China has the world’s largest city in the South China Sea

China's Shansha City right in the middle of South China Sea/West Philippine Sea | Juan Manila


MANILA — Many adventurers and historians are still in the hunt of pinning down the exact location of the lost city of Atlantis but all the more that they would be surprised to find a never-heard existence of a Chinese city in the middle of a vast body of disputed water in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.

It’s barely nine years old but it has already gained a reputation as the world’s oddest but the world’s largest city in terms of area but was kept hush-hush by Mainland China until this very moment.

A new report by the United States Naval War College pulls together what is known about Sansha City, founded by China in 2012 and covers some 800,000 square miles of the South China Sea within the so-called ‘nine-dash line’ that Beijing claims for itself.

Considering this gigantic area, this makes Sansha City 1,700 times the size of New York City, and although most of the city is salt water, it includes the Paracel Islands, which Vietnam and Taiwan claim, and the Spratly Islands, which are severally claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

The City Hall is situated on Woody Island, one of the Paracels. Once a remote outpost, Woody Island has become a bustling hub of activity, based on a 57-page, heavily footnoted report written by China expert Zachary Haver for the US War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute.

“The island now boasts expanded port infrastructure, seawater desalination and sewage treatment facilities, new public housing, a functioning judicial system, 5G network coverage, a school, and regular charter flights to and from the mainland,” Haver described in his report.

Beyond Woody Island, Sansha City is “developing tourism in the Paracel Islands, attracting hundreds of newly registered companies, cultivating aquaculture, and encouraging long-term residency, the report added. There are jails and a courthouse, where two people were tried and sentenced for buying and transporting endangered wildlife in the Spratly Islands.

China's Shansha City right in the middle of South China Sea/West Philippine Sea
Aerial view of China’s Sansha City right in the middle of South China Sea/West Philippine Sea.

The obvious question is why China is going to such lengths to build a civilian infrastructure in a watery region that is effectively under the control of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and China’s semi-militarized coast guard.
Haver’s nuanced answer is that China’s system of “military-civil fusion” is “a mechanism to govern contested areas as if they were Chinese territory,” like any mainland city. Sansha City is effectively an extension of the Chinese Communist Party.

“The expansion of the city’s party-state institutions allows municipal authorities to directly govern contested areas of the South China Sea and ensures the primacy of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests in local decision-making,” the China expert rationalized.

Sansha City is what China calls a prefecture-level city, which on the mainland is an administrative unit that includes a central city as well as surrounding cities, towns, villages, and rural areas. In other words, geographically large—but not this large.

The “normalized administrative control” exercised by Sansha City is strongest in the Paracels, but “elements of this system also exist in the Spratly Islands and show signs of expanding,” writes Haver, who is a fellow at the Center for Advanced China Research, lived in China for three years, and is proficient in Mandarin Chinese.

In conclusion, he points out that Sansha City—just nine years old—is evidence of China’s determination to “settle in for a long stay.”

“In entrusting these responsibilities to the municipal party-state and supporting the city’s development, Beijing has revealed that its ambitions extend beyond dominating the South China Sea via CCG [Chinese Coast Guard] and PLA Navy operations. Through Sansha’s system of normalized administrative control, China is gradually transforming contested areas of the South China Sea into de facto Chinese territory,” he closes.

Who are we fooling this time?

Opinion | What JuanMan says | Who are we fooling this time? | Juan Manila

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

— American humorist Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a Mark Twain

WHAT COULD be construed as an inadvertent way to ‘sour’ our foreign relations with the United States and newly-elected US president Joseph Robinette Biden, the Duterte administration is demanding in exchange for the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) compensation amounting to US$16 billion even as our president Rodrigo Roa Duterte cited that Pakistan received the same financial aid in counter-terrorism assistance from Washington from 2001 to 2017.

In defense of the unexpected demand for compensation, presidential spokesperson Atty. Harry Roque argued that the Philippines had received only a total of US$3.9 billion from the USA in the same period.

