Beijing out to grab Panatag air space

GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc

Beijing's looming construction of an environment monitoring station on Scarborough Shoal is a ruse. It is preparatory to seizing air space in the South China (West Philippine) Sea, through which $5 trillion in trade passes each year. No different was Beijing's earlier erection of a weather station and fishermen's shelters on other reefs, which it then turned into armed bases to gain control of the vital waters.

Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio Carpio raised the alarm over the weekend, in light of reports of China's plan to put up permanent structures on Scarborough, over which Beijing and Manila are feuding. Environment stations are to be built as well in five islands in the Spratly and Paracel islands in the disputed sea. With Scarborough (also called Panatag) only 120 miles (200 km) from Subic Base in Luzon, Carpio called for national debates and consensus in dealing with the threat to commerce and security.

The top official of Sansha City that administers China's unfounded territorial claim over the entire SCS/WPS disclosed the buildup last week. Sansha Communist Party secretary Xiao Jie announced in state-run Hainan Daily that works would be completed within 2017. China is known to berth submarines in the port city in Hainan Island province.

“In 1987 the Chinese erected a radar weather station on Fiery Cross Reef, an outcrop in the Spratlys just a meter above water, ostensibly to help UNESCO's global oceanic survey,“ Carpio recalled. “In 2014-2015 they turned the weather station into a 270-hectare military air-naval base.” Similarly in 1994 China built fishermen's huts on Mischief Reef off Palawan, only to convert them the following year into a military fortress. Mischief is within the Philippines' 200-mile exclusive economic zone, and Fiery within its 150-mile extended continental shelf.

"Now it's the turn of Scarborough Shoal. China will install an environmental monitoring – a.k.a. radar – station. A radar station on Scarborough immediately will complete China's radar coverage of the entire SCS. China can then impose an ADIZ, or air defense identification zone, in the SCS," Carpio warned.

“China will use its HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles to enforce the ADIZ. Those missiles are now installed on Woody Island in the Paracels. China also just completed building on Subi Reef, Mischief Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef concrete hexagonal structures, with retractable roofs, to house HQ-9 missile batteries.”

Beijing in 2012 annexed 15,000-hectare Scarborough, a traditional Filipino fishing ground. Last July a UN court declared Beijing in breach of international law, and rubbished its “nine-dash” boundary encompassing the SCS. President Rodrigo Duterte hesitates to assert the UN ruling in warming ties with Beijing.

Carpio warned, though: “The Chinese will also use those same military installations to enforce the nine-dash line as China’s national boundaries in the SCS. China will grab 80 percent of Philippine EEZ and 100 percent of Philippine extended continental shelf in the WPS.”

Carpio saw need for unified stand: “These developments call for a national debate, and consensus, on how the nation should proceed with its bilateral relations with China."

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Power generators are lobbying to force certain electricity users to buy directly from them. Condo and school administrators are worried that, without free choice, they eventually would be paying sky-high rates.

The Supreme Court recently barred the Dept. of Energy and the Energy Regulatory Commission from enforcing five 2015 circulars. Those would have compelled the commercial users to buy straight from certain generators instead of cheaper distributors. But the generators are working to have the circulars reissued, in restraint of free competition.

The effect of forced connection of commercial electricity users to generators is curtailment of trade. Prices consequently will rise, hurting consumers like condo dwellers and students.

Ateneo de Manila University president Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, SJ has stated: “ADMU believes that our government and ruling bodies should ultimately seek to protect our constitutional freedom of choice. This right should extend to all electricity consumers. If we are allowed to choose the best supplier for our needs in a market that is allowed to work freely and for the common good, then such a scenario will be most beneficial to all consumers, especially those smaller-scale contestable customers like school (campuses) that may have a difficult time searching for a new contract.”

San Beda College-Alabang director Fr. Alfred Nilo, OSB, said "it would be very difficult for academic establishments like (us) to meet the proposed deadline – last end-Feb. -- to enter into new retail supply contracts or otherwise suffer the consequence of being disconnected from the distribution utility or made to pay a supplier of last resort a 10-percent premium."

The situation of the University of Santo Tomas is worse. Said Electrical Engineering chairman Oliver Gagarin, none of the DOE/ERC accredited power generators offered to connect the UST directly, as the campus was deemed an unattractively low consumer. And yet it would now be disconnected for failing to comply with the 2015 directives.

Bantay Kuryente secretary general Pet Climaco heads the drive to retain the SC bar on forced connection to selected power firms.

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Are you afraid of spiders? This news bit might make you like them.

The favorite meal of eight-legged arachnids are their six-legged cousins -- insects. But how much insects do spiders eat? A Swede and a Swiss answered that question in a research published last week in Science of Nature. They computed the mass of spiders found per square meter in known habitats -- forests, grasslands, farms, buildings -- then calculated the amount of prey consumed per unit of body weight. Conclusion: there are about 25 million tons of spiders worldwide, devouring 400 to 800 million tons of insects a year. Note, says The Economist, that there also are 400 to 500 million tons of humans on earth.

Arachnophobes should be arachnophiles. If it weren't for spiders, there'd be more creepy-crawlies around. If not for spiders' voracity, mosquitos could long have wiped out Filipinos with malaria and dengue.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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