Calibrated response?

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak - The Philippine Star

I think President Duterte was right in his choice of words recently – crafting a “calibrated response” as pointed out by his spokesman Salvador Panelo. This is the diplomatic strategy that should be used when it comes to approaching all international relations. Unfortunately, this approach is not because he wants to suddenly be diplomatic. We all know that this is because he doesn’t want to upset his benefactor – the Chinese. After all, anyone who knows our president knows that he has no problem speaking exactly what is on his mind in real time. In fact, the lack of filter has often landed him in hot water.

So why does he all of a sudden not want to make a statement? What happened to the president who will passionately defend the Filipinos against the US and Canada, the other countries by slamming their policies (or what not) and asking, nay demanding better for the Philippines? Why now, all of sudden, he has decided to stay quiet? We all know the answer to that – it’s because it’s the Chinese involved this time. And, for whatever reason, our country seems to be beholden to China at the moment.

Honestly, this Chinese “partnership” or dependency as some people have finally begun to see it, is not just one-sided but already getting dangerous for Filipinos. The Chinese, by and large, have no regard for Filipinos or the Philippines and have made it obvious over and over again what they really think of us and our sovereignty. We see it in big and small ways every single day. From the Scarborough Shoal incident to the thousands of Chinese moving here and acting like they own the place to mismarked maps in Chinese textbooks to “Chinese Only” eateries right here in the country to this latest terrible maritime act that we all know was no accident.

By now we all know about the GemVir 1, the Philippine vessel that was rammed and sunk by a Chinese vessel while anchored and causing no harm in Philippine waters. What’s worse, the alleged Chinese vessel that was already in the wrong for hitting an anchored ship, and made it even worse by offering no aid to Filipino fishermen who had to abandon the sinking ship on small boats. While the fishermen were expecting the Chinese vessel to aid them, as they approached all the bigger boat allegedly did was shine a light on them and move along, essentially leaving them drifting at sea.

Fortunately, the fishermen were rescued by the Vietnamese and returned home. Still this good news is marred by the inaction on the part of our government. The Chinese vessel acted with impudence because, let’s face it, it probably knew it could get away with it. Up to this point the Chinese are throwing excuses around like candy. How dumb do they really think we are? From it was an accident (it was obviously not) to it was a case of mistaken identity to even flat out saying it wasn’t a Chinese vessel but a Vietnamese vessel, they are doing everything they can to keep from apologizing for what was clearly their fault.

And for our part – we are letting them. Or at the very least our government is. If the situation were reversed it would be catastrophic for us. Already, Chinese vessels have been known to harass Filipino fishing vessels at sea with their hoses or confiscation of their catch – if we had “accidently” hit and sunk one of their vessels we can be sure there would be hell to pay. Why is the same not true for us?

Investment and partnership aside, at the very least the Chinese need to accept responsibility for this terrible act and make the proper compensation for the ship and to the crew members who they left at sea. Our government – and our president in particular – who has always been vocal about fighting for our rights – needs to make sure this does not just pass by unacknowledged or it will just be more proof that the Chinese can treat us however they want without any repercussions.

After all, partnerships by their very definition should be beneficial to both parties. Whether or not the benefits are equal or skewed is up to those involved, but they should never be completely one-sided. We shouldn’t be so worried all the time about losing China’s support. We have other allies who have pledged support to the Philippines with far lower interest rates and much more respect.

* * *

I think the president is right when he says that the party-list system is being abused by the rich and no longer really serves the purpose for which it was created. I don’t think it’s drug related in the same way the president does, but I do think the members of the House who get elected in the party-list system hardly represent the people whose interests they are supposed to serve. How can a rich businessman truly understand and represent the plight of blue collar laborers after all? This is hardly a good way to represent the marginalized sectors of society or how to give a voice to the people who need it most of all.

How can we address this though? So much of the changes that need to be made require amending the Constitution. And while there are certainly things that need to be updated in the 1987 Constitution, the danger there is that there are things that the Constitution protects that could be changed at the same time. Where does that leave us? Perhaps if we really need to make amendments we need to do it through the Constitutional Convention and not the Constituent Assembly which just gives the House too much power of what changes to make.

We definitely need to update things soon. Too many elements of our political system are out-of-date, unfair, or just broken in general. However, we have to make sure we make these changes carefully and with the vision of helping Filipinos who need it the most.

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