When they get here…

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

After news reports flooded social media that Chinese Coast Guard personnel boarded and attacked Philippine Coast Guard personnel using knives and bolos, people started to wonder if this was the beginning of more violent encounters.

I personally suspect that the Chinese side may be provoking Filipinos to take the first shot and use it to justify their claims and accusations. I congratulate those who have opted to turn the other cheek and say, “See you at the ICC or UN courts!” because the Chinese provocation has backfired on them.

What I never imagined was that the resignation of Vice President Sara Duterte as DepEd secretary would overshadow the reported knife fight between Chinese and Filipino coast guard personnel. The shock and the worry over the West Philippine Sea incident lasted less than a day but the speculation and analysis of the VP’s resignation lingered longer than expected.

If anything, that might indicate that Filipinos and local media have mistakenly treated the WPS conflict similar to a multi-episode K-drama. People will watch every episode for as long as there is tension, action and potential escalation and it’s conveniently available on prime-time news.

But unlike K-drama, the WPS conflict did not have a beginning, a list of prominent characters and a clear storyline. Plots and sub-plots are not as apparent, and the baddies and goodies are faceless. While nobody likes a trespasser, land grabber or a bully, the local reporting and commentary on the WPS do not feature a super villain or related stories/reports of what China has done to other countries in order to gain a geographic foothold.

In other words, many Filipinos don’t have a meaningful understanding of the WPS conflict, and few are knowledgeable enough to buy into the gravity and serious implications of the conflict.

The only stories that have come out remind of those times when adults or older kids would tease and encourage small kids playing in the streets to fight by telling one kid to hold the ear, pinch the nose or act aggressively towards another kid.

The conflict and tension may just as well be “fiction” because for most Filipinos, the problem is so far from land, the Philippines does not stand a chance in a shooting war against China and all the government can do is protest – to no avail. As some would say it in Tagalog: “Suntok sa buwan.”

More than that, many Filipinos are pragmatic and culturally believe that differences can be settled amicably rather than starting a fight you can’t win. In addition, the current Russia-Ukraine war has been a daily reminder that the US conveniently left the Philippines when Mount Pinatubo erupted.

When push comes to shove, allies like the US may send you billions of dollars’ worth of armaments but only after you have been attacked and you engage the enemy in a shooting war! According to a friend, this is written in the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty.

The US can only defend and support the Philippines once it has been attacked and that the Philippine side has responded or fired back at the aggressor. That’s exactly what happened in Ukraine. The US and allies did not swoop down like Marvel Superheroes to stop enemies at the border. Once Ukrainians decided to fight with or without US-NATO support, the US and NATO allies were constrained to abide by their agreements.

Beyond the Mutual Defense Treaty, I wonder what Filipino men and even women would do if they were told to enlist in preparation for a possible attack or in defense of the country. So, I asked people I came across and I discovered that all of them had a two-tiered answer.

If they were told to enlist to go to Zambales or Palawan as part of troop buildup, chances are that they would definitely not volunteer, or stay put until forced to. Most of them believe that it’s the military’s job as well as the PNP to “defend and protect” the citizenry.

However, if there was an actual attack or coming invasion of Metro Manila or their hometowns, they would certainly join the fight or be in the resistance. As the column title suggests, “they’ll join the fight when they get here.”

Perhaps it is time for the Presidential Communications Office and the AFP to get started on better and more effective communications about the WPS conflict, highlight what other countries have done and are doing, and what preparation and participation ordinary citizens can do.

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When VP Sara Duterte resigned from the Marcos Cabinet almost everyone who commented on it said: “It’s about time.” I think the “Amen” was probably louder in the Duterte camp and household.

According to one of my sources, the VP had long been advised to wake up to reality and accept that trying to keep the unity with certain double-crossing backstabbing shipmates was causing her serious political and personal injury and that it even caused a rift between father and daughter because VP Sara wanted to honor her commitments.

As they say of Facebook: “Go where you are celebrated – not tolerated. If they can’t see your true value and worth, then it’s time for a new start.”

Unfortunately, there was no denying the need to move on, especially after a series of in-your-face threats and acts aimed against former president Digong Duterte. Some paid little attention to the incident, but the show of force and fire power to arrest Apollo Quiboloy may have been the ultimate political insult and act of disrespect to the Dutertes.

It was perhaps too close to home and impossible to ignore.

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