Twilight zone

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - April 19, 2021 - 12:00am

The country was surprised at the President’s unexpected call last week to address the nation. He usually addresses the public on national television in his weekly “Talk to the People.” But from March 29 to April 9, he did not show up. Last week he spoke not once but twice.

Upon watching the simulcast last Thursday, the public observed the weariness of Duterte’s Cabinet members. Personally, I cannot fathom how these gentlemen can look straight at the eye of their digital cameras with heads raised while the President was continuously cursing. What a pitiful scenario. How can they stand it?

That night many were anticipating his response to Justice Carpio on his stand about the West Philippine Sea and his relationship with China. Remember the day before his talk to the people last Thursday, Carpio was interviewed left and right and for the first time we witnessed someone speaking up about how the President is handling our maritime affairs with China.

In Karen Davila’s interview with Carpio last week, he said: If our sovereignty is involved, the President must speak. He must stand up himself because if his subordinates do the talking, China will not listen. China will only listen to the leader of the nation.

Guess what? After Duterte’s night meeting last week, he did not respond to Carpio’s challenge. But the Palace jester had to give a piece of his mind by saying that the public does need to be informed about how the President will handle the diplomatic affairs between China and the Philippines. He continues by telling the public to let the President address the issue “privately.” Sanamagan!

Remember, there is a sudden shift in the US policy after Biden won. Biden has remained steadfast to US support in the Pacific Rim compared to Trump, who didn’t take a stand and left us to fend for ourselves.

Now for the first time since 2012, we sent quite a strong response to the presence of the Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef (including media’s push) combined with the US forces. The Philippines deployed the BRP Antonio Luna, BRP Jose Rizal, two brand new missile-guided frigates and warplanes, while the US deployed the USS Makin Island and USS Theodore Roosevelt along with submarines, destroyers and cruiser escorts.

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Now, what about the rest of the Asian countries bullied by China? How are they responding to the aggression?

Vietnam has begun to publicly protest the escalating tensions it has with China. Last April 3, when a Chinese coast guard vessel hit and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat, Vietnam responded by lodging a diplomatic note of protest with the Chinese government and asserted its own territorial claims. Le Thi Thu Hang, spokesperson for Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, “China’s actions endangers the lives, safety and legitimate interests of the Vietnamese fishermen. The Chinese vessels’s act violates Vietnam’s sovereignty.” As China continues to poke into Vietnamese waters, the Vietnamese are studying stronger ways to put an end to this dispute.

Indonesia, on the other hand, filed a diplomatic protest against China in response to Chinese coast guard and fishing boats entering Indonesia. “Natuna is part of Indonesia’s territory, there is no question, no doubt,” President Joko Widodo said in January, referring to islands at the edge of the South China Sea that China claims as its traditional fishing area. “There is no bargaining for our sovereignty,” Widodo said. He even flew to the islands to deliver an uncompromising message defending their country’s sovereignty after the Chinese entered their exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In Malaysia, Chinese survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8, four Chinese Coast Guard ships and nine militia vessels entered Malaysia’s EEZ on April 2020 during an oil exploration activity in the area by Petronas, Malaysia’s government-owned oil company. This sighting was not taken lightly by the Malaysian government. They immediately deployed Malaysian military and civilian law enforcement vessels to patrol the waters. They continue to stand vigilant in safeguarding their country’s interests, no question about it.

Taiwan recently called for a “global coalition” against China’s aggression. The record numbers of Chinese military incursions in the Taiwan Strait in recent months have been of particular concern. The US support and her presence in the region has created a stand-off. China seems to be testing Biden’s administration and capability as well.

It is worthy to note that the non-claimant countries have also expressed their concern on this issue. Japan has used “normative power” via strategic foreign aid to certain claimants in the dispute by promoting the “rule of law at sea.” Singapore has reiterated that China should obey international laws; she has also offered to play a neutral role in being a constructive conduit for dialogue among the claimant states. Thailand plays a coordinating role in facilitating China and ASEAN members involved in the dispute in hope of reaching peaceful resolution. Laos has supported China by refusing to accept the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

The United States has called out what it described as China’s “bullying behavior” in the maritime area. China will continue its aggression in advancing its positions in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait and the Himalayan border if the countries involved will not do anything to stop it. China at this point is thinking that they have the upper hand in the sovereign disputes, given the global pandemic situation. That’s how opportunistic China is.

As we deal with this global pandemic brought to us from Wuhan, China, here we are having to deal with another ordeal to defend our seas from guess who – China! What a double whammy – and tripled because our President wants to continue his “soft stand” toward the bully.

If the President is in the twilight zone, it’s time for the Filipinos to make a more definite stand. Let’s continue to let our voices be heard. Stand up for what is right without question or doubt!

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