POSTSCRIPT / April 14, 2015 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Sonny, be careful. That’s Pancho Villa!

DE CAMPANILLA: “A lawyer by the name of Pancho Villaraza facilitated the transaction and talked to Associate Justices (Jose) Reyes and (Francisco) Acosta, and each of them allegedly received P20 million for the TRO they issued.”

So stated Sen. Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes as he asked in a resolution for a Senate inquiry into what he claimed was the bribing of Court of Appeals magistrates to issue a Temporary Restraining Order on the Ombudsman’s suspension of Makati Mayor Junjun Binay.

With Trillanes now being more specific in his allegation, the running battle between him and Vice President Jojo Binay may finally come to a head. More so with the dragging in of a de campanilla lawyer into the case.

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TROs FOR SALE?: Trillanes impresses us as a brave man. We expect him to be honorable enough to repeat his bribery accusation outside the Congress and not hide under the cover of parliamentary immunity.

He should also prove his other claim that Binay paid P5 million more to justices Reyes and Acosta of the CA’s sixth division when the Ombudsman, Department of the Interior and Local Government, and Department of Justice did not recognize the TRO.

“This was purportedly the reason why the concerned CA division issued the writ of preliminary injunction with undue and inordinate haste, long before its TRO is supposed to elapse,” Trillanes was reported to have said.

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BIG BROTHER: Hearing big brother President Barack Obama and, before him, the commander of US Pacific Forces accusing China of bullying the Philippines and other smaller countries in neighboring waters, somebody said the US is dragging us into a proxy war.

I see the opposite. Many of us worried Filipinos are the ones trying to drag a reluctant US into tangling with China, the casus belli being the red dragon’s gobbling up some long-held reefs, shoals and isles within our 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

The reality, however, is that the US is neither willing nor ready to wage war against its biggest and most valuable economic partner – and creditor – on this side of the Pacific.

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CHINA’S EVERYWHERE: The two giants’ dread of war is mutual.

The current dispensation in China, which historically has the fortune of being able to wait for weighty problems to solve themselves over time, will not be foolish to ruin one of its biggest markets.

Trade between the two nations adds up to $580 billion annually. China’s products of every kind have penetrated every nook and cranny of the world. Even the White House commissary, we were told, is stocked with items proudly labelled Made in China.

When I was residing in the San Francisco Bay Area during Marcosian martial rule one reminder to us by old-timers was to be kind and deferential to the local Chinese. You never know, we were warned, if you are talking to your future landlord.

The mighty US, we read somewhere, owes China to the tune of $1.3 trillion. Of course, that is more a problem of Beijing the creditor than of Washington.

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OBAMA BROADSIDE: The statement of Mr. Obama that sort of lifted the spirit of Filipinos was made last Thursday at a town hall event in Kingston, Jamaica, on his way to a Caribbean summit where he hoped to reassert American influence in Latin America.

Mr. Obama expressed concern over China’s use of its “sheer size and muscle” to push around small countries like the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea (part of which we had renamed West Philippine Sea).

China has justified its building artificial islands in disputed areas, saying it was needed to safeguard its sovereignty in the mineral-rich waters southwest of the mainland.

“Where we get concerned with China is where it is not necessarily abiding by international norms and rules and is using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions,” Mr. Obama said. “We think this can be solved diplomatically, but just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn’t mean that they can just be elbowed aside.”

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THE MESSAGE: That was just rhetoric meant to reassure the bullied small states looking up to the big brother.

It does not mean the US will attack China if it persists on reclaiming and building up Philippine shoals and reefs into strategic outposts of an expansionist power.

At best, it is Washington’s way of reiterating its overhead message to Beijing that the two of them should talk and that, in the meantime, China must go slow and not jeopardize their common burgeoning market in the region.

The formal contract that could impel the US to jump to the succor of its long-time friend and ally in a conflict is the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

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TRIGGER NEEDED: But even that treaty is not enough reason for a reluctant ally to spring into action. Under the MDT, instant retaliation comes only in the event of an armed attack in the “metropolitan areas” of the Philippines.

Reclaiming and taking over scattered shoals and driving away Filipino fishermen without firing shots does not look like an “armed attack”.

The only sure trigger we can think of is if Chinese forces fire at and hit US personnel in the area, whether disputed or not. Or Filipinos may try drawing hostile fire, then call for help.

In short, let us not lean too much on US assurances of defensive succor. The MDT, despite its having been ratified or concurred in by the Senates of both countries, is insufficient reason for the US to act militarily to stop Chinese land-grabbing.

There has to be something more compelling to justify instant US retaliation or to create a situation to prompt a US congressional process leading to an armed response to Chinese provocative acts.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 14, 2015)

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