IN the entire course of Mr. Aquino’s presidency, the arc of governance has not risen beyond prosecution, audit and tax collection. The outsized roles of four institutions – the DOJ, the COA, the BIR and the Ombudsman – are proof that Mr. Aquino’s main thrust is the prosecution side of governance. No other government in contemporary times has tried Mr. Aquino’s experiment, which is to make Ms. De Lima et al. the front, back and center of government.
In a peaceful world, with saber-rattling versus other countries almost non-existent, that experiment could hold. In the Old Order, under the bipolar word, we just took cues from the US and very little diplomatic brinkmanship was done. But right now that is not the case. External affairs is a now major preoccupation of countries big and small, First World or Third World. All corners of the globe, including us, are affected by an ascendant China.
Correction. China’s ascendancy is not just affecting us. It has been quietly annexing our share of the West Philippine Sea, building off Zambales with frenzy, driving off our fishermen from their natural fishing grounds and mocking our puny military status. In short, China is challenging – and mocking with abandon – our innate right to our territory.
And because the China problem is something that cannot be solved by Ms. De Lima’s prosecutorial zeal, Mr. Aquino has been talking about these two things:
Taking China’s territorial intrusions to the UN
Asking the Asean to unite against China’s aggression in the WPS
These are the boilerplate, de kahon response to China ‘s determination to establish possession of the West Philippine Sea and Mr. Aquino cannot invoke anything beyond the two. Why? Do you want to know the answer? Here it is.
In an environment wherein the zeal and the entire energy of government are vested on Ms. De Lima et al. – the prosecution side – the other major institutions of government suffer and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has been a natural casualty. The DFA, under Mr. Aquino, has been sapped of its analytical powers and intellectual rigor. We are right now clueless on how to deal with China’s flexing of might on the West Philippine Sea because we have no expertise on how to deal with that issue. For a country of over a hundred million people, there is not one think-tank analyzing geopolitical issues. Those who claim expertise are mostly poseurs and cranks.
This left Mr. Aquino with no fresh and profound ideas on how to deal with an ascendant China, a China predisposed to bamboozle neighbors, especially those with neither military nor economic clout. Such as the sad sack of a country that governs on empty sloganeering, principally the tortured phrase “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” Surely, we cannot invoke sloganeering against China, which in 2030 is projected to have an economy the size of $22 trillion. And right now, the only country with a standing army of over 1 million.
What has Mr. Aquino made of the DFA?
An agency supporting the export of overseas manpower
An agency supporting the evacuation of our OFWs from troubled spots
An agency supporting our workers that figure in oil rig explosions
A once-glorious and intellectually-endowed agency that is now practically an adjunct of the Department of Labor and Employment.
An agency with a DFA secretary doing the job of a labor attaché
While the DFA does not need the likes of George F. Kennan, the intellectual, or the likes of Richard Holbrook, the tireless diplomatic troubleshooter, the foreign affairs department should be staffed with analysts and experts that can study global affairs in-depth and craft an appropriate Philippine position or response to most if not all vexing global issues.
Thinking and analyzing are inherent mandates of the DFA and eggheads and intellectuals and strategic thinkers should be allowed to flourish in that agency. But in the close to five years that Mr. Aquino has been president, he has allowed the DFA to be a sub-agency of the DOLE. And made his DFA secretary the point man in the evacuation of OFWs. There was no formal memo on this but Mr. Aquino literally posted this sign on the DFA entrance: “No thinking / analyzing allowed.”
Mr. Aquino is now reaping the brutal wages of trivializing the DFA and making it an adjunct of the labor department. The China question is now torturing him and all he could invoke are the usual boilerplate responses.
China is now in its 37th year of economic expansion and the more it accumulates wealth, the more it will increase its role in global affairs. The West Philippine Sea will remain a special point of interest given the importance of the area to the maritime world and the reported presence of rich oil and mineral deposits there.
From their embankments off Zambales, from time immemorial part and parcel of the Philippines, the Chinese military will continue to mock and challenge the integrity of our nationhood.
That problem, unfortunately, is outside of Ms. De Lima’s prosecutorial zeal, and the COA’s audit powers.
With nothing to unleash against China, Mr. Aquino is helpless and clueless. He must have rued the day he banished all critical thinking and analysis from the DFA. Correction. He must have rued the day he replaced critical thinking and analysis with empty sloganeering.