End zone diplomacy
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - February 8, 2020 - 12:00am

The 1st batch of repatriated Filipinos from China’s Hubei province, of which Wuhan is capital city, should arrive at Clark airport today. Forty-five of our countrymen are looking at a 14-day mandatory quarantine at New Clark City where they’re to be delivered directly upon arrival. It was supposed to be the rehabilitation center at Fort Magsaysay that would host. But BCDA stepped up and offered the nearer and more modern facilities of the athletes’ village last used at November’s South East Asian games.

Valiant Department of Foreign Affairs frontline personnel are braving the “hot zone” in the Wuhan epicenter, sorting out the challenges of immigration, travel and health clearances. Undersecretary Brigido Dulay saluted the men and women of his department who typify service above self as they attend to the ground work even sans the necessary protective hazmat gear. From all indications, Hubei’s health infrastructure has been overrun by the fast moving pathogen. The unprecedented lockdown, while propitious for the rest of the world, has become truly disastrous for the province and its people. 

The country’s flag carrier Philippine Airlines has announced the deployment of special flights to and from Xiamen, China to allow more stranded residents on both ends their way home. This is a small but welcome window. Xiamen is a gateway to/from major China destinations. It is 3 hours 45 minutes by air from Wuhan, 11 hours by car. For these missionary flights, PAL will have to negotiate the logistics with our own authorities given the in-place China travel ban. There is no shortage of volunteer pilots and crew. 

A country sneezes and the entire world coughs. Indeed, globalization equates to a smaller world. Whenever it is that the nCoV outbreak reaches its tipping point, its clear that many people are far past their own. The best examples of BCDA, DFA and PAL in these moments of uncertainty and anxiety are reassuring reminders that basic humanity cannot be decimated by the virus.

Visa diplomacy. However much he doth protest, PRRD’s threat to cancel the Visiting Forces Agreement is tat for the US Justice Department’s tit in cancelling the visa of one Ronald De la Rosa. The President admitted as much last Jan. 23, punctuated by his trademark @#%*. And, again after a week, with the boycott by his entire Cabinet of any travel to the US. 

There are those who would persist in divining the President’s reasons, reserving a judgment they continue to believe is theirs to confer. But DFA Secretary Teddyboy Locsin is right. This is the President’s prerogative. And that is his decision.

Sec. Locsin is ready to rumble; the concerned Cabinet cluster is scrambling to submit a preliminary impact assessment. Personally, he concedes the net benefits of the VFA to us. Hence, the abrogation/termination be subjected to vigorous review. In executive session, he briefed an equally deferential Senate on the whys and wherefores.

PRRD can hardly be begrudged the impetuousness. After all, the professed premise for  the U.S. huff and puff is the “unjust” treatment of Sen. Leila de Lima aside from the unrepentant posture of government on the extra judicial killings. Under the US Global Magnitsky Act, targeted travel restrictions are its “stick” against human rights violators. But the de Lima raison d’etre is curious, really, since she is in jail by virtue of a Court ordered arrest on criminal charges. 

Coast guard diplomacy. The visit of the China Coast Guard contingent last November was historic. It may seem on the surface odd because of the relentless bullying in the West Philippine Sea. But we’ve actually been in active cooperation ententè not just with our Chinese neighbors but also with the Coast Guard services of the U.S., Japan and other European nations. The joint exercises and exchanges have not been exclusively RP-Sino though, of course, the confrontations on high seas and diplomatic protests exclusively are.

The activity is paying off. Almost half of world’s pirate attacks occur in SEA waters. Robbery and Piracy in the ASEAN decreased 25% in 2018 per the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP).

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is the civilian constabulary force on the water and PRRD is acutely aware of this dynamic. In the wake of the collision of ships last June 2019 which left our fishing boat and 22 men in the water, he was adamant against sending grey ships (shorthand for navy vessels with their grey hulls). He sent the PCG which, in contrast, sports the white with red colors and are deemed white ships (non-military). 

But to the US, China’s coast guard is not white but grey. In January, 2019 Admiral John M. Richardson, on behalf of the US Navy, sounded their clear position that the China Coast Guard was to be deemed as equivalent to military ships, i.e. the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy. The US was compelled to post up, given China’s outright aggression in the West Philippine Sea. Even their Mutual Defense Treaty posture, long equivocal, suddenly consolidated.

In the powder keg that is the West Philippine Sea, these are highly incendiary considerations.

Passages. Atty. Rafaelito Garayblas, in Manila lore, was known as the little Mayor to Alfredo S. Lim. Given his diminutive stature, he also owned that title, figuratively. He was one of the best Secretaries to the Mayor ever to serve. He was decisive, stern but always compassionate. Within the City’s academic landscape, he was one of only two men to act, at different times, as President of the two city universities: the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and the Universidad de Manila. Outside his local government day job, “Sec. G” played the lead in his own story – that of esteemed and respected professor to generations of law students at virtually all of Manila’s top law schools. He was a devoted father and a model family man. He was my boss. Our deepest sympathies to his family.

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