MANY concerned Filipinos are horrified seeing China’s leaders and diplomats running circles around our one-year-old President and his three-month-old sidekick of a Foreign Secretary.
The diplomatic duo looks on helplessly as some of our outlying islets are being occupied, enlarged and armed with weapons disguised as navigational aids – with the artificial islands to be claimed at the right time as part of China.
Probably not wanting to betray his own fears, President Duterte plays down the occupation (a preliminary step toward physical possession), saying that his new friend China President Xi Jinping has assured him that Beijing would not do such an ugly thing.
We heard the same lullaby when China grabbed Panatag (Scarborough) shoal off Zambales in 2012. We hear the same refrain as the Chinese linger on Sandy Cay, a sandbar within the 12-nautical mile Philippine territorial sea off Pagasa island that is home to a Filipino barangay in the Spratlys.
“China assured me that they will not build anything there,” the President told reporters in Malacañang Park Monday night. “They called me up, the ambassador, we assure you that we are not building anywhere there.” (He was referring to Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.)
Wonder of wonders, President Duterte believed their bona fides! So did Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano, who sometimes doubles as China’s spokesman when Mr. Duterte is not available.
Until last night, however, Malacañang has not shown a binding document affirming the supposed assurance of the honorable intentions of Chinese lurking in the sandbar just 2.5 nautical miles from Pagasa island.
This is one of those times when we wish our President, aside from being brave, were shrewd — cunning to a fault – in dealing with Chinese bearing promises of $24-billlion in investments, loans and aid that some analysts warn could lead to a debt trap.
While a fat finder’s fee for the $9-billion loans may be collected during the Duterte regime, succeeding administrations will carry the burden of paying the gargantuan borrowings.
Asked why the Chinese were hanging around in the sandbar so close to barangay Pagasa, the President said: “Nagpa-patrol, kasi magkaibigan man kami.”
That confirmed the Coast Guard disclosure that the Commander-in-Chief has ordered them to work out with their Chinese counterparts the joint patrolling of Philippine waters – oblivious of the fact that the two neighbors are locked in a territorial dispute.
The patrol plan is like allowing a suspected burglar to sleep on the porch and freely reconnoiter in the yard, checking doors, windows and only god knows what else. Pretty soon he would decide to stay and start telling neighbors he owned one wing of the house.
• Making up for weak Phl military
PRESIDENT Duterte has said many times that his country, although rich in human and natural resources, does not have the military might to fend off interlopers – his way of rationalizing the need for a peaceful, and beneficial, modus vivendi with the next-door bully.
Why then does he not call Manila’s many friends or at least tap their good offices to help loosen the smothering embrace of Beijing?
False pride and misplaced bravado might be holding him back. Or maybe he simply does not have the diplomatic skill and sophistication to do that.
This contortion needed may be too painful for him, especially after he had pushed aside the award of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague favorable to the Philippines, and badmouthed tested allies who could have helped keep China at bay.
Instead of reaching out to the wider community of nations, Mr. Duterte continues to isolate himself after sinking into the waiting embrace of the Chinese.
Are we now seeing the scary consequences of acclaiming a leader who, pardon our saying it, does not seem to have the hindsight and the foresight to see beyond his accustomed parochial perspective?
To make matters worse, he attempts to lead 100-plus million Filipinos without first determining where the nation should go, how to get there, and then providing the nation with a road map.
China has seen this weakness of Mr. Duterte, and spotted the ease with which he could be tempted by short-term gratification. It looks like China’s initial promise of a $24-billion package has put him on a leash.
Will his Cabinet and advisers be able to rouse him from his one-night stand with China and goad him into diversifying into longer-term relationships with other countries? Will his economic managers lead him from the dark valleys of Davao to the sunlit peaks of Davos?
• China must stop drug flow to Phl
THE CLAIMED friendship with China is a key factor in the government’s anti-narcotics campaign. It is a wonder Beijing’s cooperation is not being aggressively sought by the Duterte administration.
Aside from the socio-economic and public health ramifications of the drug scourge, China should be scrutinized as a major component of the problem viewed as a supply-demand phenomenon.
The narcotics trade continues to flourish despite the stepped-up on-the-spot execution of suspected drug dealers and users. The killings appear to have minimal effects, much like trimming the branches of a giant tree without killing it.
So, why not go for the roots instead of the branches? Cut the major supply lines, and we might yet see a substantial withering of the branches and the leaves, eventually killing the tree.
There are data showing that the main sources of high-grade shabu (meth) is China, with the smuggling of big volumes being undertaken by syndicates in cahoots with corrupt officials. Also, local big-time shabu laboratories are invariably run by Chinese.
Yet we do not hear of Chinese suspects being imprisoned or, like small Filipino pushers and users, being shot dead. It would seem that even in the narcotics business, the administration is super-friendly to the Chinese. Why?
There is a clear need for the cooperation of China in attacking the supply side of the narcotics trade. If China’s leaders are truly friends of President Duterte and if the exporting of drugs to the Philippines is not a state-sponsored activity meant to subvert the Philippines, it should stop.
This is an issue that President Duterte must address now.