Archive for August 27, 2012


Flag of the People’s Republic of China

China may have strategic and psychological reasons behind its claims for much of the South China Sea. When the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was inaugurated in 1949, Chairman Mao proudly announced that China has risen; that it has risen  from the shame of colonial subjugation and defeat in war.  China was carved into separate spheres of influence by the Euopean powers and the US in the 19th century.  Its 1911 Revolution failed to improve the national condition.

Since 1949, it has transformed itself into an industrial and nuclear during Mao’s lifetime. While Mao’s rigid doctrines were rejected after his death, the pragmatic policies of his successors were intended to strengthen the country through the so-called Four Modernizations–including that of the economy and the military. The new Chinese leaders invited foreign investors and opened industrial zones and the country’s economy grew spectacularly through exports. China is now the second largest economy of the world.

Chairman Mao Zedong

Now that its economy has grown, China is now poised to project power commensurate to its prosperity. Its immediate objective is to secure its immediate periphery. Since Japan has invaded and conquered parts of China during the Second World War it seeks to pursue disputes in the East China Sea (ECS).

Together with Taiwan, both countries are in dispute over the Japan-administered Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Lest we forget, China also claims Taiwan as its province. And of course, we are aware of Chinese claims over the Spratly Islands, Paracels and the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea that are disputed by a number of Southeast Asian states and Taiwan. These Chinese claims intrude into or overlap with exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of other states.

Senkaku/Diaoyu/Tiaoyu islands

Disputed areas in the South China Sea

Apart from economic reasons, the Chinese claims should be seen as extensions of their defense lines. If they can indeed establish ownership over SCS waters, they can control important sea lanes of communication and interdict passage of warships. The SCS will be domestic waters which the PLA Navy can freely cruise. The United States is the power that will be most affected by this Chinese aggressive confidence. China is the reason behind the US pivot to Asia–the deployment of 60% of American military assets in Asia. If China owned Scarborough Shoal, its warships will be in a better position to take out a radar facility to be built by the US in the Philippines. To summarize, China’s territorial assertiveness is fueled by pride and strategic considerations and is based on a strong economy.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno

(Author’s note:  Before she was appointed to the Supreme Court as associate justice by President Noynoy Aquino, Maria Lourdes ‘Meilu’ Sereno and her family were my neighbors at the Hardin ng Rosas, a walk-up condominium housing facility provided by the University of the Philippines Diliman for its faculty and staff.  The Sereno family is no longer living there.  This information is disclosed for whatever it is worth.)

In his column published in today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the doyen of Philippine political commentators, Amando Doronila raised some important questions with respect to newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

The first concerns the capacity of Sereno to maintain the independence of the Court from the Executive branch, or more particularly, the Presidential Palace.  Sereno was President Noynoy Aquino’s first appointment to the Supreme Court.  His appointment of Sereno to the CJ post allows him to add another appointee to the Court.

Smiling together; but independent of each other?

The independence of the three branches of government from each other is a fundamental constitutional principle to guard against abuse of power.

How does one interpret a court ruling aligned with the Palace’s preferences?  Is it a prima facie case of the court’s lack of

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

independence from the executive?  Must legislatures also have no clear majorities siding with government to be deemed independent?  Did those who are currently raising fears of Sereno’s possible subservience raise any objection when former Gloria Macapagal Arroyo packed the Court with her appointees, including a midnight appointment for impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona?

Independence has a plus side; it also has a down side.  The non-confirmation of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo is one example.  The bi-chamber Commission on Appointments was designed to vet presidential appointments.  As it turned out, it proved to be a case of political accommodation in Robredo’s case.

If one abstracts from concrete examples, independence of governmental branches may prevent abuse of power especially by the executive.  However, this same independence can lead to governmental gridlock, to the lack of unity and perpetual wrangling, and consequently the lack of governmental action.  Citizens are the ultimate losers due to gridlock.

Party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano

Doronila echoes the fears of Anakpawis Rep. Paeng Mariano on Sereno’s ‘fairness’ regarding the valuation of compensation to the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita.  In a unanimous decision on 24 April 2012, the Supreme Court ruled the Cojuangcos (relatives of President Noynoy Aquino on his mother’s side) must distribute land to the estate farmers instead of retaining the stock distribution scheme.  The Court also decided to compensate the Cojuangcos based on the November 1989 valuation (P40,000 per hectare) instead of the  asked-for 2006 valuation (P2.45 million).  Sereno wrote a dissenting opinion favoring the 2006 valuation.

The Cojuangcos appealed the Supreme Court and the case will be heard by a Court presided over by CJ Sereno.  Does it immediately mean that the Court will decide in favor of the Cojuangcos?  It is my opinion that it may not be necessarily be the case.  Note that Sereno was ‘deep-selected’ by ignoring the seniority rule.  This means that more than a lot of feathers were ruffled not only by Sereno but by President Noynoy himself.   Yesterday, I started reading ‘news’ about Sereno’s low psychiatric scores and her apparent ‘lack of moral competence’.  Deja vu!  Noynoy Aquino was also maligned about his alleged ‘Abnoyism’ during the 2010 electoral campaign.

 

The Court ruling for a lower Luisita compensation was issued in April 24 while the impeachment proceedings against CJ Corona were on-going.  Throughout the impeachment process, the Court was in solidarity with its Chief Justice.  I don’t expect them to reverse the April 24 ruling because Sereno is now chief justice.

Impeached CJ Renato Corona

Sereno has yet to demonstrate she can convince her colleagues to agree with her.  She disagreed when they decided to give another presidential relative, Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco a 20 % block of the shares of the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) worth P58 billion.  Her dissenting opinions may be brilliant or well-written but they are positions of minorities or a single justice.

In this sense, ensuring reasonable independence from the Palace is not among  Sereno’s immediate concerns.  Maybe a more urgent task is to patiently repair the cracks within the Court–something she earlier said does not exist.