AT exactly 12 high noon yesterday, President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office as the 16th President of the Philippines. He took his oath of office, delivered a 15-minute address, swore in the members of his Cabinet, received members of the diplomatic corps, and immediately sat down for work. He hit the ground running. On her part, new Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo took her oath and delivered her own inaugural in a separate venue at 9 a.m.—three hours before the constitutionally designated time for the oath-taking. VP Jejomar Binay had not yet officially vacated his office at that time.
This, however, could be but a minor constitutional wrinkle that need not disturb her. She has more to worry about the electoral protest filed by Sen. Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos against her election before the Supreme Court (as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal) on Wednesday afternoon.
I was looking forward to a more substantive, though not necessarily long, address. DU30 came across as very sincere in what he said about fighting corruption, drugs, crime and, yes, red tape. But I share the anxiety voiced by the young assistant professor (Leloy Claudio) about the statement, “You mind your work and I will mind mine.” We need a government that will be working together under the law, not one in which everyone would be shooting from the hip as the spirit moves them.
I was hoping he would say something about his decision to appoint nominees of the
Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front to the Cabinet, and our apprehensions about a coalition government with the Left. He omitted that altogether. I thought his one short line on foreign affairs was clearly not enough.
There was probably no time to discuss the complex issue concerning the United States and China, but it would have been reassuring and helpful if he had said something about the Somalia-type situation that has developed in our southern waters, which has compelled Indonesia to bar its ships from sailing those lanes.
Of course, it would have been much more helpful if he had shown some signs that he was following the developments in Europe, where Brexit—Britain’s exit from the European Union—has caused world-threatening financial and political turmoil. As he omitted this most important development in the world in his address, we shall talk about it here.
How Brexit happened
The world knows that on June 23, the Brits were asked whether they would like to leave or remain in the EU. This was a follow-up on David Cameron’s 2013 promise that should the Conservative Party win in 2015, they would call for such a referendum. Out of a 72.2-percent turnout, which means 33 million voters, 51.9 percent voted to “Leave” and 48.1 percent voted to “Remain.” This shocked all of Europe and its trans-Atlantic allies, but not as much as it shocked the Brits themselves. The pound sank to its lowest level in 30 years, and markets lost $2 trillion in value overnight.
Cameron has announced his resignation, and the search is on for a new Prime Minister. Three million voters have called for a second referendum. But voices have been heard in Scotland and northern Ireland asking for their own referendums. Across the English Channel and beyond, far-right parties are asking for the same referendums in their respective jurisdictions.
What Churchill said before
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says this is a failure of multiculturalism. This validates what Winston Churchill said 66 years ago: “We are with Europe but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.” But in 1973, the UK joined the European Economic Community (Common Market) and, in 1993, this became the European Union. Britain joined the EU without joining the Eurozone, or the Schengen treaty on the passport/visa-free movement of people across borders.
A European superstate?
France and Germany are reported to have started discussing at foreign ministers’ level the possibility of creating one giant superstate among the EU members. A book published by Princeton University, Press and authored by political science Professor Glyn Morgan, of Maxwell School in Syracuse University in 2005 (The Idea of a European Superstate: Public Justification and European Integration), appears to have lately caught the attention of European statesmen and political technicians. Several countries, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, are said to be looking closely at its proposal.
A European superstate will have to depend a lot on Germany, the strongest EU economy for now. Already, Germany may have to fork out more than $2 billion a year to the EU to fill the deficit created by Brexit. This could fulfill Hitler’s dream of a “Europe dominated by Germany, and the world outside Europe dominated by Britain.” Germany would surely rule one half, but Britain could be reduced into a non-player if Scotland and northern Ireland leave Britain.
The case for Britain
My heart goes out for Britain.
Although I have never lived nor studied there, I am such an ardent admirer of so many things British that I tend to forget the many bad things they have inflicted upon our culture and civilization. One of these is racist population control, first advocated by Thomas Robert Malthus in his 1798 “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” picked up by the American biologist Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 book, The Population Bomb, and royally pursued by the Duke of Edinburgh, who has reputedly wished to be reincarnated, upon his death, as a virus so he could shrink the whole human population. This is now embraced by DU30’s designated secretary for “central planning” who would like to inflict a “three-children” policy upon every Filipino family household.
