-face by Manila, which kicked up an international fuss in 1995 when the Chinese moved onto the submerged Mischief Reef on the same underlying “historic claim” to the area.
The “higher political purpose” euphemistically mentioned suggests purely partisan interests: that of the administration, which has, up to now, never disclosed these agreements. The Palace can always counter that “nobody asked,” and I’m sure this will be a Palace defense in the coming days. It may even claim that the agreement is a state secret, and covered by Executive Privilege.
This must be challenged. Not wanting to tip our government’s hand in negotiating international agreements may be understandable, but once signed, agreements should be subject to official disclosure. Reading old volumes of the Official Gazette, a regular portion was the publication, by direction of the President of the Philippines, of international agreements signed by the Republic. An agreement with economic consequences, and which involves defying an existing ASEAN consensus, certainly requires full disclosure. While MeiZhongTai pointed out in 2005 that an agreement had been signed and that exploration for oil had commenced (briefly noted by Ben Muse also), but never trumpeted, for obvious reasons, by our government although it liked trumpeting virtually every other China-related deal at the time.
The reason of course is that the deal would have negative political repercussions at home, and the government was not about to broadcast to its own people that the Philippines went against an ASEAN consensus.
I can think of many ways the administration will get stuck in another mess of its own making on this one.
Read Ricky Carandang’s entry, Treason:
Aside from angering our neighbors and potentially undermining regional stability, Arroyo’s action may also be illegal. Ombudsman Merceditas GutierrezÃ¢â‚¬â€œwho was then acting justice secretary — told former Senator Frank Drilon, who was then allied with the administration, that she believed that the deal violated the constitution, because while it was a deal between the state owned oil firms (PNOC of the Philippines and CNOOC of China) of the two countries, it implicitly gave China access to our oil reserves. Officers of the Foreign Affairs Department were also upset because the deal effectively strengthened China and Vietnam’s claim to the Spratlys.
What would compel Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to sign a deal that potentially undermines regional stability, possibly grants China parity rights to oil reserves in the Spratlys that we claim to be ours, and likely violates our constitution?
How about $2 billion a year? After the Spratly deal was signed, the Chinese government committed $2 billion in official development assistance a year to the Philippines until 2010, when Arroyo is supposed to step down from office. My sources tell me that the Spratly deal was an explicit precondition to the loans.
A sizable amount to be sure, but for the Arroyo administration the China loans are particularly appealing. Not so much because the interest rates are so low and the repayment terms so lenient, but because Chinese loans do not have the cumbersome requirements that loans from the US, Japan, the EU, and big multilateral lenders have. Requirements for documentation, bidding, transparency and other details that make it very difficult for corrupt public officials to commit graft. In fact, in November of last year, those cumbersome requirements made it impossible for some government officials and private individuals with sticky fingers to avail themselves of the World Bank’s generosity.
It had gotten to the point where a corrupt government could no longer make a dishonest buck. That is until China’s generous offer came along.
My column, of course begins and ends with a jab at the bishops. An account of how the bishops voted: Mindanao bishops ‘saved’ Arroyo. Noteworthy tidbit, concerning another portion of my column, on E.O. 464, is this:
In seeking the abolition of EO 464, Cagayan de Oro Bishop Antonio Ledesma said the bishops also wanted the Palace to waive executive privilege “in the spirit of truth and accountability.”
Although it was not expressly stated, Ledesma said a waiver on executive privilege “is the essence of the recommendation.”
Iniguez, one of Arroyo’s more vocal critics in the CBCP, echoed Ledesma’s position. Thus, the CBCP reached a consensus on asking President Arroyo to revoke EO 464 in order not to stifle congressional investigations on anomalies in government.
But Oliveros said the CBCP stopped short of categorically asking the President to give up executive privilege since this is a right vested to the Office of the President.
“We are not trying to protect the President but the Office she represents,” he said.
Update 10:47 PM:
Newsbreak emailed me to point out they’d published a report in 2006, unfortunately, it’s only available online at the Geological Society of the Philippines Yahoo Group.
What is available at Newsbreak’s site is the full text of the Agreement Between the PNOC and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation.
