No nation wars against itself

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MAURO GIA SAMONTE

Part 1
SIMPLE logic must bear out this theme. The worst case of a nation fighting itself is civil war, but then even in such a case, it’s not the entire nation up against itself but only a portion of it. The most recent example of this is the referendum by Catalonia affirming its desire to be independent of Spain. The MILF separatist movement in the Philippines is another example, let alone its evident practical accommodation now into the Philippine republic.

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In any case, the view above forms the theme of a video presentation I began conceiving since the heightening of tension between the Philippines and China over their conflicting claims in the South China Sea. At the advent of the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, such tension appeared to subside with his announcement of a policy shift in foreign relations, i.e., from the Philippines’ traditional close ties with the United States and the latter’s allies, to a strong friendship with Russia and China on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum. That Philippine pivot seemed to augur good times ahead in the Asia Pacific region, because with the country appearing to be curtsying to China, the feared explosion of hostilities between them could not come about.

Why would China attack a country that does not want to fight?

Non-combative approach
In various statements to the press, President Duterte indicated assurances of a non-combative approach to the country’s conflict with China which had the effect of easing up considerably the prevailing tension. On the eve of his visit to China in October 2016, he announced that he would not push the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague which declared that China’s nine-dash-line, claimed by the Chinese as their historical proof of sovereignty over the contested waters, is illegal, thus by implication favoring the Philippines’claim to the waters and the features they contain in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea, as the United States loves to term it) as defined under the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS).

That China reciprocated in mutual degree this peaceful approach of Duterte was demonstrated by the President bringing home from that visit several packages of economic development deals reached with President Xi Jinping, foremost among them being the Philippine export to China of $1 billion worth of fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products; the increase in the volume of Chinese tourist visits to the Philippines, to breach the 1 million mark, in which event displacing Korea in the number one slot; and the construction gratis et amore of two additional bridges across the Pasig River, the groundbreaking for which has already begun. Not to mention the long-range plan to construct a railway system to loop around Mindanao and link up with one running all the way to the tip of Luzon.

Healing US-PH relations
Then camethe middle of 2017. With a new US ambassador to the Philippines, relations between the country and America began appearing headed for a healing from the strains suffered early on in the Duterte administration. None of the animosities the President had with Philip Goldberg, immediate past US Ambassador to the Philippines, were manifest between him and Sung Kim, Goldberg’s replacement. As developments indicated, Kim was doing an excellent yeoman’s job assuaging earlier diplomatic hurts. In a swing of Asean countries from August 5 to 9 this year, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson got the privilege of being addressed by President Duterte thus: “I am your humble friend in Southeast Asia.”

The statement was made by President Duterte during Tillerson’s official call at Malacañang on August 7, 2017. Being what they are, diplomatic statements do not bare hard realities, but what the realities were in that official call of Tillerson were revealed by the warm, tight handshake the two exchanged: a coming full circle of US-Philippine relations.

Necessarily, in making the 360-degree turnaround, President Duterte rolls over China. This is a basic principle in contradiction, and in the contradiction between China and the US, no other country becomes close to one as much as to the other.

After that Tillerson visit, President Duterte was into an uncharacteristic singing of the good ole American ditty: a unilateral push by the Philippines of the PCA ruling on the PH-China dispute over certain sections of the South China Sea.

In a recent visit to Davao City by Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, President Duterte reportedly insisted that any upcoming bilateral talks with China be based on the PCA ruling on the South China Sea dispute. This matter was reported by the President to troops fighting the war in Mindanao, thus:

“We avoid trouble with them. Hindi pa natin kaya. Sinabiko, Mr. Ambassador, I will not talk about it but when we are in front of each other in a bilateral talk, just the two of us, then I would state my case. I have this arbitral judgment. We will not go out of the four corners of this paper, then let us talk.”

The President certainly knew whereof he was speaking. China even before the PCA proceedings could start back in 2013 was unequivocal in its position of not recognizing those proceedings. President Duterte’s demand now of not going out of the “four corners” of the PCA ruling necessarily comes to a head-on collision with the Chinese position.

And, as the song goes, affirming a law of physics, “When two irresistible forces meet, something’s gotta give.”

The President admitted in that talk with his soldiers, “If China withdraws from formal talks, then it could only mean one thing.” What that “one thing” is, the President clarified: “Now we are towards the future. The Philippines is going to experience another spasm. When, I do not know, but that’s for sure. So be prepared even with limited talent and capacity. We cannot really produce the missiles and things… we don’t care as long as we fight. It will come, maybe sooner than later, but we have to prepare.”

(To be continued)

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