POSTSCRIPT / August 20, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Wider consultation needed for Xi talks

BEFORE President Duterte flies to Beijing this month for crucial talks with China President Xi Jinping, he may want to improve his negotiating stance by seeking wider counsel beyond his coterie of loyal advisers.

Commitments made during Duterte’s dialogue with Xi will not only impact on the direction of his remaining three years in office, but may also lock succeeding administrations and generations to onerous agreements entered into in exchange for short-term benefits.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told the media Friday that it was all up to Duterte to raise anything in the dialogue, because he is free to do so — which means that the nation’s fate, for better or for worse, is wholly in the Mayor’s hands.

While the President is our spokesman in foreign affairs, we would feel more secure seeing him in deeper non-partisan consultation, like with the National Security Council and respected thought leaders in and out of the Congress.

We dread seeing, for instance, a situation like the President’s opening, out of friendship with Xi, overfished Philippine waters to overwhelmingly numerous Chinese fishermen via an oral agreement that actually legalized their poaching.

China has just lifted a three-month fishing ban. Its fleets of fishing vessels will soon be swarming all over their old haunts, including our Panatag (Scarborough) shoal off Zambales and some fishing grounds in the Spratlys.

A well-studied fishing agreement, one that ensures fairness, reciprocity and respect – not one framed in the mind of just one man out to please a friend – is among the output that we would like to see emerging from the Duterte-Xi talks.

Panatag is of serious concern, not only in the context of food security but also of China’s possibly militarizing it — so close to the national capital and Subic Bay — and firming up a strategic triangle in the SCS with the two other points being the Paracels and the Spratlys.

Other subjects mentioned as possible agenda items:

*Duterte’s invoking the 2016 award of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague invalidating China’s claim over some 88 percent of the SCS, including areas in the West Philippine Sea.

*Joint exploration for mineral resources in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. This is about something else, but it reminds us of the suspension in 2017 of Beijing-funded projects after the scuttling of a questioned telecoms deal with Chinese IT firm ZTE Corp.

*The slow delivery of promised loans and grants for Duterte’s pet infra projects. Bloomberg says at least seven countries have run into trouble with China-funded projects over alleged corruption, heavy debt loads, environmental damage and a reliance on Chinese labor.

*Repeated intrusions into Philippine territorial seas of Chinese warships with their radio identification systems turned off and without the required prior clearance.

*The artificial islands built and militarized by China in the Philippine EEZ in an unfriendly act that has damaged the maritime ecosystem and posed a continuing threat to national security.

 Gina Lopez, