Security governance and practices in the Panatag shoal standoff
The Panatag Shoal standoff with China is a test case of the capacity of the Philippine government for addressing an external threat.
At the policy level, the Panatag case impinges on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)’s shift from internal security to external defense. The case reveals the quality of AFP response, its execution of external defense role, a largely underfunded mission that roots from the internal security turn in the government’s operationalization of national security since the Marcos years.
Security governance, another level of interaction between state and societal actors is a more inclusive terrain, in which the locus extends beyond the institutional and coordinative mechanisms of policy and their outcomes. Actual practices of multi-leveled actors are zoomed in by the governance lens, thereby unpacking the boundaries and limitations of institutionalization and of policy execution.
These analytics have their merits but they can be both enhanced by values and beliefs which are embedded in the actors’ speech acts and practices. As variables, they are useful for making sense of decisions outside of the notion of rational self interest and for enriching the analysis of inter-agency action.
Consistent with its role as the first line of defense, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary, Albert Del Rosario met with Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing on April 12, 2012 during which a Philippine surveillance plane confronted Chinese vessels in the Panatag shoal.
Del Rosario’s statement that “(t)he (s)hoal is 124 nautical miles from the nearest basepoint in Zambales province....is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)...” reframed the illegal fishing activity to a territoriality question.
|Military action , however did not converge with early diplomatic overtures|
While in pursuit of diplomacy, Del Rosario must have communicated a conflicting message. As he emphasized the importance of building negotiations on the “Years of Friendly Exchanges” between the Philippines and China, he, on April 13, asserted that “if the Philippines is challenged, we are prepared to secure (its) sovereignty.”
Military action , however did not converge with early diplomatic overtures. On April 11, the Philippine Navy (PN) has already deployed BRP Gregorio del Pilar to conduct maritime patrol over Panatag. A pull out was later authorized by PN Command Vice Admiral Alexander Pama when the action was criticized to have conflated the situation with the entry of Chinese surveillance ship in the shoal’s vicinity. Upon retreat, however, Pama’s statement that “(i)t’s definitely not a retreat on the basis...that we took that this is ours....” failed to align action with language.
On April 13, in lieu of military presence in Panatag, domestic law enforcement, through the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)‘s BRP Edsa took the frontline, a significant move that Lt Gen Anthony Alcantara, AFP Northern Luzon commander reiterated took notice of on April 20.
However, the unsynchronized military laying of the flag on the shoal and PCG pursuit of illegal fishery resources demonstrated an episodic lack of strategic action. Lt Gen Alcantara’s exaltation of naval and coast guard capacities for patrol and information gathering marked by statements such as “(o)ur Navy and Coast Guard are always patrolling these waters to take care of our interests...”, did not deflate tension.
|DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez revealed the agency’s desire to elevate the bilateral issue to a regional issue in April 2012|
By the third week of April 2012, DFA already prepared to unilaterally take the route of international mediation through the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea. DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez revealed the agency’s desire to elevate the bilateral issue to a regional issue, as US assistance was summoned. Del Rosario stated: “All, not just the Philippines, will ultimately be negatively affected if we do not take a stand.”
The DFA, however has failed to take over and set the context of the negotiations. By late April, then AFP Chief of Staff Jessie Dellosa re-positioned by declaring that “(w)hile diplomacy is the normative path to tread, it should be matched with capabilities...” On May 17, Dellosa has made reference to the establishment of a “modest deterrent capability” for the AFP.
The external security dilemma spilled over to other levels and sectors of governance. At the local level, Zambales did not initiate a municipal fishing ban in the shoal but a BFAR advisory against fishing in the northwestern waters discouraged local fishing. The order to use the payao to gather fish revealed the fisheries management aspect of the conflict. In addition, Chinese quarantine of 150 containers of Cavendish bananas that reportedly failed the phytosanitary requirements of China spurred the creation of a task force under the Department of Agriculture. Earlier events have also included the hacking of the University of the Philippines website and the mobilization of transnational anti-China protest rallies.
|The Panatag Shoal standoff demonstrated the spillover capacity and the changed nature of external threats|
As another territorial dispute event unfolds, we turn to how our policy enforcers confronted an external security threat. The Panatag Shoal standoff demonstrated the spillover capacity and the changed nature of external threats. These challenges require that the security sector coordinates, aligns and coheres inter-agency and institutional actions, norms and practices.
Alma Salvador, Chair of the Department of Political Science is the co-convenor of the WG SSR. She is also a part of the research subcluster on Peace, Social Justice, Democracy and Governance of the Ateneo School of Social Sciences where she and colleagues, Daisy See, Director of Chinese Studies Program and Prof. Cristina Montiel of the Psychology Department, work on the discursive analysis of the Scarborough Shoal standoff news events.