PART I: SHINZO ABE’S HENCHMEN RIGGED THE SPRATLYS KAW CASE AGAINST CHINA
Part 2 of this two-essay series looks at the political players and trends that have influenced Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to adopt an inflexible stance on claims to disputed Spratly islands, which have been wrongly taken up by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) outside of its legal jurisdiction.
This analysis introduces influential opinion leaders in the social-activist wing of the Catholic Church, particularly the Jesuit Order and the charismatic movement, some of them linked with the UN-sanctioned interventions against Indonesia and Yugoslavia.
A cynical distortion of core Christian teachings in service to worldly ambitions stands in sharp contrast to the commitment to peace, nonviolence and dialogue championed by the heroine of the People Power movement, Corazon Aquino, the saintly mother of a prodigal son.
Before probing the depths of duplicity and self-deception that haunt our troubled times, it is important to recall for the sake of the younger generation the faithfulness and the glory witnessed by the world over three days in February 1986.
Can anyone who watched those devout gatherings at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Manila, where the grieving widow Corazon Aquino prayed for the salvation of her people and a brave Cardinal Jaime Sin appealed for justice to end the dark era of oppression?
Can any of us ever forget how masses of the poor and dispossessed marched down the alleyways and broad boulevards to confront loaded guns with smiles and tears of rejoicing while martial law collapsed under the moral force of a people united in faith?
That precious moment must be cherished as an example to live by, even in times of despair. Sadly, terribly, genuine populism as we knew it then was soon to be disfigured by pollsters and intelligence officials who researched how to manipulate public perceptions, distorted by professional activists recruited by sly tycoons and bribed by think tanks, and defiled by a journalism converted into an instrument of propaganda.
As put by the Bard, “The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” Instead of authentic upsurges for justice, there are well-funded imitations called color revolutions, Arab Spring protests and staged-for-media migrant crises all for the benefit of ‘the powers and principalities”.
At the Foot of the Dark Master
The soon-to-step-down Philippines leader who belongs the most illustrious family in Asia has capriciously and methodically dismantled the legacy of peace left by his mother. As president.
Cory initiated the closure of U.S. military bases, which were used to brutalize the peoples of Indochina and that had so degraded the women and girls of her nation. In quiet support of anti-base activists, Cory remained cordial to the American side, gently pointing to exit with a diplomatic smile.
It seems inconceivable then that Benigno “Noynoy”Aquino III initiated the steps to bring back the American warships and accepted offers of weapons from the increasingly emboldened Japanese militarists, ending the too-brief historical period when the Philippines served as a model for peace and dialogue in Asia.
Far be it from me to question anyone’s religious values, but it must be said his every step along the path to war reveals that Noynoy has “gone over to the dark side”, much in the same way that younger people would recognize in the Star Wars character Kylo Ren. The duality of Catholicism could not be more stark than in the contrast between the two presidents from the same bloodline.
On one hand, a shining exemplar of compassion, tolerance and commitment to peace; and on the other craftiness, hypocrisy and self-righteous justification for war. This is not meant as a rejection of the Church’s teachings; it is a reaffirmation of its core values of humility, respect and faith in others, even in our perceived enemies.
The policy experts (discussed below) who steered the inexperienced president onto the path of war were once good men of faith who became tempted by the urgent desire for results, and who driven by expediency became transformed into agents of destruction. Like a Kylo or an Anikin Skywalker, the scion of the Aquino dynasty knelt in the shadow of the dark master himself, the fearsome and cunning dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The Original Sin
As the regional dispute over the Spratly (Nansha) archipelago intensities, the world has by now forgotten the man who cast the first stone into those once-tranquil waters, Ferdinand Marcos, a corrupt dictator who collected islands and reefs with avarice equal to his First Lady’s amassing her hoard of high-heel shoes.
Among his many misdeeds and crimes, too numerous to count, Marcos drew the first gun on the high seas, provoking military counter-action by his Vietnamese neighbors and igniting smoldering distrust among the all-too patient Chinese.
To briefly recount his by-now forgotten biography, Marcos’s rise to power began during World War II with his highly exaggerated role in the rural guerrilla struggle against the Japanese military occupiers and their wartime collaborators, who included the prominent Aquino and Coajunco political families.
The paternal and maternal grandfathers of the current president served in the Tokyo-supported government, which declared itself an independent republic. (Contrary to their stated democratic principles, the Americans refused to end the colonial status of the Philippines, a Spanish colony seized during the Spanish-American War.)
