Thursday, October 23, 2014

When is sovereignty sovereign?

By Perry Diaz
Subic Bay
Subic Bay
The recent brouhaha over the killing of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, a Filipino transgender, allegedly by an American marine in a motel in Olangapo has once again brought to the fore the issue of “sovereignty.” Indeed, it’s so convenient to use “sovereignty” for whatever nebulous issues people are complaining about.
It did not then come as a surprise that when the news hit the fan, Filipinos on the left of the political spectrum took to the streets in protest of America’s violation of the Philippines’ sovereignty. But what had one U.S. marine private done to violate the Philippines’ sovereignty?
While it is sad and reprehensible that an American military serviceman has taken the life of a Filipino on Philippine soil, there is an incomprehensible presumption that such incidents are an affront to our sovereignty and a violation of our sovereign rights. And this begs the question: When is sovereignty sovereign?
According to Oxford Dictionary, “sovereignty” is: (1) supreme power or authority; (2) the authority of a state to govern itself or another state; and (3) a self-governing state. It defines “sovereign” (adjective) as possessing supreme or ultimate power. In simplistic terms, the Philippines is a sovereign republic capable of self-government and possesses supreme authority to govern itself.
But more often than not, “sovereignty” has become a catch-all for everything – or anything – that involves U.S. military personnel in situations that are perceived as violative of our sovereignty. All too often, it involved American servicemen who ran into trouble in a sleazy bar on the outskirts of an American base.
“A date gone wrong”
Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton
Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton
And that’s what happened on the night of October 11, 2014. U.S. marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was with other servicemen on furlough from ship duty, met Laude at the Ambyanz, a disco bar in Olongapo City.
Before long, Pemberton and Laude left the bar and checked in at a nearby motel. Thirty minutes later, Pemberton left the room and never returned. Later, a housekeeper found Laude’s dead body in the bathroom wrapped in a bed sheet.
CCTV footage of Pemberton and Laude at the Celzon Lodge.
CCTV footage of Pemberton and Laude at the Celzon Lodge.
A police report indicated that Laude apparently drowned in the toilet. Two condoms were recovered from the bathroom and DNA tests are now being done.
But what happened next was what caused the leftwing to go berserk: the U.S. took custody of Pemberton. The leftists demanded the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). They claimed that VFA was lopsided in favor of the Americans.
Signed in 1999 by both countries, VFA says that the Philippines can prosecute American servicemen in a Philippine court of law, but the U.S. has custody over them “from commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.” But once a verdict of “guilty” is meted out, a convicted serviceman must serve the sentence in a Philippine prison. Fair enough?
A question of custody
Jeffrey-Laude-anti-US-rallyThe leftwing said that the “custody” provision of VFA violates the sovereignty of the Philippines. But didn’t the Philippine treaty negotiators agree to the “custody” provision, though? They knew that it was a sensitive political issue that could ignite emotional outburst from the Left, yet the negotiators agreed to that provision.
Thus, the “custody” issue became a cause célèbre for nationalists, leftwing activists, communists, political opportunists, and anybody in between who harbors a grudge against Americans. And like mushrooms, anti-American rallies sprouted overnight demanding justice for Laude and the termination of VFA and EDCA.
It’s interesting to note that just a year after the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier to Leyte to provide humanitarian aid to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, all the good deeds that America did to help thousands of typhoon survivors were rendered meaningless. And all that matters now is the “illegal” custody of U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who is detained in the USS Peleliu, which is moored at the Subic Bay Freeport while the case is pending before a Philippine court.
Chinese imperialism
Chinese fortifications on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.
Chinese fortifications on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.
Now that the leftwing coalition has once again showed its true political color at the slightest tremor in U.S.-Philippine relations, they have turned a blind eye to what is happening to the Philippines’ offshore territories of Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and the Kalayaan Group of Islands in the Spratly Archipelago.
When China grabbed Panganiban Reef in 1994 — two years after the Philippine Senate unceremoniously evicted the U.S. bases – nobody lifted a finger to stop the Chinese incursion into Philippine territory. In 2012, China took possession of Panatag Shoal and nobody did anything to stop it. Interestingly, just two weeks before the Chinese land grab, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III vowed to protect Panatag at all cost during his State of the Nation Address (SONA). Well, China called his bluff and he didn’t do anything.
Artificial island under construction by China on Mabini (Johnson South) Reef in the Kalayaan islands.
Artificial island under construction by China on Mabini (Johnson South) Reef in the Kalayaan islands.
Recently, China started building artificial islands in the Spratlys including the Mabini (Johnson South) Reef, which is less than 100 miles from Palawan. China is building at least five artificial islands that it will use as unsinkable “aircraft carriers” to project Chinese power all the way to the Second Island Chain from Japan to Guam to Papua New Guinea and Australia. With five artificial islands with airstrips capable of accommodating bombers and fighter jets, the Philippines would be helplessly indefensible from Chinese invasion. The only deterrence the Philippines has against foreign invasion is American military presence on Philippine soil. But that is iffy right now.
In my article, “What price sovereignty?” (January 20, 2014), I wrote: “Would the Philippines disallow American military presence needed to protect the sovereignty that we hold so dearly? But without U.S. presence, our sovereignty would be exposed to Chinese imperialistic advances. It’s a dilemma that the Philippines has to grapple with. Simply put, the Philippines cannot have it both ways. Sometimes you got to give a little to gain strategic advantage. That’s geopolitics.”
So, when then is sovereignty sovereign? Sovereignty is sovereign when a state has the capability to protect and defend its independence and territorial integrity by whatever means.

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