United we stand, divided we fall

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

With the resignation of Vice President Sara Duterte from her Cabinet position as secretary of the Department of Education, it is now abundantly clear our country is heading towards another endless chapter of divisiveness, with politics being a primary concern, instead of the many major challenges we face locally and internationally.

Political pundits say that this recent development signals the VP’s plan to seek higher office in the 2028 elections by establishing herself as an opposition figure and reaching out to groups that are hostile to the administration. But as expected, the Liberal Party through former senator Leila de Lima and other parties as well, voiced their objection to the idea of the VP as the new opposition leader following her resignation from the Cabinet.

There are those, however, who believe that the decision to resign was also a strategy on the part of the Vice President to distance herself from her father’s political allies and strengthen her own political party, the Hugpong ng Pagbabago – leaving her free to choose a senatorial slate and field candidates for local government positions for the 2025 midterm elections.

According to Senate President Chiz Escudero, VP Sara’s resignation from the Cabinet was “inevitable,” considering her family’s criticisms against President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and her silence on certain policy issues, foremost of which is the West Philippine Sea where the Chinese have been escalating their aggression and harassment of Philippine troops and vessels as well as fishermen.

It’s a well-known fact that criticisms against the President stemmed from his tough stance against China’s overly expansive claims in the disputed territories in the South China Sea and his assertion that he will not cede even one square inch of our maritime territory.

But as Chiz pointed out, the Vice President has every right to have policy differences with the President and assert her own beliefs. In other words, VP Sara was elected separately, unlike the US presidential system where the presidential and vice presidential candidates must come from the same party.

No one can argue that if someone firmly believes in something, we have to respect it. And the fact that people can exercise their free will, choose their political affiliations and elect the leaders they want is tangible proof that freedom and democracy is very much alive in this country.

However, it is likewise important for political leaders to be cognizant of, and sensitive to, the sentiment of the majority of the people, especially when it comes to our national security, as seen in the results of the most recent Tugon ng Masa survey conducted by the OCTA Research Group. According to OCTA, a large majority of Filipinos – 91 percent to be exact – continue to distrust China.

Additionally, 76 percent of the respondents also believe that China is a country that poses the biggest threat to the Philippines – and this sentiment seems to be buttressed by the most recent incident in Ayungin Shoal where the China Coast Guard, People’s Liberation Army Navy and Chinese maritime militia vessels were shown acting in a way that has been described as barbaric, brutal and pirate-like.

Clearly, the conduct of the Chinese during that incident belie the claims made by Beijing that their personnel acted in a restrained and professional manner. Anyone who has seen the video released by the Philippine Navy would be left in no doubt that there was nothing professional or restrained in the actions of the Chinese.

There is no denying that we have to secure our maritime borders, and that we cannot give up our territory, as asserted by President Marcos during his keynote speech at the Singapore Shangri-La Dialogue that we cannot and should not cede any contiguous part of our maritime territory. Simultaneously, we also do not want to escalate the already simmering tension in the West Philippine Sea.

Amid the precarious situation, there is the willingness of Vietnam to peacefully resolve our respective claims in disputed areas in the South China Sea.

Last week, the Philippines filed a claim with the UN to an extended continental shelf in the South China Sea, saying such submission “does not prejudice discussions with relevant coastal states that may have legitimate extended continental shelf claims” – something that resonated well with Vietnam that said it “asserts its full rights and interests under international law, particularly the 1982 UNCLOS, and stays ready to discuss with the Philippines to seek and achieve a solution that is mutually beneficial for both countries.”

This development aligns with the President’s initiative for a separate code of conduct with other ASEAN nations that also have maritime claims in the South China Sea.

There are those who oppose our current relationship with the United States and believe that continuing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement will impede efforts to resolve the situation with China. After all, differences in policy perspectives exist in any country or government – which can be like trying to mix oil and water. Certainly, political differences are par for the course in a country that has a multiparty system.

Yet now more than ever, we must be united and should not allow politics to distract us from what is paramount at this time – ensuring our national security and protecting our sovereignty. Which is why the upcoming 2025 elections will be extremely critical in giving us an indication where our country is heading and who the next president in 2028 will be. In fact, it could possibly determine whether our foreign policy will continue in the right direction or not. The bottom line is – either we are united, or divided we will fall.

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Email: [email protected]

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