Grassroots & Governance
By Teresa S. Abesamis
To be fair, many of the populist policies of the Duterte Administration are laudable, including bills he signed such as for expanded PhilHealth coverage and the free college tuition, which were at least partly an initiative of the opposition. But I am still smarting with dismay at the lame brained foreign policy with respect to the West Philippine Sea. Duterte’s ridiculous attempts in his SONA (State of the National Address) to justify his position on the issue just made me more frustrated, and even angry.
He seemed to be actually second-guessing what Xi Jinping would say about the issue, if asked. But it looks like we haven’t; and so, China has not made explicit statements on the issue. Not even on the Reed Bank ramming of the Filipino Fishermen’s fishing boat, beyond referring to it as a “marine incident” which it is hard to believe, is exactly what our President has said about the sad event, in anticipation of the Chinese president’s statement. It actually causes my backbone to ache.
Our President, who is mandated by our Constitution to defend and protect our territories, has blatantly stated that we cannot say we have sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, because China “has possession.” He sounds like China’s mouthpiece, no less.
The Indonesians and Vietnamese have not hesitated to use their armaments including bombs against China’s intrusive boats; and yet China, obviously, has not retaliated in like manner. So, why is our President so frightened by Xi Jinping’s veiled threat of “trouble” if we resist their intrusions as reported by our President? Vietnam, a poor and small country, threw out the French, their colonial masters, and later the Americans, the world’s most powerful nation, with their resourceful, crafty, and, yes, courageous ragtag Ho Chi Minh Trail strategy. And, yes, we did fight the Spaniards and the Japanese; and our history is replete with heroes who uncompromisingly died for our country. How did we come to this?
We didn’t even have to offer our lives to defend our West Philippine Sea territories against China’s claims of the fictional Nine Dash Line. Having encountered China’s aggressiveness and superior military might at sea, our earlier foreign policy and justice leaders, recognizing our disadvantages, used their heads and resorted to multilateralism. They also filed a suit in the UN Arbitral Court and — hallelujah! — won our case! The UN Arbitral Court ruled that the Nine Dash Line was fiction!
How dare Duterte claim that former foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario retreated from the West Philippine Sea upon encountering China’s might. He and his legal team filed a case in an international court and won it! In fact, this fearless super-senior has teamed up with his fellow super-senior and former Justice and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and demonstrated the courage to sue Xi Jinping for human rights violations in the International Criminal Court! They have experienced retaliation by China when they were later refused entry to Hong Kong.
How dare Duterte claim that the previous administration failed to stop China from taking over much of the South China Sea territories? The rapid takeover happened during his term; in fact, right after we won our case in the UN Permanent Arbitral Court and right after he became President. And he did nothing to stop China’s intrusions, claiming he did not want war because he did not want Filipinos to die. Please note that the Indonesians and Vietnamese fought back; and no war broke out. The Chinese were clearly in the wrong, and they knew it.
Aside from avoiding the multilateral option, instead of acceding to the bilateral option preferred by China on the South China Sea negotiations, the President of our poor and militarily weaker country chose the lame brained bilateral option. Such a position guaranteed our defeat! Didn’t he and his team consider alternative options to what China preferred? Wasn’t that a blatantly lame brained decision?
Even if we had considered asking the help of the United States, given our history of mutual cooperation, the Americans were too pre-occupied with Kim Jong-un’s missile saber-rattling; and had to set aside concerns about the South China Sea dispute, since they needed China’s help to neutralize their North Korean protégé. Besides, we weren’t complaining anyway.
The astute Chinese used the North Korea hiatus to rapidly occupy, reclaim and militarize the islands and atolls, including those inside our sovereign territories, based on the UNCLOS to which China and the Philippines are both signatories. They did not even care about the environmental destruction which the whole world would suffer for generations to come.
To make matters worse, our President, in response to a question, openly admitted (what to my mind should have been kept a secret) his pathetic strategy of how to deal with the sovereignty issue. While the China ambassador stared fixedly at him, our President said that once the Chinese begin to dig for oil in our seas, he would ask them to share with us the proceeds from their explorations. Here is still another example of a failure to consider alternatives. For example, we could have opened up for bidding service contracts for oil exploration in our territories to other nations or private firms. This is how we have been dealing with our lack of capital for exploration and development of our mineral resources. We did not have to cave in to illegal intrusion into our territories by begging for a share in our mineral wealth after it had been stolen from us. As our President has admitted, China has possession of our territories. We can no longer assert our sovereignty.
My backbone still aches from our one-track idiocy and lack of courage.
Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.