A weekend trip to die for (and shed a few tears afterwards for).
Youtube star David DiMuzio with Russian companion Anna hold an impromptu performance at a Philippine farming community with a local volunteer playing the guitar. Here is the English translation of the song, Anak (child), by Freddie Aguilar.
With evidence of foreign interference affecting its election process, the U.S. is now the target of amusement for the rest of the world. The following is shocking proof of outside influencers inserting themselves into the computerized voting system that decided who the next American president would be. Were the election officials oblivious or simply fools?
Manny Pacquiao stands alone as being the only boxer in history to win twelve world titles in eight different weight divisions. Often unimposing compared to his opponents, he consistently outpunched them. Follow his upward trajectory from unrecognized underdog to being called the greatest boxer of all time by sports pundits.
So here he was sitting on a log in his backyard because he was retired. At forty-seven years of age, not bad.
He no longer occupied the office of Justice of the Peace. He was no longer Judge Molina. He was no longer Justice of the Peace Molina. He was not even Justice Molina. He was Just Molina.
He’d awakened at seven o’clock that morning and remembered he’d been officially retired as of five p.m. the previous day. He’d lain back in bed and gone back to sleep. The next time he was up, it was ten a.m.
His parents (long deceased) had named him Justiniano Molina. That got him the dueling childhood nicknames of Osting and Nano, used by family and a special someone in his past. In law school, he developed a phobia for “Justiniano” when a professor with a stutter could not say it right, and the mangled version became a classroom joke to be repeated again and again by wiseasses. Friends fixed the problem one Pub Night by dubbing him “Just Molina” (“Justin” was voted out as “sissy”). They toasted his new name with bottles of San Miguel beer. They predicted that this moniker would make him a fair-minded judge someday, a just one.
The unforgiving Philippine sun beat down on his scalp. He should have worn a hat. But it was too late now because he was nicely settled on his log, whittled flat on top for comfort by his hired hand, Isagani. Chocks of wood fit nicely beneath the log to give it stability. It was a good spot to sit on all day. His loose Hawaiian shirt, bermuda shorts and flip-flops accommodated the cooling breeze. A hat, though, would have helped to stave off the tropical sun.
Two puppies, about three months old, came out of the nearby dog shelter to gnaw at his toes. The first one was Coco, mostly brown and pudgy. The second one was Salty, bristly white with premature whiskers sticking out of his snout in all directions. They were litter-mates from different fathers. Coco looked like the neighbor’s big brown dog, and Salty was a baby version of a mangy white thing that had made a brief appearance during their mother’s fertile period.
He sat in the backyard of his two-story three-bedroom house that came with a hobby farm he’d purchased at the edge of a barrio early in his tenure as a judge. Originally of beautiful wooden parts, his house had developed termite rot of late and had to be re-done all in cement by a posse of carpenters. He blamed this predicament on greedy loggers who had robbed the Philippines of its forests, and greedy termites that took care of what wood there was left. Wooden houses were an endangered species in the land that he loved.
To add insult to injury, one of the carpenters contracted to work on his house had eloped with his only housemaid two weeks ago right after the renovations. Now he faced his retirement without even a maid in the house.
The dog shelter was a wide sheet of galvanized iron roofing propped up by bamboo poles in the backyard. Both his house and the dog house were at a front corner of his coconut plantation, fourteen hectares of copra-yielding land fenced-in with wire-mesh and managed by his man Isagani who lived in a hut toward the rear end of the property. (The only privacy walls were at the front yard where the judge parked his old canvas-topped jeep).
By default, Isagani’s wife now looked after the judge, a confirmed bachelor without a maid. The caretaker’s wife came over to cook his meals, clean up his mess and do his laundry, delegating two older girls from her brood of four to mind the chores at home. It was a temporary situation to end as soon as a suitable maid was found for Molina.
A cacophony of barking shattered the peace. Dogs were going amuck around the shed, Giselle the bitch, her three grown-up offspring and the two pups. They streamed toward the side-gate that gave him easy access to the outside when he preferred not to go through the main entrance up front.
A wiry man sporting a soiled t-shirt that complemented his grimy denims, muddy rubber boots and weathered straw hat, was coming down the path outside in a hurry. It was Bitoy, the official garbage collector for the barrio of which the judge’s property was nominally a part.
“Judge Molina! Judge Molina!” Bitoy cried above the ruckus of the dogs.
“Just Molina,” Molina corrected though he doubted Bitoy could hear him above the din. The judge left his comfortable spot to see what was so urgent.