The former Davao City mayor had earlier told the US government that it must pay if it wanted to keep the VFAan agreement signed in 1998 that allows American troops to come to the Philippines for joint military exercises with Filipino troops as well as in the conduct of humanitarian missions such as relief activities during calamities and disasters, and medical efforts aimed at mitigating adverse effects of epidemics such as the African swine fever and avian flu, and pandemics like the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Duterte ordered the abrogation of the agreement last year but suspended the move because of the spread of Covid-19 and “heightened superpower tensions” triggered by invasive actions from the People’s Republic of China in the disputed regions of the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.

Defense and foreign affairs officials have spoken against the termination of the deal, warning that the country could lose billions of dollars worth of assistance and that it could undermine Philippine defense and security arrangements. Many critics, however, noted that the VFA, which also provides rules for the entry and departure of military personnel and supplies, is just as detrimental since, in one argument, the agreement abdicates Philippine sovereignty when trying US personnel who commit crimes.

Still, Roque was unable to answer directly how the administration would make up for the benefits that the Philippines would lose should the VFA be terminated because Washington would not want to pay up. All he said was that the chief executive was clear about the matter and he wants compensation. And in what appears to be a veiled threat, Roque added that “if the Americans don’t agree, then there is also the previous declaration of the president that he will terminate the VFA.”

Reacting to Duterte’s demand for compensation, vice president Maria Leonor Robredo tagged the president’s remarks demanding that the United States cough up money in exchange for the VFA as “embarrassing” even as she warned that such statements from the chief executive could be misconstrued as a form of “extortion” from Washington.

It’s like we’re crooksif you want this, pay up, Robredo commented.

Even former foreign secretary Albert Del Rosario called the Duterte administration’s position on the VFA as “incomprehensible” and “unfortunate.”

Who are we fooling this time? | Opinion: What JuanMan says | Juan Manila

Del Rosario pointed out that Duterte instead of badgering Washington with compensation for the VFA, the president should seek payment for PhP230 billion worth of damage for China’s massive marine destruction in the West Philippine Sea.

But Roque disputed the allegations that the President’s demand constituted “extortion,” saying that seeking payment would protect the interest of Filipinos while providing the country with much-needed funds for Covid-19 response and for social services.

The president’s mouthpiece noted that Pakistan got US$16 billion from America that’s why he believes (and so does the Duterte administration) the Philippines should get something similar or close to that amount.

Not the amount we’re currently getting, he aggressively defined.

Citing figures on US assistance from Stimson Center’s study on counterterrorism spending, Roque said the US had been giving “very little” to our country, which, he added, received one of the lowest amounts of military assistance from 2001 to 2017. This, despite the fact that Manila has not just been hosting American soldiers but also giving them access to the Philippines’ military establishments and allowing them to preposition their equipment there through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

But how much are we getting for this, he asks?

According to the Stimson study, the Philippines only got US$3.9 billion.

Is this a big amount, Roque queried incredulously while describing the amount as ‘loose change’ when compared to what other countries received.

Moreover, the presidential spokesperson alleged that unlike the Philippines, Pakistan only became a US ally not too long ago and yet it got US$16.4 billion. Meanwhile, Afghanistan also received the biggest amount of assistance at US$97.8 billion.

Last December, Duterte said he would push through with the termination of the VFA unless Washington provides us with Covid-19 vaccines. As an explanation, though, Roque said what the president was asking for was a commitment on the allocation of vaccines for the Filipino people.

He said the Philippines could ask for US payment because it stood to be affected should hostilities break out between China and the United States.

But for Robredo, asserting the country’s rights should not necessarily mean “we are fighting with China.”

Maybe some perceive that Duterte’s position on the VFA and compensation for it is not hinting on a conflict with America but isn’t siding with the Chinese—despite their invasive and expansionist policies in Asia—trying to pick a fight with the very country we profess as our brother and ally?

