West Philippine Sea

[Rappler’s Best] Gaming a war

Glenda M. Gloria

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[Rappler’s Best] Gaming a war

Guia Abogado/Rappler

'China has been accelerating its media play...now officially claiming that the Philippine government had agreed to supposed deals on how to manage tensions in the West Philippine Sea'

Have you had a peaceful weekend or were you just as confused about which supposed deal had been struck between Manila and Beijing – and over which shoal? 

As more than 16,000 Filipino and American troops wrap up their “most ambitious, complicated” war games in the Philippines this week, China has also been accelerating its media play, breaking out of the shadows of “unnamed” foreign sources and now officially claiming that the Philippine government had agreed to supposed deals on how to manage tensions in the West Philippine Sea. 

The back-to-back official statements came weeks after anonymous China sources had told select Filipino journalists about an alleged “understanding” between both sides to stay away from Ayungin Shoal, where the Philippine outpost, BRP Sierra Madre, is located. In the last few days, the Chinese embassy in Manila has declared that: 

  • Former president Rodrigo Duterte had agreed with China on “temporary special arrangements” that would bar Filipino fisherfolk from fishing in the lagoon of Panatag Shoal, and which would disallow the Philippine military and the coast guard from entering the 12-nautical-mile territorial sea and corresponding air space of Panatag. In this piece by Rappler security and foreign affairs reporter Bea Cupin, she explains why this agreement practically surrenders Philippine sovereignty and violates the Constitution. 
  • Earlier this year, the Philippine military’s Western Command (Wescom), which has jurisdiction over the WPS and based off Palawan, reportedly –  with the approval of Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro – agreed to a “new model” to maintain peace in Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal). Teodoro cried foul last Sunday, branding this as nothing but China’s “charade.” 

Would China be so reckless as to make such claims without basis? It’s “fake news and disinformation,” according to National Security Adviser Eduardo Año. A classic divide-and-rule tactic, said others. We have not heard from the Wescom commander, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, who was named to the post by Duterte four months before the May 2022 presidential elections that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. won. The camps are abuzz with rumors he’s on his way out, but it would be premature – and perhaps even unfair – to speculate about where he stands.

Carlos is well-credentialed: he entered the Philippine Military Academy but eventually got accepted to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he finished his military schooling in 1989. He does have ties with China, in that it was at the Naval Command College-People’s Liberation Army-Navy where he finished his command and general staff course. He has been on board ships that sent resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal, including the one that was water-cannoned by China in March. He’s been outspoken against Beijing. Last year, Carlos warned that China would be exerting “more coercive actions” against the Philippines, “short of an armed attack.” 

Have unauthorized Philippine officials been in touch with Beijing? Only the Department of Foreign Affairs is mandated to “negotiate and conclude agreements with foreign states,” retired associate justice Antonio Carpio told us. Could it be China’s trick precisely to talk to these unauthorized officials to further confuse the enemy, so to speak?

As Bea asked in her latest View from Manila piece, if China truly wants an understanding to address WPS issues, why isn’t it committing to a date for the next round of dialogue with the Philippines? 

Beyond harassing Filipinos in Philippine waters, Beijing has taken a more shrill stand against Manila following the trilateral summit of the US, Japan, and the Philippines in April, which was hosted by US President Joe Biden at the White House.

After the summit, the Philippines and its allies paraded their wares in the skies and in mock battlefields, and sailed beyond Philippine territorial waters during the Balikatan exercises. The drills began on April 22 and will end on Friday, May 10. Navy ships from the Philippines, US, and France sailed in the West Philippine Sea. 

The highlight of the war games will be held in Marcos’ home province, Ilocos Norte, on Wednesday, May 8: a counter-landing and ship-sinking exercise of Filipino and American troops, with the staging ground at the touristy La Paz sand dunes of Laoag City.

  • It’s sheer coincidence that the ship that is to be sunk in the exercise was made in China. To put further meaning into it is much ado about nothing, said a Philippine Navy official. 
  • Here are the military assets that have been and are being used in the massive Balikatan exercises. 
  • For the first time, the Philippine Coast Guard joined the sea drills.

Add to this the context that defense chiefs of the Philippines, US, Japan, and Australia also met in Hawaii last week, the highlight of which was China’s aggression in the South China Sea.

Amid all this, bursts of disinformation erupted. The most recent false stories include: 

As I’m deep into Peter Pomerantsev’s compelling book, How to Win an Information War (The Propagandist Who Outwitted Hitler), I end with a quote from it: “Deception in war is as old as the Trojan horse.” – Rappler.com

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  1. ET

    It’s a fact: “Deception in war is as old as the Trojan horse.” But in the Digital Age, we’ve given it a new name: Disinformation. What’s alarming is that China’s Disinformation campaign is not just ongoing; it’s accelerating. The question is, when will it reach its peak, and what will be the consequences?

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Glenda M. Gloria

Glenda Gloria co-founded Rappler in July 2011 and is currently its executive editor.