POSTSCRIPT / April 14, 2019 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Will Locsin’s tough talk vs China work?

FOREIGN Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. is the solitary voice in the Cabinet publicly denouncing the neighborhood bully when it crosses the red line in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Are his blasts against China’s intrusions with prior clearance of President Duterte?

As Duterte balances his rhetoric between his Chinese benefactors and Filipinos wary of any hint of pro-China bias, Locsin’s tough talk can help draw attention away from the President’s lame reaction to the red dragon’s gobbling up bits and pieces of Philippine maritime areas.

In the homestretch of the May 13 midterm election — which is actually a referendum on the Duterte presidency — Locsin’s critical comments on China could water down any impression that the administration is partial to the Chinese versus Filipinos.

After netizen Xiao Chua posted April 4 on Twitter about China’s swarming around the Philippine island of Pag-asa (Thitu to the Chinese) in the Spratlys group, Locsin lost no time putting the blame on Beijing:

“When a country lets its countrymen swarm into foreign territory and does nothing to drive them out, it is deemed to have endorsed and in effect adopted that aggressive act against a foreign country.”

Aside from firing protests on the swarming of Pag-asa, Locsin reiterated in his public statements the same official view that the harassment by Chinese militia boats was illegal and a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty.

Replying to another tweet April 12 of Joaquin Pertierra who asked: “Sir, do we agree when under the current government, we became more open to China, then they took more advantage on our Islands?” Locsin said:

“No. They came in when we were rude under PNoy. And when we were welcoming under GMA; and clueless under FVR. What is disappointing is that despite our friendliness and uninterrupted friendship China continually embarrasses our govt by swarming all over OUR exclusive economic zone.”

Pertierra’s tweet was in connection with the statement of China Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang on Thursday that the Spratlys, which they call Nansha Islands, “are within China’s territory, for which we have sufficient historical and legal basis.”

China’s bluntly asserting its rights over the Spratlys, which include islets occupied by Filipinos, came after presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said that Manila has been dealing with Beijng with “diplomatic kindness,” hoping it will appreciate the gesture and leave Pag-asa alone.

Lu said: “For thousands of years, Chinese fishermen have been fishing in these waters in the South China Sea. Their rights should not be challenged.” (Unsaid was that long-time fishing in an area does not automatically confer ownership of the marine area or any nearby reef or island.)

But he left the door open: “We hope that the Philippine side can join us in properly managing the South China Sea issue, upholding peace and tranquility on the sea, and bringing more benefits to the two peoples.” He described the situation in disputed waters as “generally stable.”

Now, we wish Locsin could continue, as his daughter reportedly insists, tweeting about foreign policy without Dutertesque cursing. After all, while cusswords may lend color they do not add clarity to an exposition.

 Are pre-election surveys credible?

PULSE ASIA’S lastest survey showing a virtual shut-out of the opposition and the administration’s dominating the 12 senatorial slots in the May election has fanned fears that poll surveys are being used to condition the minds of voters.

Although still statistically within striking distance of the 12th slot, the Liberal Party’s Sen. Bam Aquino and former Cabinet secretary Mar Roxas were pushed down to the precarious 11th to 17th places in the nationwide survey conducted March 23-27.

Most of those in the top 16, who have a statistical chance of winning, are either former or incumbent members of the Congress, two of them independents and the others from four different parties.

Even with supporting surveys supposedly showing strong approval of President Duterte, Pulse Asia’s report raised eyebrows among the usual skeptics and those who have sensed a growing disenchantment with his administration.

 The top 11 slots were taken by Duterte’s candidates led by reelectionist senators Grace Poe (Ind.) and Cynthia Villar (NP). The 12th place went to Jinggoy Estrada (PMP) who has been adopted by the HnP party of the President’s daughter Davao Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio.

The 12 frontrunners appear to have been carried by their high awareness rating (97-99 percent), except for former MMDA chair Francis Tolentino (PDP-Laban) who rated only 90%. The flooding of the countryside with campaign tarps, as what Bong Go did aside from his omnipresence in media, must have helped also.

In the Philippines, elections are mainly popularity contests, which can explain why showbiz personalities and celebrities who may know nothing about lawmaking make it to the august hall of the Senate.

This may also explain the poor survey showing of the Otso Diretso team of the opposition. Except for Aquino and Roxas, the six others are new faces with awareness ratings in the bottom 27-38 percent range.

With the opposition’s dearth of funds and logistics and lack of a well-oiled party machine down to the grassroots, it is difficult for its neophyte senatorial candidates to project themselves across the archipelago and clinch the vote on Election Day.

The 1,800 survey respondents aged 18 years or older were asked who among the persons on a list of 62 persons shown to them they would vote for if the election were held that day. Those on the top of the list must have enjoyed an advantage.

It has been asked also how a random sample of 1,800 can represent a voting population of 60 million scattered among 81 provinces, one capital region, 146 cities and 1,488 towns with voters divided horizontally and vertically using various criteria.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 14, 2019)

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