Bitoy stood huffing and puffing at the gate to await Molina taking his time in his usual calm and collected way. Justice, it seemed, deserved the full measure of time.
When they were finally facing each other on opposite sides of the gate, the retired judge peered through the wire mesh. He could see that the garbage collector had his hands oddly extended, palms up.
Then it all became clear.
On Bitoy’s palms was a banana leaf displaying a freshly cut penis.
“Letsugas!” Molina swore.
Molina contacted his friend, Dr. Paco Lacorte, by landline.
They spoke in Filipino English, an admixture of local dialect and English, the legacy of teachers brought in by the Americans in 1901 to replace Spanish as the medium of instruction in Filipino schools. Having won the Spanish-American War, the new occupiers transformed the Spanish colony into a protectorate of the United States, and therefore English became the accepted way the locals communicated. Even after their Independence, this lingua franca among the multi-tribal Filipinos prevailed.
“Doc, I need you here quickly,” Molina told his friend over the telephone. “I have a human organ in my fridge.”
“A human organ?” Dr. Lacorte repeated, disbelieving.
“A male sex organ freshly cut.”
“No kidding. Is this an early April Fool’s joke?” It was late March. Dr. Lacorte started to laugh. They were old high school buddies, and pulling pranks on each other was something they’d done before.
“A penis in my fridge is no joking matter.” Molina’s serious tone stopped the doctor in mid giggle.
“Freshly cut, you say,” Dr. Lacorte said. “That sounds serious. Who’s the owner?”
“I don’t know. Bitoy the trash man brought it to me. He found it after he left his garbage cart by the side of the road to grab a loaded trashcan from someone’s yard. There were a number of cars that passed by. He thinks it came from one of the cars. Someone tossed it into his cart.”
“Okay, this sounds like an emergency. Keep the penis in your fridge. I’m coming to examine its condition. We might have to ask the authorities to issue a city-wide alert for someone missing his organ.”
“If he’s still alive.”
“Let’s pray he is.”
“Amen to that.”
Molina was happy to see his friend and former high school classmate. A tennis fanatic, Dr. Lacorte looked trim and fit in his white polo shirt and tan slacks, his compact frame vibrating with energy. The retired judge was taller and also in good shape (from long walks and puttering around the farm), but was no match to his friend’s glowing vitality.
They were seated across from each other at the kitchen table, discussing the two-inch portion of a penis Dr. Lacorte had examined the moment he’d arrived. The judge had provided a Glad sandwich bag for the “specimen,” and the precious package was now swaddled in a towel, safely back in the refrigerator.
“Still fresh,” Dr. Lacorte decided. “I’d say separated from its owner about three or four hours ago.”
“How long will it stay good?” Molina asked.
“It will last a couple of days if refrigerated. I’ve heard of cases where a dismembered body part survived for as long as four days before being reattached to its owner.”
“If there’s an owner alive.”
“Good point. It could be the result of a terrorist execution.”
“If that’s the case, we’ve got the wrong end of the anatomy. A head is normally what these killers produce.”
“Let’s give the mystery a bit of time to clear up, Just,” Dr. Lacorte said. “I’ve alerted my hospital and police contacts to watch out for any amputation report that might crop up.”
“Won’t be good news any way you look at it,” Molina said. “Either we end up with an emasculated patient or a defiled corpse.”
The doctor smacked the table top with the flat of his hand, as an inspiration struck him. “This brings Thailand to mind.”
“Thailand? Why are we in Thailand all of a sudden?”
“Thai men who feel guilty about carousing with friends, use this exit line – ‘I better get home or the ducks will have something to eat.’”
“Meaning?” Molina puzzled.
“The traditional home in Thailand sits on stilts with pigs, chickens and ducks living underneath. So here’s a common scenario: a Thai man who indulges in extra-marital activity, gets his penis cut off with a kitchen knife by his wife while he’s asleep. She tosses the dismembered part out the window to where a duck is likely to catch it.”
“I get the picture,” Molina said, shaking his head and crossing his arms while suppressing a grin.
“Thailand experienced an epidemic of penile amputations during the seventies and eighties, alarming the medical community. Though the practice is less prevalent now, Thai men continue to expect this type of behavior from women who are humiliated. The same thing could very well happen here in the Philippines.”
“You’re saying our penile amputation could be the work of a disgruntled housewife?”
“A strong possibility.”
