POSTSCRIPT / April 16, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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The Hague decision hangs over Duterte

PRESIDENT Duterte has to decide quickly how to bring up with his Chinese counterpart the arbitral award that invalidated in 2016 China’s expansive claim over much of the South China Sea and affirmed the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its maritime area.

Although Beijing refuses to recognize the decision handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, the award impinges on Philippines-China relations, particularly on the legal status of disputed areas and the exploitation of their mineral resources.

President Duterte has avoided invoking the arbitral ruling, which Beijing continues to ignore, saying he would rather explore ways of maximizing mutually beneficial dealings with the big neighbor through trade, investments and people-to-people contact.

In a few days, President Duterte will be in Beijing again, this time in the awkward positon of a borrower under domestic pressure to bring up the touchy topic of sovereign rights with its creditor that is keen on tightening its hold on patrimonial assets submitted as loan collateral.

Duterte will be in Beijing to attend a forum on the Belt and Road Initiative of the economic giant linking client-states in Asia through Africa. Malacañang said Duterte will hold, on the side, a one-on-one with his friend President Xi Jinping.

The President’s spokesman said the meeting would give Duterte a chance to finally raise the PCA ruling. Could he muster the courage to do that and risk irritating his new benefactor and creditor, after he had quarreled with, and even cursed, some of the country’s long-time friends and allies?

The window of opportunity to bring up the arbitral ruling is small and getting smaller. If Duterte does not raise it in Beijing, he could come under political pressure back home to explain in the few days leading to the May 13 midterm elections.

When asked why he does not use The Hague card in his game with Xi and protest China’s aggressive buildup and militarization of features in Philippine waters, Duterte simply assured his countrymen that “at the right time” he would invoke the arbitral ruling.

It appears that now – in his meeting with Xi before the May 13 elections – is the right time.

If after the BRI forum and then after the May 13 polls he still had not played The Hague card, whatever claims Duterte makes about his China connections might just fall on deaf ears. Other issues, and events, would have overtaken him by then.

The China question has become a matter of national honor among a growing number of voters as indicated in discussions in media and elsewhere. Duterte’s pro-China bias hurts his candidates – especially those for the Senate, whose advice and consent are needed in the conduct of foreign relations.

Malacañang is aware of the political flak. That is why it is suddenly spouting patriotic statements, at times even warning China to “lay off” Pag-asa island (part of Kalayaan town of Palawan) and reminding Beijing that features in the Philippines’ EEZ “are ours.”

Whether or not this new-found courage of the Duterte administration to confront China is just for show – so as not to alienate voters — remains to be seen.

 Just leap, and He will catch you!

WITHOUT meaning to intrude into something deeply personal, we hope there is a very close friend of President Duterte who cares enough for him and the nation to invite him to a Holy Retreat during the Semana Santa.

We know too well that the farther and longer a Catholic strays from the Mass and the sacraments, the more difficult it is for him to find his way back. Pero huwag na pong magatubili. Just leap, and He will be there to catch you!

May the President’s true friends pray hard for him, in effect praying for our nation. There is still time for his going into a Holy Retreat. Somebody please pick this up and arrange for his disappearing for a much-needed rest and soul-searching.

By the way, the gospel today, Holy Tuesday, tells of Judas Iscariot’s impending betrayal of Christ, selling his master to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver hours after He had gathered the apostles for their Last Supper and final commissioning.

Even as Christ broke bread and sipped wine with them for the last time, He knew that one of them was going to deliver Him that night to the posse led by the high priests.

He knew that what had been prophesied would soon come to pass, and He was humanly afraid of it. As the Son of God, He could have prevented or postponed it, but He yielded to the will of the Father and accepted the bitter cup.

Judas’ betrayal and his being a central actor in that episode in Gethsemane raised for the nth time the question: Was it a quirk of human frailty or was Judas merely a victim of fate?

Was Judas, who was the group’s sort of treasurer, blinded by the glint of silver, or was he blackmailed into squealing on the boss, or was he playing out a role assigned by fate or destiny?

Without Judas, could there have been the crucifixion and the eventual redemption of mankind from original sin? Did the storyline of Christ require a Judas acting according to a pre-ordained script?

But fate or the notion of predestination wipes away the concept of sin and accountability – and the consequences of damnation or redemption. Without faith and forgiveness, what part will Religion play in our lives?

These questions have been discussed spiritedly back and forth by great minds through the ages, and it seems we will never know for sure – except by faith.

But above the swirl of questions and proffered answers, we believe in accountability, as well as the possibility of forgiveness and moral rebirth.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 16, 2019)

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