The current issue of territorial rights over the Spratley Islands and Scarborough Shoals between the Philippines and China (as well as the rest of the other countries in Southeast Asia) is akin to a boiling pot: simmering with an occasional burst every now and then to make everyone nervous. Fortunately for us (and until diplomatic discussions manage to untie this Gordian Knot), that's the full extent of the friction between the countries involved.
But if war is the last argument of kings (ultima ratio), there's a guerrilla war going on in the Internet between the hackers of the Philippines and China. Yes, this is the future of cyberwar.
With the Philippine and Chinese governments doing an intricate dance of bluffing and backdoor negotiations with each other, hackers of both countries have started attacking web sites of the other country in a bid to express support of their territorial claims.
It first started when the web site of the Philippine's national university, the University of the Philippines (UP), got defaced by Chinese hackers who proudly declared that Scarborough Shoal was theirs. A number of Philippine government web sites were also hacked.
But local hackers obviously didn't take this sitting down. Filipino hackers went on attacks of their own, targeting sites of the Chinese government. Taking a page from their Western counterparts, local hacking groups took on the "Anonymous" and "Occupy" titles in a bid to show the larger country that smaller countries also have (albeit digital) teeth.
As one Filipino hacker declared, "The recent defacements occurred on certain Chinese Web sites were just a simple response to what happened to the UP site. You may continue bullying our country's waters but we will not tolerate you from intimidating our own cyber shores."
"Those defacements are just a mere response to what you have initially started. We are not trying to start anything. We are just trying to tell you that we do not want to be bullied in our own cyberspace too," the message on the hacked web site said.
In response to all of this, the Philippine government has appealed to the two hacker groups not to exacerbate the situation, saying the cyberwar is not helping diplomatically. (There doesn't seem to be a statement from the Chinese government with regard to the issue.)
Chinese hackers have recently made a supposed attack again, targeting the news web site of the Philippine Star. However, Philstar.com has not made any statement on the matter.
The idea of a country like the Philippines facing off with China may make a funny image, like a small dog growling at a bigger one. However, the Internet, globalization and the resources available on the Net does make everything on the World Wide Web flat such that everyone has an equal footing.
And if you have to wonder about the capability of Philippine hackers vis-a-vis the world, just remember that May 4 was the 12th anniversary of the first computer virus made in the Philippines that spread throughout the world.