MARIT STINUS-CABUGON

BEYOND the hustle and bustle of local politics is the reality of China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea. Not that it came as a surprise that China had deployed missiles in the Spratlys. After all, Beijing has invested considerable time and resources in building its artificial islands, an effort meant to cement the country’s military control over the area.

The timing of the missile deployment, however, may have brought some inconvenience to the Philippine government. Didn’t Beijing assure us that the work on the islands had been completed? The two governments are working on a joint venture agreement on natural gas exploration in the Reed Bank which is located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. Critics say that such a joint venture agreement with the Chinese government is unconstitutional. To push through with the deal despite China’s recent deployment of missiles on especially the Mischief Reef (125 nautical miles from Palawan) is likely to generate wide condemnation on the domestic front.

The Chinese missiles may not be directed at the Philippines but it is rather odd that the Philippine government would like to view the militarization as a matter between the US and China. The US is officially our defense partner, by virtue of the Mutual Defense Treaty. Yet, we actually justify China’s militarization of the Spratly Islands with China’s right to defend itself against an alleged threat from the US. A rather peculiar situation.

Anyhow, this isn’t about China or the US. This is about the Philippines and what is best for the country today and in the years to come. Why not take a second look at the Mutual Defense Treaty and do a serious assessment of whether it serves the long-term interest of the Philippines? Freeing the Philippines from the mental and material dependence on our erstwhile colonial master isn’t bad per se.

Secondly, international politics is very much like local politics where the smart move is to go with the winner. At the very least, we should not antagonize those who can destroy us. China is the rising power. It is not a matter of if but when China will overtake the US as the world’s biggest economy. China will claim global hegemony.

We all heard President Rodrigo Duterte, on Araw ng Kagitingan, declare his unconditional love for Chinese President Xi Jingping. Xi is probably the world’s most powerful person today. Not only is he president of the world’s most populous country (about four times more populous than the US), as head of the Communist Party of China Xi commands the People’s Liberation Army, the world’s biggest military force.

Hegemonic powers don’t sustain their power by military or economic dominance alone. Spreading their ideas and values is equally important. Free markets, democracy and personal freedom have constituted the gospel truth, the pillars of the ideal society, for so long that few question these. China will seek to supplant this Western liberal ideology with their homegrown “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

Communists and socialists around the world recently celebrated the 200th birth anniversary of Karl Marx. China, it appears, has become Marxism’s “poster boy” for economic progress under communist authoritarian rule. China has succeeded where other Marxist-inspired socialist regimes failed.

There is indeed much to learn from China in general, its communist party (CPC) in particular. Thus, PDP-Laban, the Philippines’ ruling party, in early 2017 entered into a cooperation agreement with the CPC.

While it is difficult to imagine our senators, congressmen and local officials undergoing training in Marxist political theory, communist ideology and socialist doctrines, it actually makes sense: PDP-Laban is officially a socialist party. Its ideology’s guiding principles are democratic socialism, theism, humanism, enlightened nationalism, consultative and participatory democracy, and federalism (press release, February 28, 2018.

Democratic socialism should not be confused with social democracy; the latter corrects socio-economic inequalities resulting from capitalism by redistributing wealth, using taxes to fund free basic services and transfer incomes. Democratic socialism, in contrast, rejects capitalism. It stands for social ownership (as opposed to private ownership) of the means of production within a decentralized and participatory planned economy (Wikipedia).

PDP-Laban president Pimentel expects his members to learn “party discipline and ideological cohesion” from the CPC, to put party ideology above personal interest, loyalty to the party above convenience (Philippine Star, January 12, 2018). The expected outcome is party members who will be better public servants. This of course, is not bad.

However, how do we reconcile China’s continued violations of Philippine sovereign rights in the South China Sea with our highest officials’ and ruling party’s embrace of China’s political tutelage? Is the hasty swapping of our dependence on and deference to the US with the same from China the most prudent path for the Philippines? Determination of our nation’s future must not be limited to parameters set by foreign powers.