POSTSCRIPT / July 14, 2020 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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DFA sings new tune on Chinese relations

HAVE you noticed the new tune being sung by the Department of Foreign Affairs on how the Philippines would like its Chinese neighbor to behave?

On Friday, Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. surprised us with a warning that the Philippines would unleash “the severest response” if China’s military exercises in the South China Sea stray into the country’s sovereign waters.

Locsin was reacting to reports that the People’s Liberation Army of China has been conducting naval exercises around Paracel Islands since July 1. The disputed cluster in the SCS is being claimed by China and Vietnam.

The secretary said he quickly checked the coordinates of the drills as announced by China and saw that they “do not impinge on Philippine territory”. Since they did not, not yet anyway, there was no need for him to fire a warning shot.

But Locsin did, saying: “Should the exercises spill over to Philippine territory, then China is forewarned that it will be met with the severest response, diplomatic and whatever else is appropriate.” We imagined Teddyboy firing a most virulent undiplomatic protest.

Having gotten used to President Duterte’s trotting behind China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping as he waited for promised Chinese aid, loans and investments, we were surprised to hear Locsin growling about the red dragon’s roiling the waters in the Paracels.

Duterte has tried explaining his spineless posture, confessing that he did not find it a healthy option to question China’s aggressive expansionist moves in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

In fact, he has considered Philippine-Chinese joint exploration of mineral resources in the country’s maritime areas. It reminds us of a former foreign secretary who said that if rape was inevitable, one might as well lean back and enjoy it.

So why is Locsin now singing an apparently assertive tune different from the pitch set by his President?

Then on Sunday, Locsin marked the fourth anniversary of Manila’s winning most of its submissions in the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague against Beijing’s claim over some 88 percent of the SCS by firing another salvo in the direction of the mainland.

Rejecting Beijing’s claim over a vast area within the nine-dash line it has drawn unilaterally, the PCA also declared China to have caused “severe harm” to the ecosystem with its reclamation of marine features.

There was no fresh provocation as far as we know, but Locsin called on China to adhere to the arbitral ruling, stressing that the 2016 award based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was “non-negotiable.”

The Philippines, he said, reaffirms “its adherence to the award and its enforcement without any possibility of compromise or change.”

But using veiled threats of military reprisals and offering generous assistance for Duterte’s ambitious infrastructure program, Xi has succeeded in stalemating him.

With Duterte estopped by his pro-China pronouncements, and considering his apparently declining health, has Malacañang decided that in dealing with China, Locsin would now do the talking?

In other areas, as in the proliferation of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators that have brought in hordes of Chinese workers as well as crimes associated with gambling, and the signing of onerous investment contracts leading to debt traps, other Locsins may be needed.

It is no coincidence that Manila’s relations with Washington have improved lately, marked by earnest dialogue and stepped-up US assistance, including support for the country’s efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

A signal event was Duterte’s decision to suspend his notice served on Feb. 11 for the termination after 180 days of the Visiting Forces Agreement, the main legal basis for the rotational but continued presence of US military forces in the Philippines.

It may be a petty footnote to the ongoing repair job on tattered ties, but we cannot help noticing also the US embassy’s contacting Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, a Duterte point man, about his canceled US visa’s possibly being restored.

The White House has followed up its courtship of Duterte before he is totally lost to China with a phone call days ago by President Trump taking time off his hectic reelection campaign.

We can imagine the Great White Father flattering the Davao mayor about his “terrific” job, assuring him of US readiness to help, and reiterating an invitation to visit the US, the center of the universe, after Trump trounces his Democratic challenger in November.

We assume that Xi, the other party in the political ménage à trois, has been watching US moves, but with the Covid-19 crisis flattening his Belt and Road Initiative, his business-based courting of Duterte has suffered.

 2 Pampanga solons voted for ABS-CBN closure

WE want to inform our cabalen that two of the four congressmen of Pampanga voted for the shutdown of ABS-CBN, the country’s biggest media network. They were Juan Miguel “Mikey” Macapagal Arroyo (2nd Dist.) and Juan Pablo “Rimpy” P. Bondoc (4th Dist.)

Two other Pampanga solons — Carmelo “Jon” B. Lazatin II (1st Dist.) and Aurelio “Dong” D. Gonzales Jr. (3rd Dist.) – were not members of the House committee that voted 70-11 on Friday to reject the renewal of the 25-year ABS-CBN franchise that expired May 4.

To their credit, the 11 who voted to renew the franchise were Sol Aragones (Laguna, 3rd Dist.), Christopher De Venecia (Pangasinan, 4th Dist.), Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna Party-list), Gabriel Bordado (Camarines Sur, 3rd Dist.), Vilma Santos (Batangas, 6th Dist.), Lianda Bolilia (Batangas, 4th Dist.), Jose Tejada (North Cotabato, 4th Dist.), Bienvenido Abante (Manila, 6th Dist.), Stella Quimbo (Marikina, 2nd Dist.), Mujiv Hataman (Basilan. Lone Dist.), and Edward Maceda (Manila, 4th Dist.).

Congressmen Alfred Vargas (Quezon City, 5th Dist.) and Micaela S. Violago (Nueva Ecija, 2nd Dist.) inhibited themselves, citing the possibility of their being called out for “conflict of interest” if they voted. Rep. Alfredo A. Garbin Jr. (Ako Bicol-Party List) abstained.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 14, 2020)

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