Friday, August 17, 2018

Cloudy airspace in the West Philippine Sea's 'Great Wall' in the Sky

Photo from Youtube
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

The recent test on the freedom of the sky in the South China Sea above the airspace of Subi reef southwest of the Philippines’ occupied Thitu island and Mischief reef an atoll turned into a fake island by the People’s Republic of China drew an escalating conflict as China continuously fortify its ‘Great Wall’ in the sky.

In a monthly operational routine of oblique sky patrol by a Philippine Air Force plane over Mischief reef, a radio warning from the Chinese navy transmitted a message to the Filipino pilot to “leave immediately or bear responsibility for all the consequences” in a menacing tone. However, the same warning signalled to the US reconnaissance naval aircraft five times in a normal tone conducting lawful military surveillance accorded by the international law around the heavily militarized Spratlys archipelago. This is a first time in recent months under the complete two-year old tenure of President Rodrigo Duterte after he seriously altered his political will to a soft China policy.

The asymmetrical cautionary notice can be concealed as alarming despite Manila’s unceasing efforts to warm up a closer bilateral engagement with Beijing. Given the recent external security development, how come China inversely treats the Philippines over the routine overflight in the South China Sea? Could a code of conduct repair the recent squabble between two countries above the contested airspace?    

In 2009, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) concocted of building a ‘Great Iron Wall in the Blue Sky’ in celebration of its 60th anniversary. This fourth great wall took off from China’s ancient great wall to elevate a terrestrial strength as a civilization-state that later on in post-modern history China purportedly flexed a naval power through massive reclamations of man-made islands in the South China Sea turning to a great wall at sea. It also marked a niche in their cyberspace generating the great firewall. The four instalments of the dragon’s great walls is a holistic approach to establish a grand strategy to fulfil a rejuvenated dream aspired to tame supremacy by protecting and controlling intently their land territories, maritime domains, cyber and air spaces. 

China unilaterally established and deeply enforced its own Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea over a maritime dispute with Japan and now with claimant-countries in the Spartly islands which garnered unilateral objection from major powers in the Indo-pacific region. It even imposed ADIZ without consultation from smaller neighbours that carry direct capabilities on land-based radar coverage, aerial refuelling, and early warning and control. Chinese ADIZ certainly was used as a buffer zone that delineated tasks to report a flight plan to their government, maintain radio communication, and announce warning to China’s armed forces in adopting defensive emergency measure to respond to foreign aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification. However, this military strategy does not grant state sovereignty over airspace. 

Viewing at it as China’s self-proclaimed rights in expanding outright supervision overflight and a constant exercise for China’s flexing an aerial power to enforce a susceptible anti-access area denial (A2/AD) strategy. It also nurtures a military aggression against the freedom of the sky to protect Chinese core interests in the South China Sea and China’s expanding maritime territories from intermittent incursion by the US military. Literally translated as, a way of the dragon trying to evict the eagle from its nest, creating havoc damage that may lead to regional instability and insecurity.

During the third state-of-the-nation address of President Duterte, the populist leader recognized the right of innocent passage and the air above the artificial islands. Only this month, the Philippine military aircraft grieved over intimidation after receiving at least 46 times warnings since the second half of 2017. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque boldly spewed to the media that the Chinese cannot stop unfazed Filipino pilots who expressed unfathomable nationalism by willing to die for the sake of asserting sovereignty while patrolling the skies of Philippine-claimed territories. 

South China Sea, a portion of it claimed by Filipinos as the West Philippine Sea, is a geopolitical tinderbox bearing profound strategic value and opulent natural resources. A code of conduct in the militarized zone should be agreed upon by claimant-countries. After the July 2016 arbitration award in favour of the Philippines gained a momentum, the jarring road to finalize and adopt a code of conduct in the South China Sea between China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) slow motioned. Described as a holy grail, signifying a high desire but unattainable direction, that may be used by China to legalize its hegemonic trajectories while subverting the spirit of the code of conduct. Hence, the appeal to multilateral consensus-based decision-making order should progress geared towards a rules-based norms in the South China Sea that covers the right to exercise freedom of overflight over the international airspace.  

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Philippines’ War on Drugs: Punitive or Restorative?

Photo from CNN Philippines
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

In the third State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Rodrigo Duterte this year, he bluntly began his litany of reform by spewing his adamant rhetoric on the war on drugs which for him resulted in the seizure of illegal drugs worth billions of pesos, and confidently declared, “I can only shudder at the harm that those drugs could have caused had they reached the street of every province, city, municipality, barangay and community throughout the country.”