A loud buzzing, like that of an angry bee, filled the room. The doctor reached into his trouser pocket and brought out a cell phone, which continued to sound off with added intensity. He swiped the answer icon, eliminating the noise, and raised the device to his ear. “Hello?”
Molina leaned forward on his elbows at the table edge, as he tried to decipher the static of the source at the other end. “Well?” he asked when his friend finally ended the call.
“Bingo!” Dr. Lacorte exclaimed. “Help’s on the way.”
“My contact at Davao General says that they’ve admitted a patient who might be our amputee. Lab guys are on their way here to retrieve the organ.” The doctor hesitated, then added, “My contact wasn’t at liberty to reveal the patient’s identity.”
“Your contact won’t tell you who the victim is?”
“Might be political or a police matter.”
“Or just some guy with a privacy issue.”
“So let’s wait in my den and see what develops.”
Molina’s den was a mini library with cushioned rattan chairs, between the living room and kitchen. On a side table was a crystal decanter of brandy and a matching tray of snifter glasses. The judge made the requisite offer of a drink and the doctor accepted.
“You’re retired, after all, and I can’t have you drink alone,” Dr. Lacorte laughed.
“Spoken like a true friend.”
As they stood sipping together, their eyes wandered toward an ornately framed picture on a marble pedestal that dominated a corner of the library. It was an altar of sorts. The waist-up picture was of a woman with lush raven hair that tumbled down to her shoulders bared modestly between the butterfly sleeves of a terno. Her eyes were as soft as her smile, her overall expression wistful. The photograph was sepia brown of decades past.
“Still grieving?” Dr. Lacorte asked, probing but tactful. His friend was also his patient, after all. Molina’s mental wellbeing deserved as much consideration as his physical fitness.
“I talk to her sometimes, as if she were still alive.”
Company arrived before Dr. Lacorte could probe further. Molina looked relieved.
He moved to a window to watch his man Isagani admit a neon-green ambulance van through the front gate. The hired hand guided the ambulance driver to an open spot between the judge’s olive jeep and Dr. Lacorte’s beige Isuzu sport-utility vehicle within the adobe enclosure of the front yard.
Three men emerged from the ambulance, two attendants in white coats and a slick character in a stylish bush jacket, prompting the retired judge to say, “Why, it’s our congressman’s aide, Attorney Adan Cabugao.”
“An interesting turn of events,” Dr. Lacorte said, peering over his friend’s shoulder.
With greetings exchanged, Molina guided the newcomers through the living room into the kitchen. His questioning stare was not lost on the congressman’s aide, a publicity hound who liked to preen for television cameras.
“Judge Molina,” Atty. Cabugao said, “I’m here on behalf of Congressman Tamares.”
So says the front man for the busy representative of our Davao City district, thought Molina while interjecting, “Just Molina now, I’m retired.”
“Yes,” Atty. Cabugao said, barely acknowledging the correction. “And I’m here to see that this errand proceeds smoothly to completion.”
“What does the congressman have to do with this er- errand? And where is he?”
“He has his reasons. He’s in seclusion right now.”
Molina waited but no additional information was forthcoming. So he exchanged glances with Dr. Lacorte and got to work, showing the white-coated attendants the wrapped organ in the refrigerator. They transferred the precious parcel into their sterile container, which looked suspiciously like an upgraded beer cooler, and were ready to return to the hospital.
Like a clucking hen, Atty. Cabugao hurried his companions back to the van. Everything happened so fast that his cursory goodbye and strong cologne still lingered in the house after he’d gone.
“Atty. Cabugao shows up with the guys sent to retrieve the organ, and his boss is in seclusion,” Molina mused aloud. “What does that mean?”
“How about we include the congressman’s wife in our discussion,” the doctor ventured. “What do we know about her? Is she the jealous type? Is she a closet harpy perhaps?”
He woke up in a cold sweat, his heart palpitating, but not because of a nightmare. He felt an overwhelming desire to throw off sleep as if it were a blanket suffocating him.
Groaning, he glanced at the clock radio on his bedside table. The digital display told him that it was 2:37 a.m.
He sat up, sliding his feet into the foam slippers on the floor. Still in his camiseta and boxer shorts, he trudged down the stairs to the kitchen, switched on the light and ran water from the tap into an electric kettle. It was a routine he’d developed to cope with the nightmares or the sudden urges to get up. Though the maid’s room was along a hallway from the kitchen to the back door, all the maids he hired got to learn of his pre-dawn ritual and not to interfere with it.
The water boiled and the kettle clicked off. He took a box of green tea from a cabinet above the counter and made himself a cup. Then he walked into his den, balancing cup and saucer to avoid spillage.