I learned to read at 12 by reading an English book (The Holy Sinner by Thomas Mann) before I understood any English. Today, my grandchildren are reading at three, but on the island-province where I come from, there were no books to read, so 12 was rather precocious. On my first trip to London and New York, I found the street English in London so musical, and the one in New York so different that when the American clerk at my Manhattan hotel asked me whether I spoke English, I answered, “Only when necessary.”
And as she was pointing a finger as she spoke, I had to tell her that where I came from “we chew off fingers pointing that way.” A few years before that a young Rockefeller boy was eaten by cannibals in the jungles of southwest New Guinea.
The absent colonizer
Sometimes I find myself wondering what would have happened if instead of being colonized by Spain for 377 years, and by the US for 48 years, we had been colonized by Britain, which occupied Manila and Cavite from 1762 to 1764. Perhaps we would have, at the very least, come into actual possession of Sabah (North Borneo) instead of merely claiming it from Malaysia. Perhaps we would no longer be saddled with PNoy Aquino’s Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with Barack Obama.
We might have learned to speak and write better English, which we do rather poorly just because George Bernard Shaw says it is “the easiest language to speak badly.” Indeed, we might have had more writers and intellectuals than lawyers and conmen in our midst.
England is the only place where upon entering a bookshop in Stratford-upon-Avon the shopkeeper casually asked me, “Are you, Sir, a scientist or a philosopher?” At Foyle’s in London, people sat everywhere reading books without having to buy them, compared to the completely uncivilized practice in our bookshops, where every book is sealed in plastic and you will have to buy it first before you could even read its title page.
Our civil service might have been as efficiently run as those in some Commonwealth countries. Our parliamentary debates might have been worth listening to if our politicians had read a little of Bagehot or Erskine May, and could readily tell the third person from the second or the first. They might have learned to conduct themselves with greater decorum and dignity, and resign from the highest post like Cameron without anyone pressing them, as soon as honor, dignity and duty required them to. We might have learned to follow rules even with nobody else around, or in the words of the Hungarian George Mikes (1912-1987), “form an orderly queue of one” even when alone.
England is such a beautiful country, with its gorgeous cities and colorful countryside. They made London so beautiful that, as Galsworthy puts it, they did not mind being thought mad for doing so. As for the flower-decked and nature-scented countryside, the only shame, says one wit, is that they could not cook it. The Brits eat well but food is not one of their major strengths. They have bangers and mash, Yorkshire pudding and roast, but, unlike the French, they have no elaborate haute cuisine.
The 18th century Napolitan diplomat Domenico Carraciola complained that England had 60 different religions but only one sauce. George Mikes says, “On the continent people have good food; in England, people have good manners.” Yet I can say with some authority that they could draw a one-pound Dover sole from the sandy seabed of the Atlantic in the evening and grill it for you the next day exactly as you like it.
I ordered one in Soho, and as the waiter proudly laid it before me, he said, “Here, sir, is your fish. You can still see it as it slept last night on the bay. But if you ordered the same thing across the Channel, it’d be so covered with sauce you’d no longer be able to recognize it.” This was Anglo-Franco politics at its best. In any case, the sole was as good as what you’d get at Tulio’s in Rome or Restaurant Prunier in Paris.
The character of the British
I thought that showed character, which is one of the more enduring strengths of the British. They are valiant, unflinching, and determined to conquer and succeed, regardless of the odds. That’s why there will always be an England, as the 1939 patriotic song goes.
“England expects that every man will do his duty,” Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson told his men before the Battle of Trafalgar began in 1805; and in one of most unforgettable battles in naval history, the British defeated the combined French and Spanish fleets.
The Brits are Britain’s primary resource. To Cecile Rhodes, the British politician who became Prime Minister of South Africa in 1890, to be an Englishman is to win “first place in the lottery of life.” But because of Brexit, are we seeing Britain’s last days?
“We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies because we are made of sugar candy,” says the man who sent the English language to stop the Nazis. At the height of the German blitz, it was that language alone that defined and summoned hope and courage. In the end, it was not the German battleship Bismarck that proved unsinkable; it was the British spirit.
For how do you sink a nation that has produced a Wordsworth, a Shakespeare, a Marlowe, a Milton, a Keats, a Chaucer, a John Donne, a Shelley, a Coleridge, a Tennyson, a Spenser, a Pope, a Browning, an Eliot, a Yeats, a Bronte, a Dryden, a Johnson—a long line of immortals who used their English tongue to sing of the transcendental verities of the human spirit?
You cannot. Thus, if this means a new battle for Britain, it is fair to hope it could prevail once more.