Grassroots & Governance

If he hasn’t acquired one yet, perhaps someone should give Rodrigo Roa Duterte a Jetski so he can fulfill his campaign promise to ride one to the Spratleys where he would plant a Filipino flag. So far, our president has, contrary to our 1987 Constitution’s mandate that “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens,” been shamefully second guessing China’s positions on the issues raised and already set aside in the UN Arbitral court.

It is becoming difficult to hold our heads up among other nations when the President of our sovereign republic parrots the line of China, even on how we should deal with the brazen bullying of our fishermen and our once senior government officials former Foreign Secretary Del Rosario and former Ombudsman and Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio Morales. Incredible. How he actually says in public that it is up to China how they want to investigate the “simple marine accident” in the Recto Bank, which happens to be part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, as recognized by the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) to which both the Philippines and China are signatories, and reconfirmed by our victory in the UN Arbitral Court, which agreed that China’s claim to the “Nine-Dash Line” is pure fiction.

Rodrigo Duterte has demonstrated to our people his toughness against assertive women (Leila de Lima, Mary Lou Sereno, and Carpio Morales, et al.) and defenseless young drug addicts whom he has no compunctions about putting in jail or causing to be shot by his armed minions. What is it about China that has turned him into a pathetic lackey? Is his tough guy stance the other side of obsequiousness to those perceived with more power?

This is a nation of heroes who have given their lives for our freedom and dignity against perilous odds. Jose Rizal, Jose Abad Santos, Ninoy Aquino. Thousands of our people died in the resistance against the cruel Japanese colonials and before that, the authoritarian Spaniards, and even against our own dictator: Eman Lacaba, Ed Jopson, et al.

Today, I toss and turn in bed, incredulous at how far our president and his own toadies second guess the Chinese on what they might want us to say in response to their downright bullying. Phrases like “simple marine incident,” and “he should have expected to be barred at the HK airport,” and “it is up to China to decide if they would like to have a joint investigation on the Recto Bank incident.” Clear and simple, shameful toadying to the bullies.

Agriculture Secretary Emanuel Piñol even went so far as to visit the victimized fishermen in Mindoro, accompanied by several armed policemen. His mission resulted in an alteration of the fishermens leader’s assertive position of “they rammed us, and left us to die in the water” to uncertainty about whether the ramming of their boat was intentional or accidental. However, Junel Insigne, the Gem Ver captain, said that they just want the Chinese to be held accountable for abandoning them to die in the sea. Government spokesmen have even questioned whether the Gem Ver fishing boat was actually sunk, as the fishermen and their Vietnamese rescuers had reported.

The Vietnamese, who saved the lives of our fishermen whom they fished out of the waters where they had managed to stay afloat for hours, cold, hungry and weak, confirmed that the Gem Ver had sunk; else why would the fishermen be floating in the sea? That doesn’t take much analysis. A third party to conduct the investigation? Certainly, the testimony of the third party Vietnamese fishers should suffice.

The highly schooled, but immature Foreign Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin, in response to the deportation of our courageous former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario, instead of protesting the denial of entry to Hong Kong by someone with a special diplomatic passport, as provided by Philippine Law, decides to cancel all diplomatic passports. He justifies his action as “in order not to single out Del Rosario.” What, just after the Hong Kong incident? And he has the temerity to call our Vice-President “Boba?” Whose side is he (and our government) on?

Our Philippine Constitution of 1987 states in its Declaration of Principles, Section 1 “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” The Declaration of Principles states further: “The prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people.”

For how long shall we sit here and allow our government to defend China for bullying our honorable citizens including fishermen who were within their right to fish in our waters? We must be close to becoming the laughing stock of ASEAN and the rest of the world, if not already there. What price are we willing to pay for our sovereignty, dignity and self-respect?

So far, it seems to me, the business community has been just as timid as the government. I hope I’m wrong.


Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.