He flicked on the room switch, and the wall lamp glowed above her picture.
Sinking into his favorite rattan chair, he faced the picture and sipped his tea. “Just you and me,” he said.
The picture reflected the lamplight back at him as if in mute response.
Over twenty years had elapsed since she’d been snatched from him. The spate of troubled dreams that followed, gradually dissipated over time. He would still get the odd nightmare, but more often than not, just awaken to a feeling of restlessness. Could it be guilt for being alive when she was not?
The press of the crowd at the Manila International Airport was stifling. With her carry-on canvas bag in his hand, he followed her to a couple of empty spots on a bank of steel chairs in the waiting area. It was a lucky break as most of the seating was taken.
Marisol turned to him when they were comfortably settled. “Will you be dating other girls while I’m gone?” she asked teasingly.
“Well, two years is such a long time,” he said, pretending to consider the option.
“Pilyo!” she exclaimed, her fist bouncing lightly on his bicep.
“Okay, okay, I’ll be a monk, just for you. And I’ll write you every week. Maybe even visit you at Christmas if I can scrape the money together.”
He was a young lawyer struggling to gain a decent foothold in the dog-eat-dog world of litigation. She was a bachelor of science graduate with a government scholarship grant for a master’s degree in public health at Loma Linda University in California, U.S.A. Her idealistic dream was to return an educator to address the health concerns of the Filipino masses. They would get married then.
She’d been enthusiastic about her choice of a university. “Do you know that Loma Linda made medical history in 1984 with a cross-species heart transplant?” he remembered her telling him. “A newborn named Baby Fae was implanted with the heart of a juvenile baboon.” Though Baby Fae only lived for twenty days, her breakthrough case paved the way for successful human heart transplants…
“Don’t you dare forget me,” Marisol said when they hugged each other at the departure gate.
“I won’t,” he said, startled by the tears welling up in her eyes. His heart ached and a lump developed in his throat. “I promise.”
She broke away from his embrace, scooped up her bag and walked into her sectioned half of the hall. She turned to wave at him several times as she made her way to the door that would take her out of his sight. He waved back in response each and every time.
Then she was gone.
The next day, it was headline news. Her plane had crashed into the sea.
Cha-Cha Vergara was having her breakfast of one poached egg, two pan-de-sal buns, a slice of papaya and ginger tea. She was an ovo vegetarian, meaning, a vegetarian who ate eggs but shunned dairy products like milk, cheese, ice cream and butter. People who watched her show “Tsismisan,” learned to associate her clear complexion, svelte figure and sunny disposition with her strict food regimen, which she liked to prattle about.
It was almost eleven a.m. She’d slept in, going the full eight hours she needed to be fully rested for the one o’clock taping of her show. To her own amazement, she neither felt dog-tired nor dragged out (even though she’d come home in the wee hours of the morning from her love tryst). She’d become incredibly resilient in the last little while.
She was seated in her breakfast nook by a large picture window that showcased a breath-taking view of Davao Gulf with the green tadpole shape of Samal Island as its centerpiece. The window at the other side of her penthouse suite captured the majestic flat-topped cone of Mount Apo, the highest peak in the Philippines. She felt as if she were on an elevated perch above all this wonderful vista.
After her stint as a budding starlet in racy films, she’d matured into a talk-show host with a respectable following. Then her on-again-off-again relationship with a prominent married person got her embroiled in speculative gossip. Some media pundits gave her the middle name “Scandal,” though, on hindsight, being Cha-Cha “Scandal” Vergara was a boon. It boosted her television ratings.
The intercom device by the door, beeped. Was her limo driver picking her up too early? In her line of work, miscommunication and scheduling screw-ups took place often enough.
She sighed, slid her shapely posterior off her leather-cushioned stool and padded toward the door at the end of a short corridor. On the way, she caught a glimpse of herself on a full-sized mirror strategically placed for her perusal as she came and went. She was in curlers, wore a Japanese kimono and had silk slippers on, indulgences during her time-out in peace and quiet.
She got the concierge on the intercom. Two policemen were on their way up to see her, he said. Though he could provide no additional information, he’d taken it upon himself to alert her when they’d stepped into the elevator.
What could they want? She was a television personality, and drawing all kinds of attention, even that of the authorities, was a consequence of fame. However, their coming to her home was definitely annoying, an invasion of her private space. She fumed.
