Finding your voice
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - February 15, 2020 - 12:00am

Stop whining. Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddyboy Locsin is telling us to move on. So the President has terminated the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US. It’s about time. When else shall we learn to fight our own battles? 

Having the VFA in place was a comfort to many, specially at a time of regional uncertainty. China’s militarization in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) dragged a geopolitical pivot to Asia. When President Rodrigo Roa Duterte got in the driver’s seat in 2016, the previous administrations had already punched the directions into the GPS. And it continued to include a role for the US. After all, the VFA and the EDCA were resorted to as part of the strategy to secure the WPS.

But PRRD had other ideas. And the pressure brought to bear by the US government, e.g. withholding development grants from Millennium Challenge Corp. for PRRD’s fledgling administration on account of its “dismal human rights record,” surely calcified the President’s latent anti-US bias.

The VFA helps keep us militarily prepared. But its actually not hard to take a position against it. There are the issues on sovereignty, the one sided provisions, the unsatisfactory conclusion of the cases of Daniel Smith (“Nicole”) and Joseph Pemberton (Jennifer Laude), among others. The US may have an “excellent” rating of +72 percent Net Trust of our people, the latest statistic from 2019 (in contrast to -33 percent for China). But that same US high rating plummeted to +18 percent only during the pendency of the 2005 case against Smith.  

The President believes we should pay our own way. It is he who sees the whole chess board. Its been almost 30 years since the historic Senate No to the US military bases. If we still want training wheels for our independence bicycle, the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement are both still in place.

CHA CHA Senate style. Jurisprudence has embraced the theory that the Executive is the sole organ and principal architect of foreign policy. Expectedly, we are hearing some in the Senate rely on this to justify their reluctance to assert a Senatorial prerogative in the wake of PRRD’s VFA termination.

Senator Francis Tolentino consistently gives the President carte blanche. As a former local chief executive, MMDA chair and presidential adviser, he argues ardently against keeping the executive on a leash. Even at last year’s boat ramming/collision on the high seas, Sen. Tolentino defended the Duterte – Xi oral permission as an executive agreement exempt from Senate concurrence.

There is actually no textual basis in the Constitution that limits the international relations power to the President. He is the implementor of policy. But formulation of the same is shared with Congress. What the Executive has in its favor is the treaty making power. It is really his to exercise in the first instance. The classic framework has both branches having a hand in shaping foreign policy but the essential power to negotiate for the country is conceded to the President. The Senate’s participation is subsequent and is in the nature of a check and a balance.

Legislative scrutiny is important considering that to assume obligations and exercise appurtenant rights under international agreements involves a matter of national policy. After all, it has become part of the law of the land. It should only be undone with the participation of the Legislative chamber that carried it to term. Hence, the valiant effort of the Senate to locate its own voice and officially insist on Senate concurrence when withdrawing from treaties. 

Mighty young roar. Miss Alexandra Eala is the first Filipina to win a Grand Slam tournament in Tennis. Alex won the junior women’s doubles division at the 2020 Australian Open. If she remains on this trajectory, now 4th in the ITF junior ranking, she can be the country’s highest profile international sportsman, next only to Manny Pacquiao. 

Before her, world caliber Filipino athletes emerged in individual sports other than those we traditionally dominated. In golf, our junior champions were idolized by the Tigers and Phils and Ernies; in Tennis, the junior men’s division saw a Filipino win a Grand Slam in Casey Alcantara, also at the Australian Open doubles draw. They broke the ceiling only to fade away, principally because of weak governmental sports infrastructure that failed to support their flag bearing efforts. 

Hopes are high for Alex as she benefits from the coaching and training provided by a Rafael Nadal Academy scholarship. The Philippine Tennis Association should continue its invaluable support for this champion.

Barriers no more. Parasite, the breakthrough South Korean masterpiece of acclaimed director Bong Joon Ho (also of Okja, Snowpiercer, The Host) is the first foreign language film to win the prestigious Academy Award Best Picture. The US movie industry, for so long the front guard of the cultural dominance accompanying/enabling US imperialism, is the Olympus of popular entertainment. Even so, it has not been aloof from co-venturing with international film industries. In Asia, cinema from Japan, China, Hong Kong and India have long been recognized. 

The watershed victory of Parasite, apart from cementing the status of economic giant South Korea also as a cultural force, marks a momentous turning point. It can be seen either as the affirmation of a rising eastern global presence or, conversely, as exclamation mark on the waning of US influence. 

Passages. We pause to remember a familiar face from childhood. He was Ulysses, the Viking Einar, Doc Holliday, Vincent Van Gogh. And, yes, he … was Spartacus. To a generation that revered their cinematic idols on the golden pedestals built by society’s moral codes, the characters portrayed by the versatile Kirk Douglas on-screen supplied an alternate option. He played against type, defied convention and assured viewers that imperfect is also ok. Today’s less traditional brand of heroes: tarnished, flawed but, still, with enough moxie to prevail owe plenty to his legacy. Thanks for the memories, Mr. Douglas.

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