In the postwar years, the bad blood from those occupation days continued to rankle Marcos who belatedly imprisoned members of Congress under martial law. While the exact decision-making channels for the murder plot remains a secret, Marcos was ultimately responsible for the gunshot assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. on the runway of Manila Airport on his 1983 return from exile in Boston.
It is ironic, therefore, in a tragic sense, that Ninoy’s son Begnino “Noynoy” Aquino III has adopted the very same policy of unilateralism and maritime aggression of his family’s sworn foe, Marcos. In honor of his master, the Spratleys Islands in the “West Philippine Sea” should be renamed the Marcos-Aquino Memorial Archipelago.
The Weakest Claim
The controlled Western news media is grossly distorting the Aquino government’s case before the Law of the Sea Tribunal, which clearly does not have jurisdiction over the key issues, including: first, determination of sovereignty related to maritime boundaries; and second, ruling on lesser claims that have a basis in sovereignty.
Until a higher judicial body, namely the International Court of Justice (ICJ), rules on the sovereignty issue over maritime boundaries, no lesser court has legal authority over dependent issues.
Any court decision on claims of environmental violations, including reclamation, are invalid without specific legal jurisdiction. Any court decision is also self-annulled by the fact that the same violations have been carried out by all parties in the Spratlys.
Among the three major contestants in the northern Spatlys, the Philippines has by far the weakest case as compared with detailed historical evidence from China and Vietnam. Marcos’s seizure of 10 islands was part of his spree of war crimes during the Vietnam conflict, rendering the Philippines an aggressor and occupying power in its claims to the Spratlys. This statement is not a matter of opinion but simply based on the inconvenient artifact of the historical record.
– In the 1930s, the Japanese authority in colonized Taiwan extended a claim by the Empire of Japan over the entire Spratleys based on the argument of permanent settlement. Man-made structures were erected for a guano (phosphate created by bird dung) mine on one of the Spratlys. The French colonial office in Vietnam vigorously protested the Japanese claim since France had already declared possession of all offshore islands east of Vietnam.
– Under the terms of its membership in the Greater East Co-prosperity Sphere, the puppet government in Manila led by Joseph Laurel supported the Japanese claim to the Spratlys as a possession of the Empire of Japan. By then, Vichy France under Nazi Germany’s influence was in no position to raise objections to the Japanese military, which also had effective control over Vietnam as a protectorate.
– In the aftermath of World War II, Philippine President Elpidio Quirino stated in 1950 that Manila would not press a claim for the Spratlys so long as the archipelago was controlled by “China”, in specific reference to the Kuomingtang government in Taipei, following its evacuation from the mainland toward the end of the civil war. (The Quirino statement voids any subsequent legal claim by Manila to those islands.)
– The first Taiwan Strait crisis, from 1954 to 1956, erupted when the U.S. Navy intervened to defend the two Kuomingtang-controlled offshore islands Kinmen and Matsu against the People’s Liberation Army. That conflict during the Eisenhower administration followed the Korean War of 1950-53, which marked the start of the Cold War in Asia. The naval blockade and offshore bombardment created a political vacuum across the Spratly region.
– In the void during the three Taiwan Straits crises, and in the absence of an official Philippines campaign for the Spratleys, Filipino businessman Tomas Cloma in 1956 registered his private ownership of 53 islands and reefs in the Spratleys sub-region near Palawan. His piratical group also removed the Republic of Taiwan flag from Taiping Island. Cloma declared himself head of the world’s first uninhabited nation, naming it Kalayan or Freedomland. His unilateral declaration to the world sparked a heated response from the Kuomingtang and spurred the People’s Republic of China to more actively reassert its sovereignty over the Spratlys.
– Following his election to the presidency in 1965, Ferdinand Marcos demonstrated abject loyalty to his wartime allies in Washington from the very start of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s dispatch of American “military advisers” for the counter-insurgency campaign in South Vietnam. The U.S. military facilities in the Philippines, including the naval port at Olangapo and Clark Air Base, provided critical support for the American war effort. As the Vietnam War escalated, Philippine troops were dispatched to build military outposts on 8 large and 2 small islands in the Spratlys as a front line against “falling dominoes”, under the prevailing domino theory about the spread of communist insurgency. In that same year, Marcos created a Civic Action Group, under which more than 10,000 Filipino soldiers provided logistical and construction assistance to the U.S. military in Vietnam, along with civilian defense workers involved in aircraft maintenance for Air America in support of the CIA’s secret war in Laos. (Instead of rendering anti-Chinese verdicts in support of the Marcos seizures, The Hague should better allocate its judicial resources toward prosecution of Henry Kissinger, while the former National Security Adviser can still appear in court on charges of perpetrating large-scale war crimes against the civilian populations of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and strip him of the Nobel Peace Prize.)
