Embracing peace

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - April 30, 2018 - 12:00am

Every peace-loving people on earth are surely elated up to now over the historic summit meeting last Thursday between the leaders of North and South Korea. So much so that the international media hailed it as ominous sign of peace finally dawning in the troubled part of the world – the Korean Peninsula.

The world witnessed the once saber-rattling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un crossed the demilitarized zone in the truce village of Panmunjom to reach out for peace with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. At the end of their four-eyes meeting, both leaders came out with a signed statement announcing to the whole world their respective official commitments for the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

The same declaration promises more hopeful prospects for global peace to spread to the rest of the world after it was announced the two leaders declared an official end to the 1950 Korean War and seek an agreement to establish “permanent” and “solid” peace. And that the two Korean leaders would work for the implementation this year of phased arms reduction, cease hostile acts, transform their fortified border into a peace zone and seek multilateral talks with other countries, including the United States and China.

Certainly, we in the Philippines join the rest of the world in collective sigh of relief over this very dramatic turn of events. After all, the Korean peninsula is strategically located very near to the Philippines. So it was indeed very important for us to see such peaceful settlement to come out of this long-standing hostility that kept the two Koreas on war footing even after the July 27, 1953 Armistice.

The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, with neither side able to claim outright victory. Thus, the truce is still all that technically prevents North Korea and the US – along with its ally South Korea – resuming the war because no peace treaty has ever been signed.

Historically speaking, the Philippines got involved in the Korean War when Filipino troopers – who included a young West Point Academy graduate, then 2nd Lt. Fidel V. Ramos – joined the United Nations peacekeeping forces. Ramos led successful combat operations of the 20th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK). The Philippines deployed 7,420 soldiers in five battalions from 1950 to 1955, of whom 112 were killed in action. A PEFTOK war hero, Ramos later became the 12th president of the Philippines from 1992-1998.

A few months before the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War on June 25, 2010, I was privileged and honored being invited by the South Korean Foreign Ministry to join other international journalists whose countries also sent troopers to help them quell the communist invasion. It was during this trip that I personally saw a replica of the PEFTOK uniform, supposedly used by Ramos, on display at the Korean War Memorial Museum in Seoul.

Also on display were several books, photographs, and videos of soldiers of the PEFTOK donated by Ramos. “May these modest memorabilia serve the purpose of enhancing the understanding and appreciation of our shared history by younger generations,” Ramos wrote on his dedication note. 

Now 90 years old, ex-president Ramos is for sure one of the happiest people who rejoice to this historic moment taking place in the Korean peninsula where he once risked his life in the name of world peace. Now “citizen Eddie,” the former president remains active in the public service, including his being a close adviser and “chief critic” of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The North Korean leader used to be one of the pet peeves of President Duterte.

This is not because of Pyongyang’s interfering into internal affairs of the Philippines that got the ire of President Duterte who also riled up at former US President Barack Obama. It was the former US leader who first got the “son-of-bitch” rant from President Duterte after criticisms over human rights issues in the Philippines were hurled against his administration.

But in the case of North Korea’s Kim, it was the repeated test-firing of their purported nuke-loaded intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that got him the badmouthing from the 72-year-old President Duterte.

Only a few months ago, North Korea’s Kim was the center of the regional security agenda of the Leaders’ Summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which the Philippines hosted and with President Duterte presiding as chairman.

Speaking as chairman of last year’s ASEAN Summit, President Duterte called upon the world’s top leaders, including US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to work for the peaceful route after the North Korean leader threatened to launch missiles across the Peninsula. The Philippine leader warned one misstep would be a “catastrophe” and Asia would be the first victim of a nuclear war.

The tough-talking former Davao City Mayor described Kim as a “fool” and a “son of a bitch” in several of his extemporaneous speeches in the past. On April 29 last year, President Duterte questioned Kim’s sanity and urged the US to show restraint and not be baited by a man who “wants to end the world.” He rebuked the North Korean leader for “playing with dangerous toys” referring to ICBMs in the hands of Kim.

“Do not be fooled by his face, that chubby face that looks nice. That son-of-a-whore maniac, if he makes a mistake then the Far East will become an arid land. It must be stopped, this nuclear war, because (if) a limited confrontation blows up here, I tell you the fallout, the soil, the resources. I don’t know what will happen to us. We won’t be able to plant anything productive,” President Duterte fumed before his audience in August last year.

But with last week’s developments, would President Duterte be kinder now in his words about North Korea’s Kim with the latter’s embracing the way to peace? At this stage though, the world would still regard Kim’s change of heart with guarded optimism.

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