We need to see the forest, not just the trees

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - December 29, 2019 - 12:00am

There’s an old phrase that goes, “missing the forest for the trees” meaning that one may fail to understand the bigger picture if one only sees a part of it.

Everyone needs to realize it’s an altogether different world now, what with so many changes that are rapidly occurring. Which is why one has to prepare for the coming year 2020 with (pardon the pun) a 20/20 vision in order to see the big picture.

It is unfortunate that there are still people who refuse to recognize the signs of a rapidly changing world as seen in climate disturbances happening all over the world – the shrinking glaciers of Switzerland or the rising heat in Australia – now dubbed as “Apocalyptic.” Another is the increasing global population that is putting entire ecosystems at risk and threatening the supply of resources. Major technological advancements such as artificial intelligence will also define the world in the next decade and could even affect the global balance of power.

In the geopolitical scene, another Cold War might be forthcoming between China and the United States as warned by former US State Secretary, Dr. Henry Kissinger. This time, the situation could become worse than World War I because both nations have greater political, military and economic powers at their disposal, with the tension aggravated by a protracted trade war that has also affected many nations. 

China is seriously challenging America’s influence in many parts of the world with the Belt and Road Initiative, with 130 countries having already signed up. Investments in BRI-related projects is estimated at $575 billion since 2013, and this could reach $1.3 trillion by 2027. China’s network and clout is expanding throughout Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe as it continues to pour in billions of dollars in investments on infrastructure projects to speed up its trade with many nations across the globe.

Then there is the threat coming from North Korea with many worried that the situation could escalate in 2020 because the denuclearization talks between President Trump and Kim Jong Un are currently at a stalemate. While Kim has not delivered any Christmas “gift” to the US, one could not discount the possibility that the North Korean leader might decide to celebrate his birthday in January by conducting a weapons test or a similar provocative action. 

The situation with Iran – whose president announced that it is working on advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in violation of the landmark nuclear deal it signed in 2015 with world powers – is another situation that is adding to global tension. 

It is clear to many that now more than ever, ASEAN centrality is key for the United States to strengthen its alliances in maintaining the balance of power especially in potentially dangerous flashpoints such as the South China Sea. It wasn’t too long ago when US government officials dismissed the disputed maritime territories in South China Sea as mere “rocks,” saying that the US does not get involved in territorial disputes. Well, those “rocks” have become virtual Chinese military bases – another example of failing to see the big picture.

The global drug problem is also a major concern especially now that the connection between drugs and terrorism has been established as evidenced by the Taliban’s drug laboratories in Afghanistan. The Philippines is also in the thick of the fight against this global scourge especially since the country is being used as a transshipment point by international drug syndicates.   

It’s unfortunate that despite our continuing interaction with US legislators, they have opted to pick on issues that otherwise could be discussed openly and in a manner that would improve relations instead of driving a wedge into the longstanding alliance between the Philippines and the US. They should not make conclusions that the imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima is “wrongful.” Clearly, the case needs to take its due course and everyone should wait for its resolution in the court of law. 

As stated by Presidential Spokesman Sal Panelo, the case of Senator De Lima is not one of persecution but prosecution. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled on the validity of her arrest based on drug charges filed against her. Instead of making conjectures, US legislators should focus instead on capacity-building measures to help the Philippines improve its justice system.

It goes without saying that we respect the right of any country to exercise its sovereign prerogative to allow or ban individuals from entering its borders – just as we expect the same from other countries to respect our laws and processes. Some of our overseas workers abroad have broken laws in their host countries and we always encourage them to follow the law. Occasionally, the Philippine government pleads for mercy on humanitarian grounds, but never demanding it.

“No other State could dictate upon our officials, judges and justices the manner upon which we enforce and interpret our own laws vis-à-vis those who are believed to have committed a violation against our laws,” said Sal Panelo, stressing that the Philippines is an independent and sovereign state that stands in parity with all other states including the United States, and that we will not sit idly by when others interfere with our processes as a sovereign state. 

Sadly, the animosity between Republicans and Democrats as manifested in the impeachment of President Trump may have played a role in this. We are hopeful that a 20/20 vision will not allow politically motivated moves to drive a wedge in US-Philippine relations precisely because we need to see the bigger picture.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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