– Cloma’s buffoonery was ended in 1972 with his arrest for impersonating an admiral. Following a four-month prison term, Freedomland was sold to the Republic of the Philippines for the price of one U.S. dollar. Adjusted for 60 years of currency depreciation, the southeast Spratlys are worth today the equivalent of a grand sum of $8.83. The International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea is expending hundreds of thousands of euros in court costs for a land title worth less than an Alexander Hamilton (the face on a ten-dollar bill, soon to be replaced by a woman). One dangling legal question over that title to land and sea remains unanswered: Did President Marcos act in accordance with international law when the defendant was the self-proclaimed ruler of a fictive nation?
– Instead of thanking Manila for its military support, the beleaguered Saigon officials belatedly woke up to the Marcos threat against some 30 Vietnamese-claimed islands in the Spratleys. Just weeks before the Fall of Saigon at the end of April 1975, South Vietnamese marines were dispatched to capture Philippine-controlled islets. The secret weapon was a squad of Vietnamese prostitutes, send in a good will gesture to celebrate the birthday of the Filipino commander. That clever ploy delayed the return of Marcos’s boys to their pillboxes, resulting is a final victory for the doomed Republic of Vietnam. (In their judicial wisdom, will the esteemed jurists at The Hague please determine whether the Southwest Cay affair was a war crime or a sex offense?)
– After the imposition of martial law, Marcos in 1978 signed Executive Order 1599, declaring an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles around the Philippine-controlled maritime zone formerly known as Freedomland.
Recommendation: For beach tourism and political intrigue, “Fantasy Islands” is a far catchier name than West Phlippine Sea or even Freedomland. The promise of pristine coral reefs and untold opportunities for oil exploration can provide much-needed relief for a Philippine society bogged in poverty, Islamic insurgencies, kidnap ransom demands, corruption, the sex trade, unchecked population growth, typhoons, volcanoes, capsized ferries and gruesome Easter reenactments of the crucifixion.
Joining the Crusades
Noynoy’s fall from grace curiously coincided with his increasing devotion to the militant wing of Catholicism, led by the Jesuit order (the Society of Jesus), a fraternal society called the Knights of Malt, and the populist charismatic movement. Some of the key players who influenced President Aquino toward a war footing are listed here.
– Albert del Rosario. Recently retired due to illness, the Foreign Secretary drafted and delivered the Philippine complaint to the Court of Arbitration at The Hague, In preparation for his bold move, Rosario paid an official visit to the Vatican in September 2014 to meet Pope Francis and gain the support of Cardinal Dominique Memberti, the pontiff’s chief of foreign affairs. On July 18, 2015, Rosario introduced the Spratlys complaint in person to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. As former ambassador to Washington, Rosario has extensive contacts at the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence community. He has been the leading advocate of military cooperation with the U.S. and Japan to confront China over the Spratlys. His connections in the U.S. go back to his schoolboy years at the Jesuit-run Xavier High School in New York City and collegiate studies at NYU’s economic faculty. The Rosarios are a prominent family of judges, who have been associates of the Cojuanco and Aquino families over several generations.
– Father Mark Raper, president of the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific, is an Australian national specialing in human rights and refugee affairs, who served in Catholic relief operations during the secession of Bosnia-Herzegovina from Yugoslavia (the siege of Sarajevo) and the independence struggle of East Timor from the Republic of Indonesia. According to aid workers, the Jesuits took a lead role in the transport of CIA-supplied arms and ammunition hidden in aid shipments by the U.S. charity Americares in cooperation with the Knights of Malta (the Sovereign Military Order of Malta), whose members are sworn to defend the interests of the Papacy.
– Father Adolfo Nicholas Pachon, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, popularly known as “The Black Pope” due to the worldwide secular influence of the Jesuits. A Basque national fluent in the Japanese language, Pachon was a student and later a professor at the Jesuit-run Sophia University in Tokyo, which served both as a theoretical center for liberation theology while in practical terms operates as a contact center between the international fascist movement and the Japanese far right. Sophia and Ateneo universities receive funding from the yakuza-linked Sasakawa organization and its Nippon Foundation. Pachon was also the director at the pastoral institute at the Jesuit’s Ateneo University in Quezon City, whose alumni include Ninoy Aquino and his son, the current president. A master of intrigue, Pachon was a close friend of both Imelda Marcos and Corazon Aquino. His nod led to Noynoy’s honorary degrees from both prestigious universities as well as pontifical backing from fellow Jesuit Pope Francis. While not all Sophia faculty members at Sophia are in favor of Constitutional revision, the conservative majority have provided academic support, including law theory, for the Abe administration’s remilitarization of Japan.
