We fight for what is ours

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

The feeling is like having your father allow the bullying neighbor to settle into your house, take your valuables and rape your sister. Your father watches passively, shrugs his shoulders and says, “The thug is stronger than me – so I will just sit here, allow it all to happen and show meekness towards the enemy.” Rightly or wrongly, this is how many Filipinos feel about China, the West Philippine Sea and President Duterte.

Although DFA Secretary Teddyboy Locsin has diligently filed one diplomatic protest after another against China, the reality is that our protests have become mere ceremonial acts, rendered benign by President Duterte’s policy of appeasement and accommodation towards China.

It’s been said that President Duterte is only avoiding armed conflict and trade retaliation. This reasoning does not hold water. As we have seen in the case of Vietnam and Indonesia, both have resisted China’s encroachment on all fronts, including militarily. Indonesia even deployed fighter jets when the Chinese intruded on its Natuna Isalnds in 2019. Yet, both nations continue to enjoy good diplomatic and commercial relations with China. In fact, both received the lion’s share of Chinese investments and official development assistance, while the Philippines received a pittance.

Japan’s media giant, Nikkei Asia, summarizes the situation eloquently. I quote: “While Duterte’s years-long kowtow to China has brought him not one single big-ticket investment so far, Jokowi’s more dignified and sophisticated strategy has secured optimal investment, as well as the early delivery of millions of Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines.The unmistakable lesson, it seems, is that China treats meek leaders such as Duterte with contempt, but will strike mutually beneficial deals with the likes of Jokowi, who has consistently refused to be intimidated by Asia’s superpower.”

President Jokowi was smart to balance his relationship with China and the US. This gave Indonesia the latitude to leverage one against the other. In contrast, President Duterte laid out his cards from day one, proclaiming a pivot to China. Later, he even went so far as to cancel the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, to China’s delight. He maintained the belief that one has to be “meek” in order to secure “mercy” from the Chinese. This turned out to be a foreign policy catastrophe which the Chinese took advantage of.

China quickly baited President Duterte with $24 billion worth of development funds for Mindanao, among other undisclosed concessions. In exchange, he would continue to be meek, grant China economic concessions (including the third telco franchise) and, most damagingly, commit not to assert the Philippines’ arbitration victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). The $24-billion development funds never materialized. Still, President Duterte mystifyingly persists with his stance of meekness.

The divergent strategies of Indonesia and the Philippines yielded varying results. Indonesia was able to secure the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway under the best possible terms in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The Philippines secured a few bridges and the PNR line. It is a pittance compared to what Indonesia bagged. Worse, Chinese foreign direct investments to the Philippines was a measly $28.8 million in 2017 and $198.7 in 2018. Filipino businessmen invested more in China.

Duterte’s policy of appeasement and accommodation has rendered the nation a spineless victim in the context of China’s territorial grab. What’s worse is that China has accelerated its invasion, taking advantage of President Duterte’s last year in office. Last month, the bully asserted its claim over our Julian Felipe Reef, stating that it is part of Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands) which it insists are within its territory. Beijing’s newest claim is well within the Philippine’s exclusive economic zone.

How much more of our sovereign territories will China claim? China must not be believed when it says that its claim is confined to the 9-dash line. It is a lie – the 9-dash line has actually been expanding through the years. Remember how China lied in 2013 when it said it would not militarize the area? China lies…. It is its nature. Make no mistake, China will claim more of our territories until the Philippine government pushes back. The push back should have come a long time ago.

Where did it all go wrong? Our victory at UNCLOS should have been our turning point. The high tribunal ruled that China’s 9-dash line is invalid and that China has no legal claim nor historical rights over Philippine exclusive economic zone. It further declared China as behaving unlawfully. Our victory was hailed and supported by ASEAN, the United States, the European Union, Japan and Australia.

With the UN ruling in our favor, the next step should have been to consolidate international support to eject China from our territories or face suctions. After all, it serves global interest to maintain freedom of navigation and passage in the waters.

But China got to President Duterte and the policy of appeasement and accommodation was put into effect. This is why the territorial grab escalates.

Is there a way out of this? Yes, and it is contingent on the next president. Our next chief executive must be committed to safeguard and defend sovereign territories at all cost (this is fundamental); he/she must assert our victory at UNCLOS; he/she must turn this into an ASEAN-China issue, not just a bilateral issue; he/she must invoke the military assistance of the United States on the back of our mutual defense treaty; he/she must elevate China’s unlawful occupation to a global issue since it affects global trade; he/she must demand that China be sanctioned by the United Nations  since it defied the ruling of its tribunal.

And, contrary to what President Duterte said that we cannot re-claim our territories, let us make it clear that China does not have possession of it. They are an illegal settler. The law is on the Philippines’ side and we can use it to reverse the situation.

More than at any other time since our independence, our choice for the next president is crucial. It will determine whether we fight for our sovereignty or succumb like a coward. I reckon that even now, China is already grooming President Duterte’s successor to adapt the same policy of appeasement and accommodation. This is why we must be keen to discern real patriots from candidates who have a hidden bias or has sold out to the Chinese. Our next president must be one who unequivocally opposes China in word, principle and deed. Let us not be fooled by patriotic posers.

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Email: andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan

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