POSTSCRIPT / October 5 2014 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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We can’t even repair our airstrip on Pagasa!

SOBRA NA: The Malacañang-ordered response of shrinking way whenever the Chinese red dragon snorts nearby has gone too far.

Defense officials announced in a public hearing Friday that, by order of Commander-in-Chief Noynoy Aquino, the government has stopped repairs needed on the damaged airstrip on Pagasa island in the Spratlys where a Filipino community thrives under trying conditions.

We are talking here only of repairs and maintenance. Fixing the landing strip needed to fly in supplies for the residents in that far-flung town is not a strategic buildup, so why is President Aquino afraid it might anger the Chinese?

(Some people in the gallery are asking if the real reason is that the funds for maintaining landing fields have been pocketed, or realigned to DAP-like projects, or diverted to the Liberal Party war chest for the 2016 elections.)

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ABNORMAL: Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin explained that the President’s order to stop repair plans was meant to keep the Philippines on a “moral high ground” in the territorial dispute with China.

That is BS, considering how China itself continues to build military infrastructure on disputed maritime areas.

That was the same abnormal behavior of the President when he ordered Philippine vessels in 2012 to abandon the Panatag shoal off Zambales – surrendering the rich fishing ground of generations of Filipinos while the Chinese rolled on the deck of their boats laughing.

A moratorium on building outposts in disputed areas is part of Malacañang’s approach, which also calls for international arbitration. But while an arbitration bid has been filed at The Hague, China refuses to participate despite its having signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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U.S. HAND?: Gazmin disclosed a curious detail that sounded like a “don’t look at me” disclaimer. He said that the defense department “got the specific instructions from the President to serve the status quo as stated by the legal opinion of attorney Batino.”

He was referring to Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, head of the Philippine panel in the drafting of the Enhanced Development Cooperation Agreement designed to be the legal cover for the military activities of American troops operating from bases in the Philippines.

Is the Philippine handling of its territorial disputes with China tied with EDCA? Are we deferring to the US desire for Manila not to provoke Beijing while Washington worked behind the scene to smooth out irritants and boost its security and economic presence in the region?

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DON’T BOAST: While Malacañang habitually drops its tail between the legs when China raises its voice, it climbed the rooftops days ago to shout to the neighbors how brave and cunning Filipino troops were to have escaped from Syrian insurgents in the Golan Heights last August.

We are proud of the discipline and courage of our soldiers. We salute them. But we think it was enough that all our United Nations peacekeeping troops got away alive from the Syrians that encircled them in Golan.

It looked unseemly that — in the safety of home — we now boast to the world that our 75 soldiers escaped by disobeying(!) an order of their overall United Nations commander who was looking after the security of all the multi-nation forces under his responsibility.

Sapat na siguro na nakauwi silang ligtas lahat. Magpasalamat na lang tayo, at huwag nang magyabang.

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OBEY FIRST: President Aquino has the prerogative to give the homecoming troops a heroes’ welcome – they deserve it — but he does not have to blame their near-capture by rebels to what he calls their unclear “mission impossible” under the aegis of the UN.

It is all right if the soldiers later recall to their friends and families how they managed the “great escape.” It does not look good, however, for the President to cast aspersions on a UN command before he gets a definitive post-operation report on the Golan standoff.

In a tactical situation, a soldier must obey orders of his commander quickly and without question, on the assumption that the leader has a broader view of the situation that the soldier does not have.

Malacañang should refrain from raising to international level its propensity to blame others for every difficult situation it encounters. And the President should not brag that our UN peacekeeping forces saved themselves by disobeying orders of their commander.

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FREE INTERNET!: This is unprecedented, especially for some 72 million phone users! Smart Communications and Sun Cellular are giving free Internet to their prepaid, postpaid and broadband subscribers from now through the Christmas season until Jan. 5.

A subscriber simply texts “FREE” to “9999” to start his free browsing each day. In my case, I switched off my Mobile Data just to make sure I am not inadvertently billed. I asked Wo Rosete, Smart’s media relations head, if their promo covers browsing, email, Tweeter and Facebook, and he said yes.

But he added that free Internet is not unlimited, that it is only up to 30 mb. For most people who do not browse with abandon, that is enough. But Facebook is on top of the 30 mb. FB is unlimited “all you can” during the promo period.

If adopted as a standard offering, free browsing is a game changer. Imagine what millions of Filipinos nationwide accessing the Internet and interacting with social media could do to change the political, social and economic landscape of the Philippines.

Combine the levelling of the prices of mobile phones with free Internet access — first announced by Smart boss Manny V. Pangilinan – plus a real Freedom of Information Act… Wow!

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 5, 2014)

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