POSTSCRIPT / April 2, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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China issues could hurt Duterte’s bets

THE PROPENSITY of President Duterte to side with Chinese in resolving conflicts with Filipinos may just spoil the chances of his senatorial and other candidates in the May 13 midterm elections.

Foreign policy is supposed to serve domestic public interests. When the President, who is the country’s spokesman in foreign affairs, is seen as being partial to, say, China in settling issues that impact on Filipinos, there could be negative political repercussions.

The President’s alacrity in defending or siding with the Chinese against his own countrymen even on gut issues is not lost on Filipinos preparing to cast their votes for 12 senators, 297 congressmen and local officials down the line.

Filipinos who despise or disagree with Duterte’s pro-China stance and his brutal style of governance, but who cannot vent their frustration on him, may just take it out instead on his candidates, especially those running for the Senate.

Unless they say otherwise, his 13 (baker’s dozen!) candidates for the Senate — whose 2/3 concurring vote is required to ratify treaties and other international agreements — are presumed to be toeing the President’s line on foreign relations. On that point, they may rise or fall with him.

While the name Rodrigo Roa Duterte is not on the May ballot, the midterm polls are building up to be a referendum on the President’s three-year-old administration. In 40 days, the polls will show if his pro-China bias has public support.

The President has not explained enough his not objecting in strong terms to China’s continued control of Panatag (Scarborough) shoal that has been a traditional fishing ground of generations of Filipinos – a fact affirmed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

If Duterte and his Senate ticket have to accompany the fishermen to Panatag to ease the distress of their families and dramatize his administration’s concern, they should. Instead, his fisheries bureau merely advises Filipinos to suspend their forays into the shoal.

Duterte must also explain his failure to convince his friends in Beijing to stop the “cabbage tactic” harassment of the peaceful Palawan island-community of Pagasa, where the Philippine flag has flown proudly even before Duterte became Davao mayor in 1988.

For that matter, Duterte and his candidates must convince voters of the wisdom of their watching helplessly as an aggressive neighbor, dangling promises of massive loans and investments, builds up and militarizes islets in the West Philippine Sea.

Closer to home, Duterte must also end the preferential hiring of Chinese workers – depriving a great number of Filipinos of needed jobs – in projects with Chinese financing. The wholesale distribution of working visas to Chinese tourists must stop.

With unemployment on the rise, the labor department must publish a list of the jobs that have been given to Chinese mainlanders, because – according to the labor secretary – Filipinos allegedly either cannot do or do not want to do the type of work involved.

If they can, Duterte’s candidates may want to help explain the hocking to China of patrimonial assets to secure loans. The mortgage, described by critics as traitorous, raises the possibility of future generations losing strategic or resource-rich areas in the event of a default.

The Duterte team better study more carefully the experience of a parade of countries hungry for development that had been lured by supposedly easy Chinese loans into a debt trap.

 Bets who snub public debates criticized

ONE problem is that some candidates are afraid to open themselves to public scrutiny, feeling more secure just clambering up the President’s bandwagon. Many of them refuse to participate in debates organized by the media, the academe and civic groups.

It is bad for a candidate to run away from a public debate, especially in a country where political events are spectator sports. Also, in the tradition of the sabungan (cockfight arena), the game fowl that runs away loses even if it has not sustained a fatal hit.

Back in Angeles City, the cabalen are also talking of a local “debt trap” and politicos shunning debates.

One incident was last March 22, when Vice Mayor Bryan Nepomuceno (who is running for mayor) and his running mate, Edu Pamintuan, did not show up at the debate sponsored by the Angeles University Foundation.

Mayoral candidate Alex Cauguiran of the Partido Kambilan said the duo’s snubbing the event was a “direct insult to organizers and the public.”

“Candidates must join public debates to help voters make the right choices, especially those initiated by non-partisan sectors, especially the academe,” he said. “Unless a matter of life-and-death, personal reasons (not to appear) must bow down to public interest.”

Kambilan is Pampanga’s biggest political party led by Gov. Lilia Pineda. Pardon the tongue-twister, but Kambilan (literally “kalasag” or shield) is acronym for “Kapanalig at Kambilan ding Memalen Pampanga”.

Aside from Cauguiran, the candidates who joined the March 22 debate were his vice mayoral partner Maricel “Marang” Morales, as well as mayoral candidate Carmelo “Pogi” Lazatin and his running mate Vicky Vega.

Another public debate initiated by the Holy Angel University’s Criminal Justice Organization for Public Service (CJOPS) scheduled on March 26 had to be cancelled after Nepomuceno and Lazatin declined the invitation.

But when the Rotary Angeles Kuliat held a public debate on March 5 for mayoral bets, all candidates participated.

The debates would give Nepomuceno a chance to explain why the city has accumulated a debt of P2.3 billion, requiring a yearly payment of P273 million, while allocating only P4 million for medicines, and P11 million for medical supplies at the Ospital ning Angeles this year.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 2, 2019)

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