As President Duterte’s international crisis sizzles, a friend cautioned me, in Jean Paul Sartre’s words, “Go gently, mortal, be discreet.” He said he has already heard my name mentioned thrice in the President’s speeches, and he doesn’t want to see me “Dutertecized”—whatever that means. I was especially touched by this concern, but I would like to believe that in everything that I have said and done as a writer, I have been as honest, as fair and as just as possible to all concerned.
I approve and admire PDU30’s resolve to go after illegal drugs and crime. It’s one of the sacred duties of his office. But the end does not justify the means. There’s nothing the President must do that can ever justify abrogating the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and the God-given dignity of the least of our brothers. I believe this with all my heart, and if it be considered an offense, then we shall have lost the moral basis for our civilized human existence, not just as Filipinos.
Support for DU30
I did not vote for PDU30. At the National Transformation Council, we did not believe the elections were valid or legitimate. We did not vote for any candidate. Yet some people have accused me of helping arrange DU30’s victory, simply by vigorously questioning the citizenship of Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares before the Commission on Elections, the Supreme Court, in this column, on television and in various public forums. They argued that had I not pursued the issue with such ardor, Llamanzares, rather than DU30, might have won.
I was not alone in that effort. Three other co-petitioners—lawyer Estrella Elamparo, Prof. Antonio Contreras and Law Dean Amado Valdez—were with me. But I was arguably the most visible. With my lawyer Manuelito Luna, I filed a motion for reconsideration after the Court ruled against our petitions, and another motion after the Court ruled with finality and said it would no longer entertain any further motion. I fought strictly for the Constitution, with no thought of helping any particular presidential candidate in the process.
But DU30 has belatedly recognized the value of our intervention, or so it seems. A couple of days ago he appointed Dean Valdez as chairman of the Social Security System, perhaps in recognition of his contribution in clearing the path for his noisy win. If my supposition is correct, then DU30 should not find it hard to ask Elamparo, Contreras and Atty. Luna to join his government, assuming they are interested. He should also be able to suffer this writer inserting his honest but unwelcome thoughts into the ongoing public dialogue, without being “Dutertecized,” as my friend puts it, like Pope Francis, Barack Obama, Ban Ki-moon, the European Union, and the bishops and priests, who have had to endure DU30’s invectives.
Since DU30 was willing to accept as “fatherly advice” former President Fidel V. Ramos’ harsh assessment that our national team had “lost badly in the international arena in its first 100 days,” he should be able to suffer my constructive comments, without annoyance or acrimony, as an attempt at “fraternal correction,” which is what I have intended them to be. I do not have and never had an axe to grind. Like his closest and most loyal friend and colleague, I would like to see DU30 succeed. For his success would be our success. But he can only succeed by avoiding the wrong things and doing what is right.
What’s right and what’s wrong
What exactly are the right things to do, and the wrong things to avoid?
First of all, waging war on dangerous drugs and crime is right, but killing mere suspects without due process is wrong.
Trying to defend one’s indefensible action is wrong, but using foul, obscene and offensive language to launch a personal attack on those who ask legitimate moral and legal questions about the same action is unspeakably so. Saying that in the US black men are killed while already lying flat on the ground is no defense, because in the US the one who pulls the trigger ends up in jail or worse, instead of being given impunity by the President.
Fighting everybody when the need is to make peace and unite with all parties is not the way to govern the Philippines. Contrary to what Hobbes said, society is not a bellum omnium contra bellum—“a war of all against all”—and government is not the President’s war against everybody else. But, to many people, this is what DU30 seems determined to make of it.
FVR and DU30
In 1992, Ramos was elected as a minority President, with only a little more than 20 percent of the votes. Yet in less than six months, he was able to win the support of all his rivals and adversaries, except one, by dint of earnest diplomacy and hard work. In contrast, DU30 won 38 percent of the votes last May—13 percent shy of the 51 percent needed to make him a “majority President.”
The propaganda fraudsters gave him an unverified and unverifiable approval rating of 91 percent. But despite the fear that his talk of kill-kill-kill and the daily killings engendered in the hearts of many, he succeeded in dividing the nation against itself in just three months.
Since he came to power, DU30 has attacked God, the Pope, the Church, unnamed priests and bishops, the mass media, the Jews, the Lady Chief Justice, the US President, the UN secretary-general, the European Union’s collective leadership, in an apparent effort to show the world that no one has the enough rank, stature or dignity to escape his fetid and vulgar tongue if and when he wills it. It is completely abhorrent behavior, which has no place in the conduct of the nation’s domestic business or international relations. It is unprecedented.