– Father Arnold Abelardo, a pastor with the charismatic renewal movement, escorted Noynoy Aquino to massive election-campaign rallies organized by the populist church congregations, which has a huge base in poorer communities along with lower middle-class followers, which proved decisive for his presidential bid. The activist priest belongs to the Claretians (Order of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary), founded in Spain. Raised in Manila, Abelardo was educated in the Claretian stronghold among Latinos and Filipinos in Southern California. The charismatic movement tends to be super-patriotic in support of U.S. foreign interventions due to the high percentage of servicemen in its membership, many of whom have fought in Afghanistan, Iraq and other front-line combat zones. This demographic factor reinforces a neoconservative worldview that is belligerently pro-American and anti-China regarding the Spratlys dispute.
– Odelia Gregorio-Arroyo, widow and first wife of Joker Arroyo, the anti-Marcos human-rights lawyer and President Corazon Aquino’s executive secretary. As the Ambassador of the Knights of Malta, Gregorio-Arroyo has introduced Cory’s rather difficult son to all the right people, including the present grandmaster Matthew Festing, a retired British Army officer (and son of a Field Marshall) on his March 2015 state visit to the Philippines. The entourage came ostensibly to aid typhoon victims, who just happen to live on the South China Sea coast. The delegation included a representative of Americares, the U.S.-based charity sponsored by retired American presidents and closely connected with covert CIA operations in Central America (in support of the Contras in Nicaragua) and the Balkans (the Jesuit-backed pro-Nazi Ustasa fascist paramilitary, regrouped in Croatia for the break-up of Yugoslavia).
– Philip Goldberg, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, has previously held key diplomatic posts in Pristina, Kosovo, and was envoy to Bolivia, a leading nation in the ALBA group. He served as an assistance to Richard Holbrooke during the Dayton Accords on settlement of the Balkans conflict. Goldberg is former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research (INR), one of 16 agencies in the U.S. intelligence community. In 2008, Bolivian President Evo Morales declared Goldberg as a persona non grata, expelling him for using USAID in covert support of the rightist opposition.
The Sword of Loyola
In the 16th century when the Catholic realm was confronted by the dual challenges of the Protestant Reformation and the Ottoman Empire, the Spanish knight-at-arms Ignatius Loyola was inspired in a dream to create an army of solider-monks with steely discipline, a sharp intellectual edge and absolute obedience to the Pope.
His Society of Jesus stepped into the long-empty protective role of the Crusaders known as the Knights Templar, who had been banned for conspiracy against the Papacy.
Realizing that the pen is as mighty as the sword, the Jesuits focused on education. The names of some Jesuit universities discloses their deep political influence: Georgetown, Fordham and Loyola, while many institutions of higher learning across Asia bear the moniker of the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier.
Many of their universities include law schools, and it is no surprise that Jesuit legal experts, both priests and affiliated laymen, have an inordinate influence in international law, especially at The Hague.
It is no state secret that the Jesuits, who are strongly based in Macau, have been disappointed with the slow progress of Catholicism under China’s code on religious affairs.
While the Jesuits are tools of Japan’s remilitarization and Philippine foreign policy, the reverse is also true, that the emerging military threat to the People’s Republic of China provides a pressure point for Catholic interests there. Whatever the merits or flaws in their case for religious access, the public should not be deceived into demonizing China or risk being played like a card in a game of poker.
The Asian feet on the ground of geopolitics do not readily fit into European “shoes” of diplomacy. International law, as currently constituted, is based on the prerogatives of nations as defined in the Treaty of Westphalia, which in 1648 ended the Thirty Years War between Catholic and Protestant states.
The equality between nations, however, was not extended to the rest of the world during the era of colonialism, and to the contrary the norms for European colonialism included savage violence, slavery and genocide. International law arrived later, advanced by the two world wars that threatened the hegemony of Europe.
One major reason behind the favoritism shown by The Hague toward the Philippines is that it is the most westernized of Asian societies, being the former colony of Spain, particularly during the reign of the imperial Hapsburgs, and the United States.
In contrast to Westphalian diplomatic protocols, iinter-state relations in Asia were regulated under the tributary system of cross-relations between ruling families. The leading center of the tributary network was Ming China, whose fleet of treasure ships plied the seas with gifts of silk, porcelain and tea in quest of imperial relations overseas.
