President Duterte is seeking closer ties with China and Russia because the President believes these two countries respect Philippine sovereignty. In his interview with Russia’s RT network last Jan. 24, 2020, Mr. Duterte declared:“So if I cannot get a credible posture from the Americans, I can get it from the Russians and the Chinese government. It’s because they respect the sovereignty of the country which America is totally lacking.”
Of course, Russia has no claims on Philippine territory or seas since Russia is several thousand miles away from the Philippines. It is a different story, however, in the case with Russia’s neighboring states.
In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom guaranteed the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine’s giving up the huge stockpile of nuclear weapons it inherited from the dissolved Soviet Union. Ironically, just 10 years later in 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, a large part of Ukraine’s territory.
At present, Russia’s military also occupies parts of Moldova and Georgia where there are Russian-speaking inhabitants. Russia’s military has forced out from these areas non-ethnic Russians. These areas are now practically Russian territory.
We can forgive President Duterte if he is not familiar with Russia’s ongoing territorial expansion in eastern Europe and Eurasia. But we cannot forgive him for saying that China respects Philippine sovereignty, because this is totally false and he should know it is utterly false.
Almost the entire Filipino nation knows that China has seized Philippine maritime zones in the West Philippine Sea, based on the SWS survey that 93 percent of Filipinos want The Hague arbitral ruling asserted. The Hague tribunal ruled that China’s nine-dash line has neither legal effect nor historical basis, and cannot be used to claim maritime zones in the South China Sea.
This nine-dash line is the basis of China’s territorial and maritime claims to all the islands, reefs and resources in the South China Sea. In 1974, China seized the Crescent group in the Paracels from South Vietnam. In 1988, China seized Subi Reef from the Philippines. In the same year, China seized Johnson South Reef from Vietnam, killing more than 64 Vietnamese sailors in a skirmish.
In 1995, China seized Mischief Reef from the Philippines. In 2012, China seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines. Under the Philippine Baselines Law (RA No. 9522), Scarborough Shoal is expressly declared as Philippine territory. In 2013, China seized Luconia Shoals from Malaysia.
The last geologic feature that China seized in the Spratlys is Sandy Cay, which China seized from the Philippines in February 2017. Sandy Cay lies less than two nautical miles from Pagasa and is well within Pagasa’s territorial sea. Pagasa is part of the Kalayaan Island Group, which is declared Philippine territory under the Baselines Law.
The Duterte administration denies that the Philippines has lost Sandy Cay to China. However, neither the Philippine Navy nor the Philippine Coast Guard can today go to Sandy Cay since it is surrounded by Chinese militia vessels 24 hours a day. Filipino fishermen, whose bancas used to anchor on Sandy Cay, can no longer go to Sandy Cay.
The Duterte administration maintains the fiction that China has not seized Sandy Cay because any admission that China seized Sandy Cay during the Duterte administration will expose the bankruptcy of its pivot to China. If the Duterte administration admits the loss of Sandy Cay during its watch, then the pivot to China has not changed China’s continuing encroachment on Philippine territory and maritime zones.
President Duterte has not asserted the arbitral ruling in exchange for promised loans and investments from China. Those loans and investments have not materialized as promised. To date, President Duterte still has nothing substantial to show for his pivot to China.
President Xi has publicly taken full credit for China’s continuing expansion in the West Philippine Sea. Even then, President Duterte has professed publicly his love for President Xi, declaring in April 2018, “I simply love Xi Jinping.” Indeed, a lover like Mr. Duterte is blind and cannot see the utter disrespect that President Xi has shown to Philippine sovereignty.