When she answered the polite knock on her door, she found herself confronting two policemen, one middle-aged, the other fresh-looking in his twenties. Their deeply tanned faces contrasted sharply with their starched white uniform shirts.
“Miss Vergara, you will come with us to the station for questioning,” the middle-aged one said, his firm countenance allowing no room for debate.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
When I decided to write a biography about my father, I thought it would be a nice, safe project off my bucket list. Was I ever surprised when I started uncovering the secrets of this virtual enigma, the man I called “father” based on what little I knew of him. Here is a book I would like to share with everyone ready to be entertained with little-known facts that affected so many lives.
Watch the horrifying buildup to a global war that forces one man to throw in his lot with Filipino guerrillas to save himself and the one he loves. Read The North Korean Unmasked.
THE NORTH KOREAN UNMASKED – URLs
USA = https://goo.gl/sahvFs
Australia = https://goo.gl/rTfJ0r
Canada = https://goo.gl/9IDZNY
Spain = https://goo.gl/ikTPg1
Germany = https://goo.gl/u3n0Db
France = https://goo.gl/fFLDso
Holland = https://goo.gl/zO4iPv
Italy = https://goo.gl/LjKlk0
Mexico = https://goo.gl/WFqDJ1
Brazil = https://goo.gl/Vu3cin
Japan = https://goo.gl/UclD3q
India = https://goo.gl/LkkMxl
USA = https://goo.gl/1aD8hp
Canada = NOT AVAILABLE YET
Spain = https://goo.gl/1l1YW5
Germany = https://goo.gl/zs42I3
France = https://goo.gl/xEjSce
Italy = https://goo.gl/Jghm3b
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte favors declaring the Chinese-occupied Scarborough Shoal a marine sanctuary where fishing is not allowed. He voiced his sentiments in a media interview after visiting his father’s grave early Thursday morning, November 24, 2016 in Davao City.
According to Rappler, Duterte issued the following statement in advance of his executive order giving special status to the contested shoal in the West Philippine Sea. Here is the translated version.
”China should also give the same order not to fish on the spawning ground because that’s also theirs, they should guard it. They say it’s theirs. As for me, it’s ours. So I say, don’t destroy it because that’s Filipinos’ source of food.”
In Duterte’s executive order, fishermen will be allowed to fish in waters surrounding the shoal.
On August 4, 2015, Inquisitr online news reported on a solution proposed by Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio of the Philippine Supreme Court, to resolve the South China Sea dispute. He suggested as an olive-branch alternative for China and other claimants of features and islands in the contested area, to regard the South China Sea a sanctuary for fish and part of the global commons.
Following bilateral talks between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on October 20, 2016, Justice Carpio said that the Chinese were unlikely to abandon their South China Sea claims in compliance with a decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) to that effect. He made his point in a recent interview with the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.
“I don’t see them leaving just because they’ve lost. And we have to think of a creative way to give China a face-saving exit here, and I think the way to that is to declare Spratlys as a marine protected area. It’s a win-win situation. If you look at it, China needs to fish in South China Sea because they have the highest per capita consumption of fish in the world, and they have to feed 1.4 billion people.”
Meanwhile, a non-aligned third party warns that the burden on fish stocks by China’s island-building projects, is not a matter of economics but of starvation. Professor John McManus of the National Center for Coral Reef Research at the University of Miami, is calling on China and other claimants to get past their disputes and declare the South China Sea an international protected zone like Antarctica. He issued the following statement to a panel organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on July 12, 2016.
“If we don’t do this, we are headed toward a major, major fisheries collapse in a part of the world where [that] will lead to mass starvation.”
John McManus of the University of Miami proposes a freeze on territorial claims in the South China Sea, along with joint resource management shared by the countries concerned. He believes it in Beijing’s interest to diminish tensions, while seeking to consolidate its position as a leader on the regional and global stage. Also, squandered marine resources could result in billions of dollars of lost trade for China.
On a smaller scale, Duterte wants to get past the conflicting claims on the Scarborough Shoal by declaring it a no-fish zone. The sacrifice he is willing to make lies in the fact that the shoal is a traditional Filipino fishing venue off the coast of Zambales province, well within the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (E.E.Z.). He spelled out his stance in unmistakable terms.
“I do not care what China says about their ownership of that. Me, as President, I claim that in the arbitral [award], so no fishing.”
During their November 20 bilateral meeting in Lima, Peru, Duterte explained his planned no-fish zone order to Chinese President Xi Jinping. This development modified Duterte’s earlier position during a state visit to China in October, which had garnered a “friendly” understanding over the Filipino right to fish in the shoal.
