Now the nation appears in real trouble. A recent survey by Pulse Asia claims 84% or 8 out of 10 Filipinos want the government to assert Philippine rights over the West Philippine Sea. Those rights are deemed upheld by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague ruling in favor of the Philippines in its dispute with China over those waters.
This survey claim appears to be simply statistics, but I tend to take it as a grim foreboding. If, as the claim indicates, that large section of the Filipino people truly make an assertive move deemed already sanctioned by the United Nations, through its sponsored arbitral court, their action could lead to a bitter engagement with China, which had cleverly avoided being compromised by the PCA ruling by completely snubbing its year-long deliberations.
In other words, we would be tangling with China over a ruling that it does not recognize, and that means war, to be candid about it. And with just that candor, we ask who are Filipinos to pretend to be capable of warring with the Asian behemoth?
During the Second World War, the late President Jose P. Laurel, citing the irony suffered by the Philippines in its abandonment by America, said, “But a small country is a small country, and a weak people is a weak people.” The statement was not one of national mockery. Rather it was a pragmatic view that left the weak at the mercy of predators. The Philippines cannot hope to gain discretions beyond its minimum capacity. The key is in making the most out of one’s limited means. During those difficult times of his leadership of the country, President Laurel stuck to his policy of national survival, to, in his words, “tide the Filipino people over to better times.” And his foresight, forbearance and fortitude paid off. The nation survived.
And yet, unlike Japan in World War II, China is not even making war with the Philippines so as to cause President Rodrigo Duterte to make a reprise of President Laurel’s plaint: “A small country is a small country, a weak people is a weak people.”
China is not causing us any of such feeling. On the contrary, China has committed billions of dollars to be invested in the Philippines with a view to making the country big, the Filipino people strong.
For a starter in fact, China has erected the biggest drug rehabilitation center in the world for surrendered drug dependents.
The danger lies in what the Pulse Asia survey seems to imply. That most Filipinos favor aggressive confrontation with China over the West Philippine Sea. And people who are supposed to be knowledgeable on the issue tend to agree.
The Manila Times news report quotes Professor Renato de Castro of De La Salle University’s international studies department as saying in a forum in Makati City, “Foreign policy has to be democratic. It has to reflect the sentiment of the people.”
At once this sounds like a promotion of the idea that President Duterte must aggressively pursue the country’s assertion of sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea because, according to the Pulse Asia survey 84% of Filipinos want it that way.
“The people ought to be consulted about what should be the foreign policy because it’s they who pay for the salaries of diplomats, for defense budget, for other expenditures if there’s a summit,” the analyst said. “They would have to pay the consequences whatever the cost of that change in foreign policy would entail.”
This is a case of a correct statement for the wrong reason. People must be consulted in the President’s pursuit of foreign policy not because they pay him his salary but because, according to President Laurel, it is the right of the people who elect their representatives in the government to participate in the affairs of government.
Along this line in retrospect, it had been quite obvious, and a fact that had never been contravened, that the Philippines’ filing of the arbitral suit at the PCA was upon instigation by the United States. For this reason I had the guts to predict early on that the case would be decided in the Philippines’ favor. The scenario I had perceived then was for the Philippines to win the case at the PCA and then cause its implementation by the United Nations. In such an event, the Philippines becomes a convenient alibi for the United States and its allies to launch actions against China.
If, as the Pulse Asia survey result implies, foreign policy must be in accord with the desire of the Filipino people for aggressive pursuit by Duterte of the Philippine rights over the West Philippine Sea, why wasn’t it first democratically determined, through referendum or whatever, if the Filipinos wanted the matter raised in the PCA. Nobody questioned that action by PNoy. Why question now Duterte’s not taking aggressive pursuit of a fruit of an “undemocratic” action in the first place?
In this context, I tended to understand the frenzied land reclamations China undertook on islets and reefs in the disputed waters. In any event, self-defense is justified.
President Duterte proved to be the wiser though. Instead of being rendered arrogant over the Philippine victory at the PCA, he took the opposite posture. And instead of being combative with China, he offered his hand in peace. The result was amazing.
I was talking to this long-time acquaintance recently. He was – actually is – privy to a certain degree to affairs of the Chinese government, and I sort of complained to him why China seems to swallow Duterte, hook, line and sinker, so to speak.
The guy smiled his characteristic chinky cockiness and said, “Why would not China love it? They got Duterte without a fight.” I gaped in awe. In foreign policy parlance, for China, Duterte is such a big, big gain.
Talk of statesmanship.
And that strikes me now as Duterte’s strategy. Fine.
As Malacañang explains in reaction to the Pulse Asia claim, President Rodrigo Duterte is asserting the Philippine right over the West Philippine sea, but is pursuing the diplomatic path.
It is an American saying after all. “There are many ways to skin a cat.”