I’ve been apprised that June 2009 is some sort of deadline for the passage of a law on identifying our territorial baseline, and so agreements like this take on a greater significance. If anyone has information on why this deadline exists, and on what basis, I’d appreciate it
On China, additional relevant readings are Parag Khanna’s provocative Waving Goodbye to Hegemony:
Without firing a shot, China is doing on its southern and western peripheries what Europe is achieving to its east and south. Aided by a 35 million-strong ethnic Chinese diaspora well placed around East Asia’s rising economies, a Greater Chinese Co-Prosperity Sphere has emerged. Like Europeans, Asians are insulating themselves from America’s economic uncertainties. Under Japanese sponsorship, they plan to launch their own regional monetary fund, while China has slashed tariffs and increased loans to its Southeast Asian neighbors. Trade within the India-Japan-Australia triangle – of which China sits at the center – has surpassed trade across the Pacific.
At the same time, a set of Asian security and diplomatic institutions is being built from the inside out, resulting in America’s grip on the Pacific Rim being loosened one finger at a time. From Thailand to Indonesia to Korea, no country – friend of America’s or not – wants political tension to upset economic growth. To the Western eye, it is a bizarre phenomenon: small Asian nation-states should be balancing against the rising China, but increasingly they rally toward it out of Asian cultural pride and an understanding of the historical-cultural reality of Chinese dominance. And in the former Soviet Central Asian countries – the so-called Stans – China is the new heavyweight player, its manifest destiny pushing its Han pioneers westward while pulling defunct microstates like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as oil-rich Kazakhstan, into its orbit. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization gathers these Central Asian strongmen together with China and Russia and may eventually become the “NATO of the East.”
(I don’t know if the “rallying to China out of Asian cultural pride” is exactly accurate; at least for ASEAN, since the 1990s there have been efforts at strengthening the regional bloc at the very least, to try to prevent individual member countries being intimidated by China; but American indifference has left the region no alternative but to cozy up to China):
This applies most profoundly in China’s own backyard, Southeast Asia. Some of the most dynamic countries in the region Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are playing the superpower suitor game with admirable savvy. Chinese migrants have long pulled the strings in the region’s economies even while governments sealed defense agreements with the U.S. Today, Malaysia and Thailand still perform joint military exercises with America but also buy weapons from, and have defense treaties with, China, including the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation by which Asian nations have pledged nonaggression against one another. (Indonesia, a crucial American ally during the cold war, has also been forming defense ties with China.) As one senior Malaysian diplomat put it to me, without a hint of jest, “Creating a community is easy among the yellow and the brown but not the white.” Tellingly, it is Vietnam, because of its violent histories with the U.S. and China, which is most eager to accept American defense contracts (and a new Intel microchip plant) to maintain its strategic balance. Vietnam, like most of the second world, doesn’t want to fall into any one superpower’s sphere of influence.
Also, see the entry of Steve Clemmons on Khanna’s article in his blog, The Washington Note: for an American’s view on the Khanna article.
And see Us and Them: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism by Jerry Z. Muller in Foreign Affairs.
Also, while reproduced in one of my responses below, let me add, here, the relevant provision of our Constitution:
National Economy and Patrimony
Section 1. The goals of the national economy are a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income, and wealth; a sustained increase in the amount of goods and services produced by the nation for the benefit of the people; and an expanding productivity as the key to raising the quality of life for all, especially the underprivileged.
Section 2. All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the State. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated. The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State. The State may directly undertake such activities, or it may enter into co-production, joint venture, or production-sharing agreements with Filipino citizens, or corporations or associations at least sixty per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens. Such agreements may be for a period not exceeding twenty-five years, renewable for not more than twenty-five years, and under such terms and conditions as may be provided by law. In cases of water rights for irrigation, water supply fisheries, or industrial uses other than the development of water power, beneficial use may be the measure and limit of the grant.
The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.
The Congress may, by law, allow small-scale utilization of natural resources by Filipino citizens, as well as cooperative fish farming, with priority to subsistence fishermen and fish- workers in rivers, lakes, bays, and lagoons.
The President may enter into agreements with foreign-owned corporations involving either technical or financial assistance for large-scale exploration, development, and utilization of minerals, petroleum, and other mineral oils according to the general terms and conditions provided by law, based on real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country. In such agreements, the State shall promote the development and use of local scientific and technical resources.
And on a final note, more charges, filed against a President who knew her father when he was President: Salonga files plunder case against GMA.