The mercy of God and the missiles of Brahma

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This week’s earlier columns on Pope Francis and Ukraine warrant follow-ups.

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First, about conservative misgivings about the Holy Father. It partly stems from two paramount tenets of Christianity which have polarized believers through millennia: the call to holiness and perfection, and the boundless mercy of God.

The call to holiness and forgiveness
Jesus Christ calls every human being to perfection: “Be holy as your Heavenly Father is holy.” But everyone, even saints, continually falls short of that evangelical ideal: Christ’s life of sacrificing love, unbounded hope, and unshakable faith toward God, and of total giving of Himself to others. Indeed, all people fall into varying degrees of sin, from selfish thoughts to genocide.

So while espousing the strictest ethical norms, even equating sexual desire with adultery and angry words with murder, Jesus also preached that God forgives all the sins of every contrite soul, however grave and appalling. Even the likes of Hitler, Stalin,

Idi Amin, and Pol Pot, if they repented and asked for mercy, would have been forgiven.

What does all this have to do with Pope Francis? Well, his public words and actions have tended to stress the mercy of God while downplaying the demands of holiness and morality. He has gone out of his way to make sure no one feels excluded from the

Lord’s forgiving embrace, which can happen if the Church loudly condemns sin while rarely saying that God always forgives and heals sinners.

Thus, on the flight back to Rome from the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro last July,

Pope Francis told journalists: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” The Pope has also cautioned against harping on contraception to the exclusion of other messages, possibly driving people to sever ties with the Church over that single issue and move farther away from God.

Some upright Catholics, however, fear the Pope’s stress on mercy may swing the

Church too much toward forgiveness and away from righteousness and holiness.

Maybe. But leading Filipino theologian Fr. Catalino Arevalo argues that it is precisely because God forgives all and constantly encourages persevering souls that we can tirelessly seek perfection.

Don’t push sinners away, says Francis. Rather, encourage them toward holiness with the ultimate guarantee of victory: God’s never-ending mercy.

How to defend what’s ours
This column has consistently argued that bringing in U.S. forces in huge rotations would undermine rather than enhance national security. It turns the Philippines into a strategic

threat to China and its vast shipping passing the South China Sea, including 80% of its oil imports. Both can be attacked by American ships, subs, planes and missiles from the archipelago. So Beijing has every reason to target the country with its rockets, and deploy forces in nearby waters to counter U.S. naval and air assets in the archipelago.

The Ukraine column two days ago further argued that the republic should not depend solely on American might, which could be overstretched by simultaneous global crises.

So how can the country build a credible defense for its territory and its exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and extended continental shelf (ECS), over which the U.N.

Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) grants the right to exploit resources?

Congressman and former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez, who has warned against gradual Chinese encroachments in disputed islets and waters since the 1990s, offers a solution: land-based mobile anti-ship missiles. In particular, batteries of the

BrahMos supersonic projectile made in India by a Indo-Russian joint venture (BrahMos combines the names of the Brahmaputra and Moscow rivers).

With its range of 300 to 500 km, depending on the version, the BrahMos cruise missile can cover all the Philippines’ EEZ (200 nautical miles or 370 km from shore) and most of the ECS (up to 350 nm or 648 km out). The land-based model has three missiles on a truck, making them hard to target and able to go wherever there are threats.

Once launched, it evades radar by skimming three to four meters above sea level. At its Mach 3 speed, no vessel can escape it, and even jet fighters would be hard-pressed to shoot it down. Last December, Vietnam formally told India that it wants to buy the BrahMos. It knows that Russia and India, which had also battled China’s People’s Liberation Army, would make missiles that work against the PLA.

Golez thinks 200 missiles are enough to discourage interlopers in maritime zones, not to mention invading fleets. At about $3 million each, 200 missiles would cost $600 million, or about P27 billion. Add another P5 billion or so for ancillary equipment, special trucks and sites. But P35 billion is peanuts compared with the value of EEZ and ECS resources to protect. Just state royalties from Malampaya alone, excluding the actual value of oil and gas extracted there, exceed P200 billion.

To buy the BrahMos, the former National Security Adviser points precisely at the Malampaya monies, of which P130 billion was unspent as of last year, according to Senate testimony. Since the missiles would defend marine wealth, including offshore petroleum deposits, their purchase could qualify under energy-related spending, which the royalties are supposed to fund, as ruled by the Supreme Court.

A stick for Filipinos
Not everyone will cheer the BrahMos. Americans may criticize it, as they did past cooperation with China in disputed waters. In 2007 the U.S. Embassy spoke against the joint seismic survey by state oil companies of the Philippines, China and Vietnam. Then-

President Gloria Arroyo complained to her American counterpart George W. Bush that his diplomats were criticizing her efforts to reduce rivalry in the South China Sea.

In August 2011, joint exploration came up in President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s visit to

Beijing. But after his U.S. trip the next month, nothing more was heard about it. Instead of cooperation, confrontation flared, and Aquino promptly called for American protection.

Washington then asked to escalate military deployment in the country, where it could then station a good portion of the 60% of naval assets it wants positioned in Asia.

During Yolanda relief, Philippine and American officials cited the Seventh Fleet’s disaster assistance as one more reason to increase U.S. force rotations. What could be better than Uncle Sam wielding a big stick right in our backyard?

Answer: Having our own stick.

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