• Geopolitics and nostalgia spilled over in ‘Yolanda’ relief efforts

    Marlen V. Ronquillo

    Marlen V. Ronquillo

    The Israeli Defense Forces contingent that helped in the Yolanda rescue and relief efforts—and showed to the world what Israeli efficiency was all about—arrived in the country on the wings of nostalgia. They remembered a gesture of not too long ago with deep affection. Then-Commonwealth President Manuel Luis Quezon , reacting to the expulsion of Jews from Hitler-sympathizing countries, opened up the country to Jewish immigrants. Some families came and prospered, and the state of Israel has never forgotten that grand humanitarian gesture. .

    The Jews have a long memory and they always remember (sure, they had the option of forgetting since the number of families that chose to settle down the Philippines was small). Whether it is in the area of repaying gestures from friends. Or, hunting down the remnants of Hitler that managed to escape the siege of the Allies. And found new homes under new identifies mostly in friendly Latin-American countries ruled by rightwing despots.

    In sorry contrast, this we can say, to the short memories of you know who.

    Switzerland, the most generous giver on the basis of per capita, has pledged over P1 billion in aid and since we have no deep ties with the neutral country, the reason for the generosity must be found. I can hazard a guess and it is also related to the past.

    Long memories dread calamities
    Switzerland, with its long memory, dreads natural calamities of the life-changing, epical kind. The deadliest volcanic eruption that has been tracked by experts was the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815. Still, the ecological devastation was felt across the globe through massive crop failures and famines. As The Manila Times has noted, landlocked Switzerland was the hardest hit by the rampaging hordes of angry, desperate and purposeful people that roamed across the European continent after the famines.

    In fact, Mary Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein while on vacation in Geneva in 1816 as the dead men walking roamed with murderous intent in the streets of the Swiss city. Rain and endless gray blanketed the city, and that scarred the view of the once-magnificent Alps and lakes. The year had the portents of ecological doom due to the ash from Tambora and it is now recorded by climatologists as The Year Without Summer.

    Perhaps, it was the torturous three-year period, 1815 to 1817, three years of endless pain and discomfort, that pushed the Swiss people to help countries hit by monstrous natural calamities.

    They remembered the pain and the altered lives.

    If nostalgia was evident in the aid efforts, geopolitical tension, was, to use a Tagalog term, lutang na lutang.

    China, it should be noted, intended to give $20,000 in aid —plus a statement of sympathy without real meaning, churned out mechanically, by its press office. Then it upped the monetary aid to $100,000. Then it did more, including the sending of a hospital ship of the modern kind into Leyte.

    What could have prodded China to change its aid tack?

    It would be wishful thinking on the part of the netizens to claim that the jeers and boos and catcalls directed at China- all claiming that the would-be superpower was a miserable miser and cheapskate with its $20,000 aid—was the reason China changed its mind about the level of its aid.

    No, it was not the netizens. China does not mind killing internet sites that does not suit its government and its official purposes. It does not mind “unfriending“ the giant technology companies in the US that espouses complete freedoms and no controls. According to people with Facebook accounts (I don’t have a personal knowledge of this because I don’t do Facebook,) “unfriending “ now means disengagement from other Facebook account owners that are not of one’s liking. China, this is the hard truth, is not that sensitive to the opinions of the cyber world.

    What pushed China to ramp up its aid process was the full-scale, flood-the-zone support given by the US and Japan to the Yolanda victims . From food and medical supplies, to money and warships that US and Japan showed to China how it is to deal with a full-blown humanitarian crisis—and that was to help fully and unequivocally.

    Restoring the old order
    It was in this context of massive and tireless support that the DFA slipped in a statement (unconsciously perhaps), about the need to restore the old order on US presence here.

    An additional backgrounder has to be cited here. A few days before Yolanda struck, and turned much of the Visayan region into a graveyard of dead bodies and shattered lives, Hong Kong (on prodding from China ) was talking about scrapping the visa-free entry of Filipinos into the former British colony.

    And restricting the employment of Pinoy DH there.

    China is locked in a bitter rivalry with the US and Japan over issues of territory in the West Philippine Sea. It has been flexing its muscles and showing to the world a resurgent China.

    Yet, on a theater of great significance, such as assisting in a great humanitarian crisis, it was dealt a major embarrassment by its two bitterest rivals.

    It showed that its geopolitics is not often won by the most aggressive , the mighty or the strong. The countries with long history of amity and cooperation have the sophistication and the edge in dealing with great humanitarian crises.



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    1 Comment

    1. As always not a mention or thankyou in the Philippine press of UK contributions to Yolanda, the largest. I am always astonished at this constant omission by the Phil press over the last 3 weeks. The UK has retained its helicopter carrier in the Visayas while others leave, but there is again no comment. Why?