Duterte deems it in the interest of the Philippines and China to ensure the shoal is a no-fish zone, on top of the fact that any building of structures in the shoal would disrupt the spawning of fish. He calls it a matter of common sense.
“Even if no country would claim it to be their territory, common sense should tell you not to destroy the source of the life in the sea.”
Sea turtles champion Frederick C. Yeh is facing down poachers on China’s island province of Hainan.
Wildlife biologist Yeh, 34, who runs a sea turtle hospital in Hainan, shares the concerns of the United Nations Tribunal regarding marine life destruction in one of Earth’s most diverse marine habitats.
As a founding member of Hawaii-based Sea Turtles 911, Yeh has enlisted National Basketball Association’s Yao Ming and United States Ambassador Max Baucus to help him protect the sea turtles of Southeast Asia’s “Coral Triangle”, home to six of the world’s seven marine turtle species. Ming and Baucus have publicly stated their support of Yeh as he exposes illegal turtle traffickers in the island province between the Coral Triangle and mainland China.
BBC quotes a 2012 Traffic East Asia report explaining why Hainan has been targeted by Yeh.
“It appears that the majority of illegal fishers involved originated from Hainan, the majority of catches were landed in this island province, and the Hainan markets were the main source for processing and distributing turtle products northward into mainland China.”
Since locating his hospital in a floating fishing village of Hainan’s Lingshui Li Autonomous County, Yeh has rescued 273 sea turtles from the traffickers. He has successfully rehabilitated the endangered creatures and released 238 of them back to their marine environment. Yeh explains why the decimation of sea turtles would affect the entire ecological system.
“Turtles are like underwater lawnmowers: they eat sea grass. A lot of fishermen talk about how there are fewer fish today. Well, if sea grass isn’t there, it produces less oxygen, which leads to less fish.”
After graduating from Johns Hopkins University and Duke University in the United States, Yeh returned to Hainan where he’d spent his childhood years watching the sea turtles’ nesting habits. To his dismay, he found them being sold illegally for their meat and shells by poachers working the Coral Triangle, especially its fertile South China Sea region.
Yeh has done more consciousness-raising than two environmental entities well-positioned to protect the Coral Triangle which encompasses the tropical marine waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.
The first entity is the Coral Triangle Initiative (C.T.I.), a multilateral partnership of the above-named countries who empowered themselves in May 2009 to use their individual jurisdictions and prevent activities that endanger marine life.
The other entity poised and ready to champion the cause of the sea turtle, is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations representing 10 member countries. They armed themselves with a Memorandum of Understanding on ASEAN Sea Turtle Conservation and Protection in 1997, endorsed by ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry at their 20th meeting in 1998.
According to Quartz, the ruling of the United Nations Tribunal at the Hague on July 12, 2016, slams marine life destruction in the South China Sea. The tribunal ruled that China’s island construction “caused permanent, irreparable harm to the coral reef ecosystem and permanently destroyed evidence of the natural condition of the features in question.”
Either of the two multinational conservation entities could take the ruling as a cue to act.
The U.N. body also determined that Chinese fishermen have been harvesting such endangered species as corals, sea turtles, and sharks, and China’s artificial island-building program has caused “devastating and long-lasting” damage to the marine environment. A 2016 study found that 60 percent of the shallow reef habitat at seven reefs has been directly destroyed by wanton activity under Chinese navy watch.
A good turtle shell can fetch tens of thousands of dollars in the black market. Thus the Hainan poachers range far and wide across the Coral Triangle for such bounty on top of profits from unregulated fishing. Their behaviour has pushed even “neutral” Indonesia to lash out at them, creating waves felt by Beijing.
Shanghaiist reported on Jun 11, 2015 that a district court in the Philippines ordered the release of nine Chinese fishermen who’d been, according to China, “illegally detained” for a year. They were among 11 crewmen of a Chinese fishing boat seized by Filipino police for poaching at the Half Moon Shoal in Philippine waters on May 6, 2014. Of the 555 sea turtles found on the boat, 177 were still alive and liberated back to their habitat.
Nine of the 11 crewmen were put in jail after failing to pay fines of $100,000 each for poaching and additional fines of $2,662 each for harvesting an endangered marine species.
Though press-worthy, these South China Sea squabbles are a distraction from the bigger picture of an ecological disaster in progress, as exposed by the U.N. Tribunal at the Hague. The international community would be well served if someone stepped up to the plate and asked China to pay for the environmental loss. Funding for reef conservation could come from punitive damages levied against China, drawn from its assets wherever it does business outside its borders. Any takers?
