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Opinion

Reconfigured

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

A week is indeed a long time in politics.

Over the past week, the situation at the Taiwan Strait changed drastically. Although long considered a flashpoint, the possibility of a shooting war was considered low. For decades, Beijing seemed content intimidating Taiwan and her allies enough to dissuade the island from formally declaring independence and the others from recognizing such a declaration.

For decades, China was considered economically weak and its military technologically inferior, inhibiting any serious thought of an outright seizure by force of Taiwan. Over the past few years, however, Beijing gained global economic importance and upgraded its military to be at par with the other global powers.

The situation at the Taiwan Strait changed dramatically.

Seizing upon a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week, China mounted unprecedented military exercises around the island. In those exercises, China demonstrated capacity to project naval power far from its shores, effectively blockade the stubborn island, fire medium-range missiles with precision and, yes, support an invasion force.

For years, Beijing has been telling the world she would take the island by force if necessary. This past week, she demonstrated capacity to do exactly that.

For decades, the US pursued a Taiwan strategy appropriately called “strategic ambiguity.” On the one hand, she formally maintains a One-China policy that attempts to co-opt Beijing into some form of long-term collaboration. On the other hand, she has supported Taiwan with some of the most advanced weaponry as a way to dissuade Beijing from any forceful design on the island.

The situation at the Taiwan Strait may require a reconfiguration of strategy.

Much discontent has been expressed about “strategic ambiguity.” It provides no clear guarantee for Taiwan in the event it is attacked. It assures no deterrence against Beijing’s expansionism.

The major powers need to get together to address rising concerns about a possible invasion of Taiwan. It is about time to review the terms of the One-China policy – which is almost unilaterally dictated by Beijing.

If it is at all possible, the major powers must get assurance from Beijing that it will not attack Taiwan. This may be a long shot. The goal of China’s modernization of its armed forces is precisely to invade Taiwan.

Should an invasion actually happen, the Philippines would find itself a frontline state in a war that will throw the region into disarray. All the security treaties we have with the US will be invoked.

The economic fallout from that war is unimaginable. This is precisely the time to “evolve” our relations with the US as President Marcos told US Secretary of State Blinken a few days ago.

‘Burglary’

Tires screeched to a halt as the convoy slipped into the warehouse. Armed men alighted, pointing their guns at frightened employees. The invaders entered the facility unescorted by a sheriff or any court representative.

This looks like a scene right out of a cheap Wild West movie. But it was happening in real life. In Calamba City to be precise, last June 27.

The violated warehouse was being rented by ETY Enterprises, a products distribution company registered under the sole proprietorship of Edward Tennyson Yao. The owner rushed to the facility after the invasion happened, but was denied entry by the band that occupied it and claimed it as theirs.

Apparently, a falling out had happened between Yao and his business associate Jester Sherwin Ong. It was Ong who led the forcible entry, accompanied by his lawyer Jairus Bernardez. The lawyer is affiliated with a high profile Makati-based law firm.

The armed band claimed the warehouse (and its contents) as belonging to Red Maple Multi-Resources Inc., a company owned by Jester Ong and his brother Jerbie. The employees were asked to renounce their loyalty to Yao or be fired on the spot.

Yao claims that the occupied warehouse has P8 million in undelivered consumer products, P9 million in cash and P14 million in heavy-duty vehicles and office equipment. Apart from the distress the invasion caused on employees, the owner does not know what happened to the goods stored in the warehouse.

Yao has no other recourse but to file suit against Ong for the armed takeover. The suit claimed robbery by a band, illegal detention, grave coercion, usurpation of authority and violation of the firearms law. The case is now awaiting court action.

However this story turns out, the armed invasion raises many questions. How could an armed band occupy private property without any court representative present? What did the local police do as the invasion unfolded? How did the authorities deal with the aftermath of this forcible occupation?

There could be a complex story behind the business dispute that led to this armed occupation of the facility. That will be for judicial proceedings to sort out, and we are open to hearing from and airing the other side of this dispute. But what matters is that our law enforcement seemed passive throughout the unfolding of this drama.

It is, to say the least, unseemly for an armed gang to invade and occupy a business facility. It is not the usual way for business to be transacted or for business disputes to be settled. It is as if the authority of law enforcement agencies and the majesty of judicial processes have all been shunted aside, allowing a band of armed men to do as they please.

We have spent much trying to impress the world about the reliability of our laws, the consistency of their enforcement and the predictability of the business environment. This one incident negates all of that.

POLITICS

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