But Del Rosario had clarified that the VFA was an implementation of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty forged by the United States and the Philippines as security partners after World War II. Thus, it is incomprehensible that when partners help each other against a common enemy, one party is asking his partner to pay and this is the gist of the President’s unfortunate position on the VFA.

So, who are we fooling this time?

Two Filipinas named NatGeo Young Explorers

The NatGeo Museum | Two Pinays named NatGeo Young Explorers | Juan Manila


The National Geographic, or NatGeo, names two Filipinas 2020 Young Explorers of the National Geographic Society. Louise Mabulo and Josefa Tauli are both alumni of the University of the Philippines and are engaged in impact-driven efforts that address global issues.

Louise Mabulois of Camarines Sur is a cacao farming advocate while Josefa Tauli, indigenous youth from Cordillera, joined the Fall 2020 cohort of Young Explorers announced by the National Geographic Society in January 2021.


Josefa Tauli, IP youth leader

Josefa Isabel Tauli, 25, is an Ibaloi-Kankanaey Igorot indigenous youth from the Cordillera Region. She represents indigenous and local youth on the Steering Committee of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN), the official youth constituency to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

She graduated in Wildlife Studies from the University of the Philippines Los Baños.


Louise Mabulo, Farming Advocate

Louise Emmanuelle Mabulo, 22, is an award-winning chef, entrepreneur, farmer, public speaker, and competitive archer.

Founder of The Cacao Project, which she established to help farmers in the Bicol region when their livelihoods were destroyed by Typhoon Nina in 2016, her social venture is to equip farmers with sustainable methods that will ensure food security and establish resilient livelihoods.

Forbes Asia called Mabulo as a Filipino youth leader of The Cacao Project. The Straits Times of Singapore placed her in the “30 and Under Young Asians to Watch.”

Mabulo was also named in the Gen T list of Filipinos shaping Asia’s future. In 2019, she  won the United Nations Asia-Pacific Young Champions of the Earth prize.

Mabulo completed Economic Development and Social Entrepreneurship at Brown University, U.S.A. and the Watson Institute Philippines. She graduated from the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) in December.


#GenGeo activists

Both Pinays are part of the #GenGeo, a global community of young people who are helping to shape the conversation, drive progress, and seek solutions to help protect our planet.

Young Explorers are nominated and later selected by the National Geographic Society through a competitive, multi-tiered application process. In addition to funding, Young Explorers receive skills building, leadership development training, and networking opportunities to connect and collaborate with their peers. The National Geographic Society has brought together extraordinary individuals from around the world since 1888. (JSM/JuanManila)

Featured image: The National Geographic Museum. The National Geographic Society, headquartered in Washington, D.C., United States, is one of the largest non-profit scientific and educational organizations in the world. (Photo National Geographic website)

Biz moguls to help in tax efforts

Online tax payment


MANILA — Business moguls pledged support for Government efforts to encourage tax payments and prodded authorities to also go after tax evaders.

Businessmen Ramon Ang, Enrique Razon, Manuel V. Pangilinan and Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala all signified their support for the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in its tax collection undertakings from corporations and the private sector during the BIR’s 2021 National Tax Campaign Kick-off.

They also proposed the need to expand the tax base.

“The BIR has transformed from a monolithic agency to a digital platform; it has to collect taxes from those who are not paying taxes,” said Razon, chairman of International Container Terminal Services Inc. and Bloomberry Resorts Corp.

Zobel de Ayala pressed on the BIR to continue digitizing operations, saying the pivot to digitization especially during the lockdowns has enabled more entities to pay taxes.

Ang said, San Miguel Corp. would continue paying its taxes 100 percent.

Pangilinan, meanwhile, assured that the PLDT Group would continue to support the BIR in its digitization efforts to help with its overall goal of improving its tax collection efforts.

“We will continue to build our 5G network… We’re doing our best to make 5G devices more affordable. By the end of the year, it will be even more affordable to a greater number of Filipinos,” Pangilinan said.