While marine biologist Yeh can count on satellite tracking technology and luminaries like basketball legend Yao Ming and U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus to facilitate his advocacy, he can only do so much. It would take the clout of motivated government entities to decisively address the plight of the sea turtles.
South China Sea fish stocks put in jeopardy by China’s island building projects, is not a matter of economics but of starvation. Professor John McManus of the National Center for Coral Reef Research at the University of Miami, has called on China and other countries in the South China Sea to get past their disputes and declare the region an international protected zone like Antarctica. According to L.A. Times, he issued the following statement to a panel organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on July 12, 2016.
“If we don’t do this, we are headed toward a major, major fisheries collapse in a part of the world where [that] will lead to mass starvation.”
The Diplomat delineates the “starvation factor” when it comes to fish stocks affecting the South China Sea claimants. There are an estimated 1.5 million traditional fishermen in the Philippines where the industry accounts for 2.7 percent of the national GDP, with three-fourths of the total fishing production from the contested region. About 35.3 percent of all animal proteins consumed in Vietnam comes from fish, higher in the Philippines at 42.6 percent and even higher in Indonesia at 57.3 percent.
According to The Wall Street Journal, University of British Columbia researchers estimate that South China Sea fish exports grew to 27 percent of global fish exports in 2011 from about 11 percent in the 1980s, topping at least $22 billion a year. The research forecasts a possible decline of fish stocks by up to 59 percent in the next 20 years if governments don’t discourage overfishing.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration tribunal in The Hague ruled on July 12 that China’s claims to historic and economic rights in most of the South China Sea have no legal basis, favoring five governments whose claims in the sea overlap with Beijing’s. The end result is that various claimants’ fishing fleets have staked claims to reefs, rocks and other maritime features.
Fishermen moving farther into disputed waters often subsidize the purchase of new boats or more advanced navigational equipment to reinforce their claim to prime fishing grounds. Staking out vast swaths of ocean, China controls fishing fleets of far greater numbers and technological superiority than smaller claimants the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Though it does not have rival territorial claims with Beijing in the South China Sea, Indonesia has blown up hundreds of foreign boats that it said were illegally fishing. Vietnamese and Chinese coast guards and fishing fleets ram each other routinely in their scramble for fishing grounds.
A National Geographic report features the dilemma of Gilbert Elefane, the Filipino captain of a tuna boat based in the municipality of Quezon, on Palawan. His complaint is about having to make do with the leavings of up to a hundred boats, many Chinese, on a single two-week fishing trip in the South China Sea. Only a few years ago, he’d seen no more than 30 tops on a similar run.
Chinese fishermen have the advantage of military training and sophisticated GPS and communications technology from Beijing, enabling them to call in the coast guard if they have a run-in with a foreign law enforcement vessel. They can also alert the coast guard of the presence of fishermen from other claimant nations.
What motivates China is the fact that fish is increasingly important to the Chinese diet. According to The Diplomat, China’s fish consumption grew annually at 6 percent between 1990 and 2010, with Chinese gobbling 34 percent of the global fish food supply, nearly triple that of Europe and Central Asia combined, and over five times the amount of North America. With China’s fish consumption estimated to increase more than double the projected global average, the growing demand threatens to outstrip supply, necessitating ongoing expansion of maritime fishing operations into the South China Sea.
With a starvation crisis imminent, China would have to stop its island-building that’s decimating fish stocks. University of South Florida professor Frank E. Muller-Karger explained this urgency to the New York Times recently.
“Where do people get that sand and gravel to build new islands? It’s taken from nearby lagoons and reef flats, damaging their ecosystems too. The sand and silt billow up, which damages coral tissue and blocks life-giving sunlight from reaching the corals. The sand and gravel put atop artificial islands can wash back into the sea, forming plumes that can smother marine life and could be laced with heavy metals, oil and other chemicals from the ships and shore facilities being built.”
On May 16, 2016, newly elected Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte appealed to Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua for China to allow Filipinos to continue fishing around the contested Scarborough Shoal, as they’ve done for ages. Informed that his request was granted, Duterte issued the following statement as reported by GMA News.
“Then I would like to thank China for understanding the plight of the Filipino.”
All claimant countries would be better served if they got their heads together and agreed to follow a suggestion put forth by Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio of the Philippine Supreme Court. Carpio has repeatedly asked China to partner up with the Philippines in declaring the South China Sea a sanctuary for fish and part of the global commons.
