FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo - The Philippine Star

I have delayed part II of my column “Duterte 2.0” because of a matter of grave concern that the President seems to have responded to with his usual timidity towards the hostile acts of China.

The month-long presence of 200 Chinese vessels near a reef within the Philippine EEZ is an unmistakable signal that China is using its tried and tested strategy of sending swarms of maritime militia to an area it contests as a prelude to permanent or de facto occupancy, such as it did in Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal.

That is what Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana accused China of doing and demanded the immediate withdrawal of those vessels. Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin has been equally forceful and his department has issued statements supporting Lorenzana, in addition to having filed several diplomatic protests.

Very friendly. President Duterte at the opening ceremony of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 as President Xi’s special guest.
Source: Philippine Star 2019 file photo

National Security Council

But President Duterte has been indifferent to Chinese transgressions, as he has been throughout his term. He has said he did not want to hurt China’s “feelings,” who he considers a friend and economic benefactor despite glaring facts to the contrary. He has said he does not want to risk a war with China because we would inevitably lose when there are alternative ways to demonstrate our resolve to defend our sovereignty through strongly worded diplomatic statements, such as summoning the Chinese Ambassador or fulfilling his promise to go to Pag-asa. Either of these non-aggressive alternatives would send a strong message that he is serious about defending our sovereignty.

Duterte should at least convene the National Security Council to craft a calibrated response to emphasize to the Chinese that this is a matter of grave concern for him. He should also invite former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio invite to the NSC rather than just dismiss their reasoned arguments.

For as long as the Chinese know that the President does not care, they will pay little or no heed to the protestations of his Cabinet officials. His photo meeting the arrival of 600,000 doses of Chinese vaccines with the Chinese ambassador reinforces their perception.

Widodo resolve

China is Indonesia’s largest trading partner and foreign investor. Yet, Indonesian President Widodo has spoken out in forceful terms against Chinese incursions. He has authorized the sinking of any Chinese vessels caught illegally fishing. His foreign minister has summoned the Chinese ambassador after each incident. And he has visited the Natuna Islands four times, the flashpoint of his country’s tensions with China, to show how committed he is to defending Indonesia’s territorial integrity.

Incidentally, Indonesia is procuring 126 million doses of Sinovac produced under a joint venture with an Indonesia drug maker without Widodo demonstrating excessive fealty.

Election issue

Time is running out to prove whose “feelings” this President really cares about as these will be a major issue in the 2022 Presidential election.

Not so friendly?
Source: National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea

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