Saying good-bye to colonial mentality

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

When Duterte won he was asked what he thought would be our relations with China. That was a crucial point. For me it would demonstrate a key change that should happen to Philippines – apart from changing the system of government – was how to devise an independent foreign policy. How indeed? It is well known that we may have been given formal independence on July 4th  but we would continue to be a subaltern of the US in foreign policy making.

Noynoy Aquino, despite his incapability to run the country was the candidate of American neo liberals and their allies in the Philippines. After six years which saw the country degenerate despite alleged high economic ratings (mostly American-based), Filipino masses led by sections of the middle class fought back. Their battle was how to be more independent of US foreign policy and stop being colonial minded.

The Philippine card was crucial to our former colonizer’s pivot to Asia. They had to have a puppet for president and so we had Noynoy as our president in the crucial years leading to the arbitration in the UNCLOS.

Happily, now that we have Rodrigo Roa Duterte as president we can expect a more independent stance towards differences with China. In his own words he said we would be friends with all countries provided it is in our national interest. This was an indirect hit towards those who were pushing us to the pro-American side of the conflict. We may have our close relations with the US but we can also be friends with China. The oriental way out of a conflict is not to sue but to talking and finding a solution. Suing is not the oriental way in Asian culture.

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So it was a welcome sight to see the Chinese ambassador and Philippine President Duterte talking to each other before the decision of the tribunal to accept the case for arbitration. It was a victory of sorts for the Philippines because China has refused to participate in the proceedings at all. It did look like an American ploy to internationalize the dispute.

It wanted differences settled in bilateral talks. Moreover, other aspects like trade and development of the relationship should continue.

Personally, I think any renewal of trade and development relations is a beginning and as a people we would be taken more seriously if we were more restrained. Other claimants took that route and did better. Development agreements need time and plenty of good sense to succeed.

Moreover the onus on making development succeed does not lie on the Philippines alone although a Chinese official said. I suppose he meant that it would depend with how the Philippines will handle the situation after round 1 of the UN arbitration.

A column I wrote on Aquino’s visit to China is still relevant today after the arbitration decision in Duterte’s wake. It will depend very much on the two superpowers vying for the favor of our country.

We are not a big country but we are strategically located at the heart of the Asian maritime heartland. That makes us attractive to both suitors. Ironically the Philippines can only take advantage of the economic opportunities on offer if China and the US cooperate with each other.

Relations between China and the United States as far as the Spratly problem is concerned is touch and go. It calls for caution because rivals can very easily turn into enemies. There is a thin line between the two.

The metaphor of courtship between two rivals for a lady’s love is a good one. One suitor promises to defend the lady’s honor bringing gifts of arms and battleships. The other offers a better life with funding and trade for its development. Which one will the fountain bless? If our officials play it smart they can play the rivals’ game and win concessions from both. That was beyond Aquino and his officials to see.

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Continuing the courtship metaphor, Ambassador Liu says the Philippines and China are family, having known each other even before Ferdinand Magellan landed in Cebu.

“Well known as it has been for ages, our two countries and cultures are intertwined by blood and history.” The ambassador was in Bohol where it is believed a blood compact was drawn between Magellan and the Filipino sultan. When a friend suggested to the ambassador to make a blood compact he was quick on the draw and replied: “I don’t really believe it is at all necessary for us to do this because the blood of the Chinese and Philippine people have been mixed for centuries, but I would not hesitate to do so if the Governor says yes. As Your Excellency put it in your interview with the Chinese media several days ago, ‘The strength of the relationship is always inherent within the countries that are very close neighbors.”

He added what must have been music to many Filipino businessmen. “I’ve said before that while the Philippine economy is taking off, China is ready to add strength to its wings. I hope that your visit would be another magic feather making the wings more powerful.”

And finally, like a true Oriental, he plucks the sentimental string and appeals to emotion recalling the visit of the President’s late mother, Cory Aquino.

“Mr. President, you will follow your mother’s footsteps imprinted 23 years ago, tracing your Chinese roots and meeting with your town fellows in Hongjian Village near Xiamen. The village was where Her Excellency struck a chord with the villagers by saying, “I am not only the President of the Philippines, but also the daughter of Hongjian.” That’s powerful stuff.

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It may be fortuitous that while the courtship of the Philippines was taking place, the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the US was marking its 60th anniversary. The West ever pragmatic conducts its court with this defense treaty. No emotions just a reminder from the Department of State that “it is the cornerstone of the two countries’ relations and a source of stability in the region.”

The US courtship calls on the strong security relationship between Manila and Washington because of this treaty. It is pragmatic consideration but among Orientals such a relationship despite the blood shed in battle is not as strong or deep enough as a blood relation and the closeness of a neighbor.

Moreover, that offered defense is premised on a speculation. It is useful only if an attack on the Philippines were to happen. Many China watchers have said and I agree it can hardly happen because it is not in the interest of China.

Having said that, the Philippines should play a clever game with the cards it possesses - China for aid and development and the US for the security it offers. These need not be exclusive but our leaders must be shrewd enough not to be misled.

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