THE conflicting claims of the Philippines and China over the West Philippine (South China) Sea have been existing for decades and yet, it’s only during the administration of President BS Aquino The Last, I mean The Third, that tension between the two countries has heightened. It came to a point that China even flexed its military muscle and has refused to discuss issues related to the conflict until after the Aquino administration is gone—to the dust bin of history?
I had thought that the conflicting territorial claims would affect the normally friendly relations between Chinese and Filipinos. Thus, before my sisters Nelly and Myrla went to Beijing on a 10-day unguided tour, I cautioned them that they might get cold and even hostile reception by the Chinese. On their return to Manila, however, they were full of good words for the mainland Chinese, all of whom they had met for the first time.
Manang Nelly (BTW, she’s the new president of the Milpitas Executive Lions Club in California) told of a Chinese couple who not only told them where to buy a needed article but also drove them there. The same couple even helped them sort out their problems with their hotel that refused to accept their credit card. They were also full of praises for their “taxi driver” (it was a actually a private car) who took them to the Great Wall of China. They said that the solicitous driver acted as their tour guide and this saved them some money that they used to buy herbal medicine and souvenir items.
I recount the happy experience of my sisters in China as an added testimonial to the recent forum on Philippines-China Business Forum sponsored by my paper, The Manila Times. To quote our editorial about the Forum, “Despite the conflict between the Philippine and Chinese governments over sovereignty issues in the West Philippine (South China) Sea, the tensions have—thank God—not deeply affected our two countries’ mutually profitable business relations and friendly people-to-people ties between Filipino and Chinese businessmen.” As my sisters and I have realized, this mutual friendship extends beyond businessmen into ordinary civilians.
I was invited to the forum but I was immersed with my work as a farmer in Lupao, Nueva Ecija so I was unable to attend it. (Incidentally, it’s also my farm work that had kept me from writing my regular column for most of October.)
One issue that I wanted to have more information about are the military repercussions of the conflicting claims over the West Philippine Sea. Well, a retired military officer, former AFP Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Antonio Sotelo gave me more than what I had bargained for.
In an hour-long meeting at the Sulu Hotel in Quezon City, General Sotelo maintained that had President BS Aquino The Last, I mean The Third, not been so belligerent towards the Chinese and had invited more American forces in the Philippines, China wouldn’t have been so aggressive. He doesn’t believe that China would invade the Philippines but he agreed with the administration that the Philippines should indeed prepare adequately to keep Chinese aggression from reaching the Philippine shores.
That concept was just about the only thing that Sotelo agreed with the administration on, but he’s highly critical of how this is being carried out. He believes the military strategists are wrong in trying to enhance defense capabilities based on surface ships, fighter planes and radars.
“We can buy dozens of ships and the Chinese Navy can easily sink them.
We can buy dozens of fighter planes and China can easily shoot them down. Fixed radars cannot survive during wartime. Drones are the way of modern wars,” Sotelo said.
He believes that America, South Korea, Japan and Australia would not allow China to have complete control of the West Philippine Seas as this would impede their right of passage.
“We should let our allies with interests in the area and who are capable of standing up to China’s growing naval capability to do so. We should keep our antiquated Navy and Air force out of the way and concentrate on internal security and guerilla warfare,” he added.
Incidentally, to the uninitiated, Sotelo was the commander of the 15th Strike Wing whose defection proved to be the turning point in EDSA 1 in favor of the rebels led by then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos and Lt. Col. Gregorio Honasan. He later became the commanding general of the Philippine Air Force and later, vice chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.