WHEN Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. labeled China as the “best friend forever,” or BFF, of President Rodrigo Duterte, many just took it as another one of Harry’s attempts to humor us by trying to speak the language of the chic and trendy. However, a good number also took it as an attempt to normalize and put a spin on what can be construed as an admission of what many already know. It affirms the fact that the President is so enamored with China that his spokesman can unabashedly refer to it in terms that one would for a person with whom one shares secrets. And the “forever” is what serves as the icing, as it implies an undying loyalty. President Duterte may no longer be president after 2022, but his devotion to China will be forever.
And Harry Roque, in his earnest attempt to be funny, fails to realize that forever is in fact scary. But it is also real.
It is as real as the President unabashedly, and with conviction as if clothed by presidential authority, proclaiming without any doubt that he is certain that China will be the first to invent a vaccine against the coronavirus disease of 2019 (Covid-19). In that instance, the image of the President almost took the character of the sidekick of a bully, always ready to proclaim to everyone in the entire schoolyard the latter’s greatness and prowess. One can almost imagine the character of Lefou, the village bully Gaston’s loyal man Friday in the Disney fantasy “Beauty and the Beast,” who is described as flamboyant, ever-loyal to the latter even if he only gets very little in return.
China has been getting a lot from us, through the President’s readiness, and happiness, to serve. We abandoned a hard-earned victory at the Permanent Court for Arbitration at The Hague in exchange for what the President peddled as peace and prosperity. We were warned that we would be incinerated easily if we played hardball with China. The President, his apologists and his rabid supporters threatened us with the specter of an unwinnable war, and the easy alternative of rolling over to China’s expansionist agenda in exchange for a sizable amount of development assistance.
Thus, roll over we did, even as Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia played hardball with China, using the very victory we won at The Hague as their weapon of argument. There is no other term that can describe it but utter surrender when our President dismissed as a simple incident the intentional ramming of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel. It cannot be anything else but surrender when a President known for his legendary temper toward drug criminals and the corrupt, and who is unforgiving to his enemies and those who hurt his friends, can be so quiet about China’s transgressions.
To China’s incursion into our exclusive economic zone, he responded not with the kind of rage he showed against the United States when the US visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa was canceled, but with the kindness of verbally offering China free access to our fishing grounds even without congressional concurrence. When China violates our sovereignty, we are so kind and the worst we can do is to file diplomatic protests. There is no rage whatsoever even if China is already encroaching into areas over which we have sovereign rights. But when the US canceled de la Rosa’s visa, not only did we take it as a violation of our sovereignty, but we even retaliated by canceling the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, again without congressional concurrence.
The President was unforgiving to an Australian nun whom his government accused of violating the terms of her visa, allegedly by participating in political activities. Yet, when Chinese were caught getting involved in criminal activity, the President and his men were even solicitous and accommodating. To the illegal online gambling operations, the President responded not with rage but with a call to legalize Philippine offshore gaming operators, or POGOs. And instead of being deported like the Australian nun, operators of illegal Covid-19 clinics who happen to be Chinese were simply warned and reminded to follow our laws.
Apparently, getting involved in political rallies is a worse offense than illegally practicing medicine in the country. Or if not this, then it must be that being a Chinese can save one from the harshness of the law from which an Australian cannot be saved.
But what is really painful, one that scars the heart, is when Filipinos who violate the law are treated more harshly. We saw Filipinos who violated quarantine rules being manhandled by authorities, placed in cages, shot at and even killed. Their constitutional rights were violated. And here we have Chinese who did not just violate a quarantine rule, but have operated an illegal underground Covid-19 clinic, treated nicely by authorities.
One could argue that not all of these are direct acts of the President. But certainly, when China is referred to by his spokesman as the President’s BFF, it sends a powerful message that can easily influence how lower level officials, particularly supporters, would behave.
One vivid image that cannot be easily erased is when the President hesitated to act early, such as banning flights from China in the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, for fear of hurting China’s feelings. It would be easy for a low-ranked officer to take this to mean that he should be careful in dealing with Chinese who violate the law lest China’s feelings be hurt.
And then you have to ask what are we getting in return for this display of eternal subservience, this image of undying loyalty to China. And you realize that we are in fact given not aid but loans which we will have to pay, and should we fail, will effectively tie our future to indebtedness, for which China will now have more leverage to put us on a leash, forever.