All four business magnates said they would continue to partner with the Government in nation-building through timely and accurate tax payments.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the BIR’s digital transformation program would be “fully functional and irreversible” to ensure the agency’s much improved services and highly efficient collection performance.

The BIR’s digitalization initiative is a primary thrust of the Duterte administration involving the implementation of a state-of-the-art data management system. The bureau will also apply the “cutting edge in the application of new technologies to achieve the best revenue performance,” Secretary Dominguez said.

The agency’s digital transformation is made possible through a grant from the United States for the BIR’s Information Communication Technology Modernization Strategy and Data Center. (JSM/JuanManila)

DTI works with Amazon to help MSMEs

DTI working with Amazon to help MSMEs


MANILA — The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is working with online retailer Amazon to help micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) expand their market. The volume of business registrants with the DTI has jumped up compared to its records of previous years.

“This only shows how entrepreneurs are adjusting to the new normal due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Trade and Industry secretary Ramon Lopez said, “but there is still a need for these enterprises to differentiate themselves to compete in the global market.”

The DTI is helping MSMEs go online through the Virtual National Trade Fair, as well as other e-commerce platforms.

“This will mainstream the products of MSMEs, while establishing their online presence and help them generate sales despite the lockdown restrictions,” he said.

To help businesses, the DTI has been providing assistance through different MSME development programs.

“Last year, we had many new Philippine sellers on Amazon, and our contacts in Amazon have been working with us to get in touch with more local businesses,” Lopez said.

The DTI has also partnered with Union Bank of the Philippines to digitize sari-sari stores or the small general merchandise stores in local neighborhoods.

Businesses registered with the DTI for the year has reached over 108,000. As of January, the number of online business name registrations has reached 1,539. While in 2020, a total of 916,163 businesses registered with the DTI, up from 637,567 in 2019.

Online businesses registered with the DTI, meanwhile, reached more than 86,000 in December of 2020 from just 1,700 in the January to March 15 period of the same year. (JSM/JuanManila)

Eastern Communications sets PhP2.8 billion for expansion

Eastern Communications expands


MANILA — To further upgrade and expand its connectivity and information and communication technologies (ICT) services nationwide, telecommunications company Eastern Communications allocates P2.8 billion this year.

It has started laying fiber optic cables to address requirements of companies in central business districts and placed strategic hubs in various regional locations to better serve the local enterprises, the company said in a statement.

Plans for expansion lined up in Davao City, Cagayan De Oro, Dumaguete, Tagbilaran, Bacolod, Roxas, Kalibo, Caticlan, Boracay, Naga, Legazpi, Iriga, and Sorsogon. Meanwhile, its network expansion in Iloilo and Tuguegarao have concluded.

“Eastern will continue this trend and we plan to be available nationwide in the next few years,” the company’s co-coordinator Aileen Regio said.

“This is an exciting time of growth for all of us and we, as a telecommunications company, look forward to being a big part of the Philippines’ stronger tomorrow,” she said.

While a number of its ICT solutions are already available across the country, the company will expand more services to empower various locations in line with the Government’s “Digital Cities” program.

The initiative is geared towards sustaining the rapid growth of the information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) sector and promote countryside development.

“We commend the efforts of Eastern Communications to broaden and strengthen their network within and beyond Metro Manila as it is supportive of our goal to drive inclusive growth in the countryside through the Digital Cities 2025 program,” IT & Business Process Association of the Philippines president and CEO Rey Untal said.

“These expansion plans will provide Philippine-based businesses much-needed access to innovative services and faster, more reliable internet connection, critical tools to forge ahead in this new normal,” Untal said.

Eastern Communications posted growth in 2020 largely because of the increased number of subscribers acquiring single to multiple services such as work from home productivity tools, residential internet, and enterprise connectivity.

It has also launched a variety of connectivity products and ICT solutions to businesses, which included upgraded and most advanced cloud service and cyber defense. (JSM/JuanManila)