Keeping an independent policy

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - November 29, 2020 - 12:00am

In my living room are pictures from Flora de Filipinas. Each time I pass and see the pictures compiled by the Spanish friar Jose Blanco, I am reminded of how beautiful the Philippines was with its architecture against the background of biodiversity.

There are books that remind us through pictures what our islands looked like before the American-Spanish war that destroyed its capital city. It deserved its title as the Pearl of the Orient.

Dignitaries from surrounding countries came here to savor its beauty and Filipino hospitality.

All that is gone; we have only pictures of its renowned glory. Its architecture was inspired by the welding of European cities against the background of its natural biodiversity. It was destroyed in the inglorious “Liberation of Manila.” Today, it is better known as the second most destroyed city in World War II.

The destruction of Manila was one of the greatest tragedies of World War II. Of Allied capitals in those war years, only Warsaw suffered more.

The battle for the liberation of Manila was waged from Feb. 3 to March 3, 1945, between the American forces and the Imperial Japanese forces.

The victims were Manilans and the city they loved. One hundred thousand men, women and children perished. Architectural heritage was reduced to rubble.

Seventy percent of the utilities, 75 percent of the factories, 80 percent of the southern residential district and 100 percent of the business district was razed, writes William Manchester, author and historian, in American Caesar.

“We remember them, nor shall we ever forget,” wrote National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, on the lives taken during the Battle of Manila, in the inscription of the Memorare Manila 1945 Monument in Intramuros.

As far as the United States and Japan were concerned, Manila was nothing but a battlefield with no thought to its history and culture or the people who lived in it.

The memories of that  pillage must be kept in mind when we conduct our foreign policy today. Once more our strategic location is an unfortunate gift we both relish and deplore. Its location will figure again if the ongoing cold war between China and the United Stares should break out into a hot war.

We must tread a thin line, not to be caught in their hegemonic struggle. The cold war between these two countries is ongoing today and our leaders should be conscious that we keep our independence, as aptly declared by President Duterte. Filipinos should follow his lead and work hard not to be caught in a propaganda war between the two.

The memory of the destruction of Manila should be an apt reminder.

These concerns were explored in a recently concluded webinar featuring global analyst and former World Bank director Yukon Huang alongside a panel of local experts from the industry and development sectors of the Philippines.

“It’s no secret that perceptions of China across the West have had a palpable impact on public opinion here in the Philippines. So can we expect more of this tension in the next four years? Or will there be a noticeable shift for the better?”

Panel expert Dioceldo Sy, founder and CEO of Ever Bilena Cosmetics and Blackwater, pointed out how foreign business owners are only allowed 40 percent ownership in the Philippines. Coupled with the lack of transparency for local business relations, this greatly reduces incentive for foreign investors.

George Siy, Wharton-educated geopolitical analyst, also stressed the need to improve our infrastructure in the coming years.

“Currently, the wave of decisions are being made to transfer (manufacturer outsourcing). If we don’t catch the wave, it will be another seven years or so before people decide again where they will place their new manufacturing facilities.”

Chairperson Anna Mae Lamentillo added to this sentiment by noting the consistent economic growth of the Philippines with regards to the expansion of the manufacturing industry and infrastructure development, assisted in large part by the gains of President Duterte’s independent foreign policy. She pointed out how China, along with countries such as Japan, South Korea and France, have been contributing greatly to the Philippines’ BBB Programs nationwide – multiple times more than the previous administration.

The experts also touched on the parallels between the Philippines’ Build, Build, Build program and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Huang noted that the Philippines has a lot to learn from China’s ingenuity, particularly with regards to becoming more self-sufficient.

He also highlighted how Chinese foreign investors are helping grow global infrastructure in places such as Vietnam and Mexico, and how the Philippines can be part of their initiative.

The analysts also raised a point about how fake news is unnecessarily getting in the way of the Philippines’ fast-tracking its development.

For example, the false claims circulating of China’s BRI as a “debt trap” charging as much as 10-20 percent – but the true interest is at 2-4 percent, far lower than most countries, even from Western development banks.

Then there is, of course,  the issue of what the Philippines could expect from a Biden presidency. This remains to be seen.

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