The South China Sea marine life slaughtered by reclamation projects in the Spratly Islands, was an issue raised by the United Nations tribunal while quashing Beijing’s claim to historic rights over the international waterway. The court’s censure on July 12, 2016, blamed China’s island building for causing “permanent and irreparable harm to the coral reef ecosystem”.
According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, the U.N. body deemed Chinese authorities fully aware of the havoc they were causing on the South China Sea, while they did their land reclamation. Despite its obligation under Articles 192 and 194 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to preserve and protect the marine environment, Beijing essentially destroyed marine life within the fragile ecosystem, the court found.
Documented instances of Chinese fishermen engaged in destructive activity affecting 76 percent of the world’s coral species and 37 percent of reef-fish species in the South China Sea, have reportedly taken place with China’s full knowledge. Given that marine life was strangled over the last two decades under the watchful eye of the Chinese navy, suggests China’s culpability.
At the receiving end of the South China Sea debacle, the Philippines and other countries have suffered a considerable loss of resources, quantified by Forbes magazine to the tune of $177 billion in rent and damages against China. For Mischief Reef alone, a low-water elevation in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, China would have to ante up $12.4 billion in rent and damages. Occupied by China since 1995 during which a Chinese garrison and an airstrip were built, the reef system has been the killing fields for sea clams, turtles, fish and coral.
According to Forbes, its calculations are based on the following formulation. The United States paid the Philippines $1.97 million in 2015 for damages to .58 acres of coral reef when the U.S.S. Guardian ran aground. By this determinant, the Philippines could sue China for about $4.6 billion of environmental damages to the South China Sea’s Mischief Reef in 2016 dollars, plus the requirement to pay $7.8 billion in rent. If China tries to buck paying the combined $12.4 billion, the Philippines could seek redress in foreign civil courts to attach China’s offshore assets, enough to fund the required amount.
China occupied six features within Philippines’ claim in 1988: Hughes Reef, Johnson South Reef, Gaven Reef, Subi Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, and Cuarteron Reef. China has since dredged and built on all these sea-level formations, and slaughtered their marine occupants. Based on the Philippines’ 1988 demand for rent from the U.S., each of these six features should yield (in 2016 dollars) about $10.3 billion for 29 years of use — a total of $62 billion.
China occupied Scarborough Shoal in 2012, but has not yet built on this South China Sea feature. There are no known environmental damages to the shoal, but rent for five years would amount to some $1.8 billion (inclusive of 2012 and 2016).
Along with giant clams, sea turtles have been harvested from the South China Sea for their meat and decorative shells. Fish have been blasted or poisoned in expeditious ways. Coral clusters have been crushed by propellers to pry loose embedded clams worth thousands of dollars. Thus have the rich and diverse forms of marine life in the region been slaughtered.
A mere 400 miles away from the hotly contested Spratly Islands sits the Tubbataha Marine Park off the coast of Palawan in the Philippines. The park is an example of how an offshore reef can go from being over-exploited to successfully managed. A Unesco world heritage site that was set up in 1993, Tubbataha plays the same role as the Spratly chain in the South China Sea, stocking the entire Sulu Sea with fish.
According to The Guardian, John McManus of the University of Miami proposes a freeze on territorial claims in the South China Sea, along with joint resource management shared by the countries concerned. He believes it in Beijing’s interest to diminish tensions, while seeking to consolidate its position as a leader on the regional and global stage. Seeing how land-grabbing and slaughtered sea creatures could result in billions of dollars of lost trade for China, McManus suggests the following.
“Antarctica has been one of the most successful environmental treaties in history. China is now in a position to benefit tremendously by taking the lead on this.”
Meanwhile, outspoken Filipino Justice Antonio T. Carpio is urging China to join the Philippines in declaring the South China Sea a sanctuary for fish and part of the global commons. An advocate for peace in the region, he has repeatedly called for its use as a marine life reserve.
Noteworthy is the fact that the Tubbataha Marine Park has earned the reputation of being among the best dive destinations in the world. Whale sharks as well as tiger sharks and other apex predators frequent the park and promise a healthy, recovering ecosystem within the South China Sea.
While China tallies up the cost of doing business as usual in the South China Sea, and Filipino fishermen, as well as conservationists worldwide, grieve the loss of coral colonies, clams, turtles and fish slaughtered needlessly, the U.N. Tribunal decision stands. A wrong has been done, and redress in the form of payment for damages to such victim nations as the Philippines, is long overdue.