His banner policy on the Philippine drug war has ascended into the spotlight when Duterte was elected as president in June 2016. This promise he made as the longest mayor of Davao City became his legacy in Mindanao’s largest city. Putting interest on the drug problem in the Philippines, the strongman’s heightened crack down using a punitive enforcement of law resulted to the surrender of almost two million illicit drug users to the government. It also caught the attention of the Human Rights Watch when almost 12,000 Filipinos died from police operations and alleged systemic extrajudicial executions since he assumed office. Early in February, the International Criminal Court (ICC) based at The Hague denounced the killings linked to the Philippine drug war and initiated a preliminary investigation which the firebrand Southeast Asian leader halted.

Thus, he sharply uttered in his SONA speech, “And when illegal drug operations turn nasty and bloody, advocates of human rights lash at—and pillory—our law enforcers and this administration to no end. Sadly, I have yet to hear really howls of protest from the human rights advocates and church leaders against drug-lordism, drug dealing and drug pushing as forceful and vociferous as the ones directed against the alleged errant [law] enforcers in the fight against this social scourge.”

Historically speaking, the Philippines’ transformation into a narcostate could be carved by its own history when Filipino ancestors had betel chewed since 1521. Opium was banned in 1908. Marijuana prevailed in 1954, which remained a preference, among persons who used drugs during Martial Law in 1972. While shabu users surfaced in Manila later in 1983 but reached its peak in 2004. Under Duterte’s tenure as president, he continuously crashes the world by tenaciously executing his controversial campaign against illegal drugs. Originally  pitched in as Project “Double Barrel” that connotes a two-pronged approach; namely, project Tokhang (lower barrel approach) and project High Value Target (upper barrel approach), spearheaded by the Philippine National Police (PNP), intended to attain utopian drug-free communities across the country.

However, it was the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 or Republic Act No. 9165 that paved way for strengthening the country’s fight against illegal drugs that was extremely enacted with stricter penalties for drug offenders. As a consequence, there were millions of drug users put to jail around the Philippines, according to the Dangerous Drugs Board, which made the country having the highest rate of shabu addicts in East Asia. Taking off from that supposed all-inclusive illegal drug law, the National Anti-Drug Plan of Action 2015-2020 was formulated, headed by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), to eradicate the supply of and demand for dangerous drugs. Under President Duterte, he also approved the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), signed through Executive Order No. 15, giving teeth to the comprehensive drug law “by putting behind bars the manufacturers, traffickers, and peddlers of illegal drugs and by transforming drug users into productive members of society through, among others, balanced and integrated approaches of supply and demand reduction strategies under Barangay Drug Clearing Program.”

The sudden constructions of treatment and rehabilitation centers and the lack of it ensured preponderance of political aid that questioned a posteriori human rights issue. And those who either voluntarily or involuntarily surrendered to law enforcers add to the harrowing condition of prisons in the country. In response to the war on drugs as a restorative act, the Dangerous Drugs Board created OPLAN Sagip (an operation plan to rescue), operated in September 2016 to establish guidelines for dealing with drugs surrenderees by establishing the Community-Based Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation (CBDTR) services and interventions to low-risk or low-to-mild severity use disorder, which comprises ninety percent of drug users around the Philippines.

Drug policy-making worldwide has become increasingly evidence-based. The same approach should be applied to the Philippines’ current drug policy. Two schools of thought may challenge Duterte’s quixotic program on the war on drugs; whether it is crime deterrence or clinical problem that is essentially seen as a social cancer. Given the drug policy’s messianic complex against a malignant phenomenon, gradually offsetting a relentless dream encompassing suppression, prosecution and rehabilitation in a holistic manner; the failed vision may botch inadequacy of serious policy-making and rigid methods that protects asymmetrical rights of the felony and the victims.

The bloody war on drugs besets wars on poor people, the youth, and crime busters who lost the appetite of seeing the real picture of turning a blind eye about a genuine social dilemma depriving a person of life, liberty and property.  In the end, unconditional surrender programs for users and peddlers must be encouraged augmenting a well-financed management of voluntary submission for drug pushers and rehabilitated drug users. Mainstreaming of drug education in the curriculum of secondary education as explicitly constituted in the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act must be properly supported and implemented by the government. There should be a comprehensive plan for long/medium/ and short term anti-drug operations to formalize the drug war procedures with a maximum end of safeguarding human rights, and not only human lives.