POSTSCRIPT / May 23, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Rody finally raises arbitration ruling

FINALLY, President Rodrigo Duterte confronted his Chinese counterpart with the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague that generally favored the Philippines’ legal challenge to China’s expansive claim over most of the South China Sea.

And look where such audacity, right in Beijing during the recent Belt and Road Forum, had brought him.

After China President Xi Jinping shot back to his face a threat of war if the Philippines dares to dig for oil in its maritime areas that are also being claimed by China – President Duterte found himself alone, virtually defenseless.

The threat has not been withdrawn – so we take as true and accurate the revelation of President Duterte that XI warned him that China would go to war if the Philippines insisted on its rights under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that both countries have signed with more than 165 other UN members.

Three days after Mr. Duterte disclosed China’s war threat, Beijing has not denied it. Neither has Malacañang’s interpreters of presidential statements clarified what he said or meant in his speech in Davao City last Friday.

Filipinos grown familiar with Dutertespeak will understand better the broadcast versions of his Taglish narration. (Sorry, we have no provision for translation.) Here is an account by ABS-CBN, never mind if Mr. Duterte questions the TV network’s credibility:

“I said, Mr. Xi Jinping, I will insist that it is ours and we will drill oil. Sinabi ko talaga harap-harapan, that is ours and we intend to drill oil there. My view is I can drill the oil.

“Ang sagot sa akin, ‘Well, we are friends. We don’t want to quarrel with you. We want to maintain warm relationship, but if you force the issue we will go to war.’

Ano pa bang sabihin ko?” (On other occasions, the Commander-in-Chief has conceded that Filipinos would be massacred in a war with China.)

Mr. Duterte went on: “Pinaga-awayan natin, ‘akin ito’. Sabi mo, ‘iyo ‘yan.’ Eh sabi ko, ‘atin ito, I’ll drill the oil.’ Sabi niya, ‘please do not do that because that is ours.’ ‘That is according to you.’ ‘But I have the arbitral.’ ‘Yes, but ours is historical and yours is legal of recent memory.’

“‘Amin mga Ming, Ming dynasty pa.’ ‘But that’s too far away. It’s almost alien to us to hear those words because we were never under Chinese jurisdiction.’ Sabi niya, ‘Well, if you force the issue, we’ll be forced to tell you the truth.’

“‘So, what is the truth?’

“‘We will go to war. We will fight you!’”

• Indeed, war is not an option

PRESIDENT Duterte has said time and again that the possibility of an armed confrontation with China is the reason why he chooses to pursue friendly relations and seek amicable resolution of disputes with the neighbor.

Besides, as he has lamented, he is not sure if even the Philippines’ supposed ally the United States would come to its succor if the former colony were attacked. The two countries’ Mutual Defense Treaty has not been tested in war since its signing in 1951.

Doubts about the readiness of the US to make good its security commitments despite the many wars where Filipinos and Americans had fought side by side — not to mention his unpleasant brushes with the Yankees — have contributed to Mr. Duterte’s disenchantment with America.

China has seized the moment. Its tireless Ambassador Zhao Jianhua in Manila caught Mr. Duterte on the rebound.

While Washington in the midst of a presidential election campaign was either scolding Manila or not paying attention, Beijing was assiduously courting the mayor-suddenly-turned-president.

Mr. Duterte may have simple needs in his still provincial lifestyle, but his being thrust into the presidency on a populist platform has suffused him with a grand dream of achieving peace and prosperity for the masses within the six short years given him.

That may explain why he seems to be in a hurry. Witness his promise to lick the drug, crime and corruption problems in six months, later adjusted to one year — which we doubt is achievable given the complexity of the issues and the inertia of the past.

Lack of time and resources may hobble his agenda-in-a-hurry, including his “Build! Build! Build!” infrastructure program. This has pushed him to the waiting arms of a China promising massive investments, loans and aid.

Skeptics may think Mr. Duterte is not exactly equal to the tasks he has assigned to himself. The spirit is fired up, but the body may not be up to the job. That is why the team he has assembled is crucial to his success.

After President Xi showered this small neighbor with tantalizing promises to help Mr. Duterte realize his dream for the country — then jabbed him with a war threat to force him to toe Beijing’s line, even somebody as tough as “Digong” must have been shocked.

The challenge is not aimed at Rodrigo Duterte alone, but to the Filipino people. Clearly, the President now needs all the help that can be mustered in and outside the country.

With due respect, we urge the President to rethink things, including his domestic priorities, his foreign policy, his demeanor as Chief of State, and his attitude toward human life.

As a seasoned fighter, he knows that before going to battle, one has to know his allies, enemies, potential allies, and potential enemies – and strategize accordingly. The Commander must now make a wise – shrewd, if we may suggest – sorting out of all forces on the field.

He should exert effort to keep the country’s friends of long standing and renew commitments to solemn international covenants.

As he deals with the reality of an unmasked warlike expansionist China, President Duterte can assume that all his countrymen are his allies or potential allies.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 23, 2017)

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