IN THE MAELSTROM OF CHINA, DUTERTE AND THE US

Dr. Jose P. Laurel was never too late the hero

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MAURO GIA SAMONTE

Second Part
Isn’t it along this very principle of collaboration as expounded by Dr. Laurel in dealing with the Japanese that President Duterte is conducting relations with China now? Those relations are avowedly non-combative, as President Duterte has demonstrated on various occasions, beginning with his visit to China October last year. During that visit, the President announced his separation from the United States while offering cooperation with China. In light of the years-long tension in the West Philippine Sea, fired up by the recent disclosure of Armed Forces chief Delfin Lorenzana of alleged incursions by Chinese survey ships on Benham Rise, this time in the eastern section of Philippine waters, the Filipino people generally have the tendency of mistaking Duterte’s soft approach toward China as one in the mould of Dr. Laurel’s collaboration with the Japanese during the war. Many critics stoop down to as low tactics as heckling him for reneging on a campaign promise to ride a jetski (actually a jest) to Spratley Islands, carrying the Philippine flag. The latest pronouncement he made to this effect was in an interview by the press upon his arrival from his visits to Myanmar and Thailand last week. Reminded about his campaign promise, President Duterte said, “Why do you have to go there and look for a friction? A friction could cause explosion? There is always the unchanging rule for that. I’m not bright but I’m a lawyer, the reality is miscalculation.” (Miscalculation, in Sun Tzu’s Art of War, is the one single mistake a war general can commit to lead his army to defeat.)

On the same occasion, President Duterte reiterated that he wants to avoid quarrel with China because he is not ready to wage war. He recalled his China visit last year, saying, “This is what I said in China and it was bilateral… I said I come here in peace… I said I just want to trade with you and I want business because my country needs the money. But certainly, during my term, before it ends or in the middle of my administration, there has got to be a time when I will confront you with the arbitral judgment.”

It’s highly doubtful though that China will give Duterte the opportunity to make such confrontation. China is not known for annexing territories that are not its own. While he jokes about China wanting to make the Philippines its province, he certainly could not be talking about political subjugation. Rather it is a figure of speech, the allusion being to economic development for the Philippines which China has committed to undertake with the visit of Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang to the country recently. The Philippines being a province of China can only mean the Filipino nation achieving the level of Chinese prosperity.

In the fast bettering relationship between China and the Philippines is mirrored a full measure of the heroism exacted of Dr. Laurel during the Japanese occupation. Initially as Commissioner of Justice in the Executive Commission headed by Jorge Vargas, Dr. Laurel effectively combated what otherwise would have been rampant trampling by the Kempeitai of the country’s administration of justice. When at one point the dreaded military police broke into court proceedings, demanding dismissal of a case against a favored compatriot, Dr. Laurel promptly issued an order against case dismissals without his approval. For that, Dr. Laurel was detained at Fort Santiago, the prison for condemned criminals. But through sheer power of his intellect, Dr. Laurel, after only three hours of incarceration, convinced the Japanese authorities to release him. Later moved over to the Department of the Interior, it became his primary concern the maintenance of peace and order, and in this task he necessarily encountered not only natural dangers – as when during a pacification journey in the Visayas he nearly got drowned when the boat he was riding in capsized after ramming into a blasted bridge – but also the animosity of the underground movement engaged in guerilla warfare. From his personal perception, guerilla war only incensed the Japanese, causing them to implement their announced policy of “for every Japanese killed, whole communities will be slaughtered.” So he would discourage guerilla attacks on the invaders if he had his way. That Japan was not at war with Filipinos was borne by the fact that after a time of their imprisonment at Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac, the Filipinos among the surrendered defenders of Bataan in 1942 were ordered paroled by General Masaharu Homma, leaving only the Americans in the concentration camp.


To be continued

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