Friendship with China
DU30’s decision to strengthen friendly relations with China and Russia is much awaited, necessary, and will do a lot of good for the country. It will lessen tension in the South China Sea, enhance greater cooperation in the Asia Pacific, and turn back the efforts of the war hawks around the world to promote conflict and war between the US and China, either alone or with Russia. But his avowed decision “to break” with the US is uncalled for and unnecessary; it could wipe out the positive results that stronger ties with Beijing and Moscow seek to achieve.
Marcos normalized relations with China in June 1975 before the US did the same thing on January 1, 1979. At Beijing’s request, we cut off our diplomatic relations with Taiwan by adopting the One-China policy, which provides that Taiwan is a part of China and the only Chinese government is the one in Beijing. Now, China is not asking DU30 to disturb Philippine relations with the US as part of his cozying up to Beijing. But DU30 seems determined to do so, most probably at the behest of his homegrown communist allies.
I am not sure whether DU30 has considered all the implications, particularly in relation to the Philippine-China maritime dispute. He would be well advised to do so. Since July 12 this year, when the Permanent Council of Arbitration at the Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in the arbitration case against China on its maritime dispute in the South China/West Philippine Sea, the situation has certainly changed. Our concern then was how not to provoke China into taking a belligerent posture if we pressed for its compliance with the PCA ruling.
The ruling declared, among other things, that there is no legal basis for China’s so-called nine-dash line. Not having participated in the proceedings, China did not want to recognize the ruling. To prevent tension from building up, DU30 decided to hold bilateral talks to explore possible areas of cooperation without necessarily touching on the claim.
Many supported this approach, this writer included. This meant setting aside the dispute for the time being, but not casting it aside altogether. It was necessary to reestablish mutual confidence between the parties before they could eventually discuss their territorial problem. DU30 appointed Ramos as his special envoy to China precisely for this purpose. But before he could go to China, the diplomatic storm broke out with the US, and DU30 personally canceled FVR’s planned trip to Beijing.
Fly me to Beijing
DU30 is scheduled to visit China next week, even before he could post a permanent Philippine ambassador to Beijing. This is never done. At least, not when governments felt themselves bound to comply with diplomatic protocol. DU30 has announced the nomination of China specialist Chito Sta. Romana well ahead of the agreement of the Chinese government and his confirmation by the Commission on Appointments—in violation of protocol. So there will be no Filipino ambassador to attend to him in Beijing. He will have to be attended by the Deputy Chief of Mission, Elizabeth Te, Minister and Consul General, who is the Embassy’s Charge d’Affaires.
Beyond the basic problems of protocol, diplomatic observers are unable to find in this visit a chance for DU30 to assert the “independent” foreign policy he equates with his move to distance himself from the US. They tend to look at it as an act of total capitulation to China, and to them this raises a constitutional problem. Having officially sought arbitration from the PCA and won its case, can the government backtrack on its own, without involving the people? Does the President have the authority to act in any manner that would amount to a repudiation of the government’s official position? More questions are certain to follow later.
This is not the only question, even for now. The visit is preceded by DU30’s announcement of military purchases from China. The purchase of Russian military helicopters has already been announced; it is not yet known what he aims to buy at special prices on this visit. However, military analysts have raised certain questions about the quality of Chinese weapons, following the latest misfiring of two Chinese missiles in Indonesia.
Defective missiles from China
On Sept. 14, 2016, Indonesian President Joko Widodo watched from landing platform dock ship KRI Banjarmasin (592) as two Chinese-made C-705 anti-ship missiles failed to fire and hit their target during the “Armada Jaya” military exercises in the Java sea. With Widodo were TNI-AL (Tentara Nasional Indonesia-Angkara Laut) chief Admiral Ade Supandi and TNI Armed Forces Chief General Gatot Numantyo. The exercise was participated in by 7,000 TNI personnel and 39 naval vessels, including a Cakra-type 209/1300 class diesel electric submarine (SSK).
Not much publicity of the incident has appeared in the mainstream press, but it was well reported in the highly authoritative Jane’s Defence Weekly.
The first C-705 missile, according to the report, was fired from the Indonesian Navy KCR-40 missile attack craft KPI Clurit (641), but failed to launch upon command. Then unexpectedly it fired five minutes later after the crew failed to observe a misfire procedure. It failed to hit the designated target—a recently decommissioned Tisza class auxiliary ship Karimata (960).
The second missile, fired from KRI Kujang (641), failed during midflight and also failed to hit the same target.
It is not known what effect this incident will have on Indonesia’s increased spending on Chinese-made weaponry to help build up its navy. More important for us, it is not known whether DU30 is fully aware of this incident as he looks forward to acquiring missiles and other weapons from China.