POSTSCRIPT / May 6, 2012 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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US won’t fight China over Panatag shoals

LANDLORD: When I was in self-exile in San Francisco in the martial rule years, long-time resident friends told me to be extra nice to Chinese, to stop for them when they seemed to be about to cross the street and always to smile at them at close quarters.

“You never can tell,” they explained, “the elderly Chinese you bump into may be your next landlord.”

I could believe that. I may be generalizing personal experience, but it seemed that one almost always dealt with a Chinese when looking for an apartment to rent in the Bay Area.

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CLOSE-KNIT: The Chinese in that part of California reportedly comprise the biggest Chinese community outside China, Taiwan and Singapore. In point of numbers they are not really that numerous, but they wield business and political clout.

Filipino old-timers in San Francisco (never call it “Frisco”) claim that there are more Pinoys in the Bay Area than Chinese, but that the latter are better organized. There are more of them in the government than Filipinos.

While the numerically smaller Chinese community has is own daily newspapers, Filipinos in the Bay Area have not been able to produce or support a single daily newspaper. It is embarrassing, but Pinoys seem to prefer to get it for free.

Chinese associations are generally well-knit, while Filipino organizations tend to divide and multiply amoeba-like after every election of officers. The losers form their own splinter group, never mind if there are only a dozen of them.

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CRAB MENTALITY: While crab mentality warps the Filipino psyche, we hear stories of elders in the Chinese community helping young entrepreneurs start their own business.

The term “crab mentality” originated under the Golden Gate Bridge where a number of us Pinoys sometimes went angling in the tricky, rocky waters.

Usually we set crab nets, baited with chicken parts or fish heads, while waiting for a bite. It is not unusual that one hauls in more crabs than fish despite the rule that a crab whose carapace is less than four inches must be thrown back.

An American once watched while a Filipino simply dumped the crabs into a plastic pail without bothering to close the lid. Unable to contain his curiosity, he asked the Filipino why he left the pail uncovered.

“Not to worry,” the angler explained, “These are Filipino crabs. When one of them tries to climb up, the others pull him down.”

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LOST OPTION: A Chinatown publisher-businessman recalled to us that years ago the San Francisco government informed the Filipino community it was willing to donate a prime site in the Van Ness area as soon as they presented a viable project plan.

You guessed it! The Filipinos got bogged down in arguing and disagreeing among themselves and were never able to present a unified, credible project proposal.

They lost the site option and the grand idea that could have seen the beginnings of a Filipinotown in San Francisco was scrapped.

“What we in the Chinese community would have done,” the publisher said, “was to set aside our petty internal differences, work out and accept the site donation, then quarrel – if we must — over how to manage it.”

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CUT THAT LINE!: The storyline sounds familiar, isn’t it? The line runs down vertically in our history as a people and horizontally in our contemporary state of the nation.

The urgent question is how to cut that line, especially in light of the calculated probing into our sovereign territory by a fire-breathing red dragon from the North.

This is a cultural aberration that we, people and government, should think about seriously together. Now!

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CREDITOR CHINA: When China President Hu Jintao arrived in the United States for a three-day state visit in January last year, he tried hard not to look and sound like a landlord or a creditor coming to foreclose the mortgage on the house.

For his part, President Barack Obama did his best to be the perfect host to the CEO of an economic giant to whom the US owed something like $1.2 trillion, repeat TRILLION!

Fortunately for both leaders similarly seeking domestic stability, Hu did not come over to collect the ballooning debt.

After all, that a quarter of the $4.5-trillion US foreign debt (of an estimated total national debt of more than $15 trillion) was owed to China looked more of a problem to Beijing, the lender, than to Washington.

Where would the debt tornado dump China — the biggest US creditor (the second being Japan) — if Washington decided to default in pique or for any other reason?

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NOT INSTANT: Now they are telling us that, in the last meeting between American and Philippine ministers on problems arising from Chinese bullying in Philippine seas, the US has reaffirmed its commitments under our Mutual Defense Treaty.

But paper commitments are one thing and live-fire action another.

The mutual defense commitment that State Secretary Hillary Clinton talks about is for the US to act militarily (1) if there is a foreign armed attack on the Philippines AND (2) if the US Congress says go ahead.

Instant or automatic retaliation will not happen unless US territory or forces are directly attacked or compromised.

Filipinos should have no illusion that the US will scramble its forces to mix it up with Chinese units if, say, a Chinese vessel grazes a Philippine boat in the Panatag shoals WITHOUT SHOTS BEING FIRED by the Chinese.

The US will not go to war against its biggest creditor – and growing market — over a small matter pertaining to a clump of corals near the Philippines.

And China will not knowingly provoke a shooting war it cannot win.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 6, 2012)

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