All I want for Christmas is – my country
AS EASY AS ABC - Atty. Alex B. Cabrera (The Philippine Star) - December 23, 2018 - 12:00am

It may be commonplace to us, but it’s golden to those separated for the rest of the year, or separated for two years in a row, to get back together as a family, at least during weeks leading to Christmas. Getting back home is not exclusively an OFW story though; it’s also an aging Filipino immigrant story. In fact, for someone I know, the rest of his family remained in the US, while he went ahead to resettle in the Philippines.

During a round of golf, this balikbayan who couldn’t wait for his own family to join him said he hated the cold. Here, where the climate is warmer, he is also taken care of by everybody. Besides, he said, there is nothing like living in your own country.

I bit my lip so as not to spoil his moment. I wanted to utter a rude rhetorical question I heard from my son (who studies in UP): “Was this country ever ours?”

Knee-jerk answer – of course, we could say, after all, it’s just 300 years Spaniards’, 50 years Americans’, and four years Japanese’s. But after that, half-owned by Americans for additional decades because of parity rights. Then there’s Marcos, the Philippine leader that divided and ruled, and allocated the country to their family and cronies for the taking.

Then today, there’s China. I know it’s Christmas, let’s not be mean. Let’s also get real. Christmas is not about giving away islands or shoals, or any part of Philippine territory. If anyone wants fresh territory, there may still be unclaimed land in Antarctica. They should plainly leave those which are part of a country’s territory already because historically, they start senseless wars and conflicts.

Again, just for the record, territory is geographical. Whatever is more than 1,000 kilometers from China and just 75 kilometers from our shorelines should logically belong to us. Why? Because it is a stone’s throw away! We are supposed to swim and fish in our own waters, and other nations who want to fish in our own waters should get permission from us, and not the other way around. If this logic is not enough, there is a 500-page decision (which I read entirely) at The Hague that says the law of the seas should be respected. (To As Easy as ABC readers, you can revisit 10 truths from The Hague verdict published in July 17, 2016: www.philstar.com/business/2016/07/17/1603583/10-truths-hague-verdict)

China is not that bad because they allow us to fish in our own waters, subject to their permission. They don’t just build islands in our waters; they even claim nearby shoals. No need to worry, they say, because they have built facilities there to monitor the weather and protect the environment – after damaging the marine ecosystem where they erected the islands. But if it’s worth doing for them, it’s probably not because weather is on top of the agenda.

The job of the president, particularly on this territorial issue is tough, and understandably so. This much though must be said: the person prone to be bullied, the person prone to be disrespected, is he who is most agreeable. There are many scientific things to arrive at fair compensation, but – it has to be demanded or persuasively suggested.

For example, the islands or that part of the Philippine territory can be the subject of a financial valuation. When the strategic value reduced in financial terms of Philippine territory occupied by China is determined, then we can say if the Chinese aid or pledges barely scratch the surface of compensating for what was taken, and continue to be taken.

Truth be told, Chinese people themselves have many admirable traits worth emulating. They are hardworking, they are naturals in business, and they are humble.

When Filipinos act as dummies so Chinese investors can buy land to develop, or when locals engage Chinese workers, allowed or not, by government to work here, the Chinese bear the brunt. But that happens only because some people from our side, the agreeables, take personal advantage.

To be fair, we don’t need to pick on any particular non-Filipino. If the agreeable locals show wanton disrespect for their own country’s rules, why wouldn’t foreign nationals be less uncomfortable doing the same? Remember the phenomena of Filipinos abroad suddenly and magically becoming law-abiding individuals who obey traffic rules and wait in queues? That’s because people there respect their own country’s laws and rules, and so we would be afraid to do it our way.

On respect as a nation, the easiest way to get ridiculed globally is to have corruption unabated, or even justified. So the Marcoses set a precedent, using rules and clout to delay criminal punishment and to refuse the return of billions stolen. And this precedent was picked up quite recently by a senator who refused to return taxpayer money that found its way to his personal bank accounts. Not to be outdone is the mind-boggling electorate that appears thankful for the thievery by expressing political support.

How do we demand, really, respect from the world when as a nation, we have little respect for ourselves? We allow crime to pay, we socialize and party with criminals, we give them a rostrum to speak and “grace” our business meetings and conventions, and they get elected again because even the well-educated treat them with respect. If we continuously show the world that we’re okay with those who are supposed to serve and protect us steal from us, why wouldn’t other nations be emboldened in their opinion that we will tolerate unlawful taking, be it taxpayer money or Philippine territory? Anyway, we are agreeable.

Hey, we will impose some reprieve. Whatever remains of the longest Christmas season in the world, we will make the most of it. We will remember that out people stay here, and our people come back here not for our imperfections, but for what is best about us: the smiles that melt, the warmth that’s not fake, the laughter that’s uncontrolled and free, and sentimentality that brings one to tears. Oh, and that Filipino style cooking that’s rich, salty, sweet, crispy, and plentiful.

Today I will allow the good to make me merry, to live another year, and to give a good fight for respect for country in 2019. Here’s As Easy as ABC this Christmas wishing everyone that we all count our gifts, but then – use them well.

* * *

Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He is the chairman of the Tax Committee, and the vice chairman of EMERGE (Educated Marginalized Entrepreneurs Resource Generation) program, of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). Email your comments and questions to aseasyasABC@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

CHRISTMAS SEASON
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