While Western legal expects scoff at it as a reactionary antique, the tributary system was the only peaceful alternative to barbarian conquest, tribal slaughter and the emerging threat of Western firepower. Today, an increasing multipolar world needs to better comprehend comparative legal traditions, instead of merely imposing a culturally biased version of Roman and Common law.
The procession of the Ming treasure ships through the gateway of the South China Sea is a huge precedent in world maritime history, which cannot be dismissed by the Western tendency to render judgments on maritime boundaries on the same level as commercial real estate.
The Western stress on control and economic exploitation reflections the mentality of skinflint shopkeepers, which favors the colonialist drive to build fortresses, ports and plantations as the basis for their “sovereignty”, a polite euphemism for brute force, resulting in the fact that France and Britain still possesses in islands in the Pacific, Indian and Antarctic oceans halfway around the world, while The Hague hypocritically denies Chinese claims to the Spratlys on the basis of armchair theories of insufficient proximity!
Environmental Double Standard
The Tribunal is focused on seven Philippine complaints that are narrowly defined and cleverly designed to manipulate the sovereignty issue in Manila’s favor:
– four claims that Chinese-controlled shoals are low-lying reefs or underwater rocks, which are ineligible to serve as grounds for a sovereignty claim;
– the illegality of Chinese patrol ships in preventing traditional fishing by Filipino vessels;
– environmental damage to two shoals from Chinese sand-dredging to create artificial islands; and
– whether China’s “purported law enforcement” promotes collisions between vessels.
The Marcos claim to the Spratlys in the so-called “West Philippine Sea”, based on the Freedomland adventure, is patently absurd, while the parties with verifiable historic claims based on historical records are Vietnam and China.
– As to the first complaint, it is irrelevant whether the Chinese are sitting atop a tidal reef or waist-deep at high tide, since China’s assertion of sovereignty over the Spratly archipelago is based not on nitpicking over rocky outcrops or lumps of coral. The Chinese claims are fundamentally based on its historical record of navigation as the discoverer and first claimant of those uninhabited islets, long before the arrival of the Spanish and French colonial powers, which founded the modern state structures of the Philippines and Vietnam.
– “Traditional” Filipino fishing practices include gill nets, underwater dynamite explosions and the poisoning of fish with cyanide, methods which are all extremely harmful to marine life and illegal under the UN Law of the Sea. Manila’s finger-pointing toward China is a childish blame game unworthy of a judicial hearing. That said, the local Greenpeace chapter in Manila sums up the state of environmental protection in the Philippines in one word: “unimpressive”.
– Serious damage to pristine marine environments due to construction projects is blatantly practiced by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, which have all engaged in massive landfill of coral reefs for airfields and port facilities. The singling out China in court on behalf of repeat offender Philippines shows the alienation from reality of smug legal bureaucrats in Europe.
– Collisions at sea are dangerous and unlawful, according to Manila’s seventh complaint to ITLOS. So why has the Philippine government allowed two derelict US landing vessel to be run aground on reefs in a deliberate attempt to block and/or sink other ships?
Luckily for Manila, which fails every environmental report card, all of the above are moot points until the proper court with jurisdiction, the ICJ, renders its decision on sovereignty.
Toward an Asian Commons
Regional cooperation on managing the Spratlys has been often proposed but always scuttled due to pressure from Washington D.C., the Pacific Command and Tokyo under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The Spratlys conflict is at root a vexing annoyance by American and Japanese neo-imperialism, which both refuse to relinquish their former colonial influence over Asia.
Remove these would-be world conquerors and Asia will find its way back to the peaceful path blazed by Corazon Aquino. In an ideal world, the Isles of the Treasure Ships should remain a natural paradise and a shared heritage for all Asians and Africans and whatever other societies were reached by the Ming fleets.
As for Jesuits, charismatics and other Christians, or Buddhists and Confucians for that matter, the Spratlys in the mind’s eye should affirm the maxim: “The meek shall inherit the earth.” What could this most paradoxical phrase mean?
For starters, “meek” is both singular and plural, for one and all. Each of us and all of us share the soil and the seas and the skies, we breathe the same air and drink the same water in the great Commons that sustains all creatures, great and small, and flowers of the field.
Why then are nations so eager to kill, to rob and to own those tiniest motes of dust in the vastness of the ocean? What madness grips patriots and men of faith to strive for blood on the sand? The oceans are the mother of life, and we are her caretakers. What good is there in pride of possession, when we all must return as we arrived, in peace and with nothing else?
Yoichi Shimatsu, Editor-at-Large of The 4th Media, former editor with the Japan Times group, is an investigative journalist based in Hong Kong. The opinions expressed are his own.