This Was No "Accident"

President Marcos laid out the principled high ground upon which the Philippines stands at Second Thomas Shoal. His spokespeople should avoid yielding it back by excusing Beijing's mendacity.
| JUNE 23, 2024
This Was No "Accident"



Psychologically traumatized victims trapped in abusive relationships will often blame themselves for their abusers' violence. This was hauntingly expressed in the 1987 Suzanne Vega hit single, "Luka"--sung in the voice of one such domestic violence victim:

If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don't ask me what it was
Just don't ask me what it was
Just don't ask me what it was

Being a child of the '80s, I couldn't stop thinking about this after hearing Philippine Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin's strangely antiseptic characterization of the China Coast Guard's ugly brutality against Philippine troops during Monday's humanitarian resupply mission to their outpost at Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal, provided during a press conference on Friday: "No, well this was probably a misunderstanding or accident--we are not yet ready to classify this as an armed attack.

I think it's because I'm clumsy
I try not to talk too loud
Maybe it's because I'm crazy
I try not to act too proud

Reasonable people can disagree on whether the flagrant blockading of a nation's sovereign vessel and military outpost; brandishing and use of bladed weapons; ramming, boarding, puncturing and capture of sovereign vessels; and wounding military personnel while confiscating their weapons and disrupting their medical evacuation may be classified as an "armed attack". 

I can understand deciding not to use this language in official statements. I'm just an outside observer--it's not my responsibility to guide a nation through a crisis. Government officials don't always get to say what they really think. I certainly couldn't when I was in government.

Still, whatever else this was, it was clearly no simple "misunderstanding". This was self-evidently a malicious, dangerous and deliberate act of extreme aggression--one might even say barbarism. In fact, some Philippine officials did ... before this language was bizarrely walked back to mere "accident" status on Friday afternoon.

Yes I think I'm okay
I walked into the door again
If you ask that's what I'll say
And it's not your business anyway

I have advocated for Manila to consider requesting formal consultations with the U.S. under Article III of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty: The Parties, through their Foreign Ministers or their deputies, will consult together from time to time regarding the implementation of this Treaty and whenever in the opinion of either of them the territorial integrity, political independence or security of either of the Parties is threatened by external armed attack in the Pacific.

To my thinking, this would be a measured but clarifying step, helping to sort out exactly what the Philippines thinks it might need from its ally and what the U.S. might be able to provide. It would also serve notice to the yet-undeterred Beijing that there really are limits how aggressive it can become without risking very serious consequences.

Moreover, this could be done calmly and deliberately, without resolving the thorny question of whether Monday's confrontation has already crossed the "armed attack" red line.

The Executive Secretary's language, on the other hand, goes much too far in the other direction. In fact, it appears to break faith with the brave Philippine troops who displayed courage, restraint and professionalism under extreme circumstances on Monday. 

It also pulls the rug out from under President Marcos' eloquent Shangri-La speech, which he gave before a global audience just three weeks ago in Singapore: "In our solid legal footing and through our clear moral ascendancy, we find strength to do whatever it takes to protect our sovereign home to the last square inch, to the last square millimeter ... As President, I have sworn this solemn commitment from the very first day that I took office. I do not intend to yield. Filipinos do not yield."

Whatever Manila decides to do going forward will be Manila's choice. We who are not Filipinos should all fully respect that. 

What I don't think we should do is to downplay the mendacity on full display last Monday. This was no mere accident nor miscommunication

Screenshot 2024-06-23 at 11.49.50 AM.png

They only hit until you cry
And after that you don't ask why
You just don't argue anymore
You just don't argue anymore
You just don't argue anymore

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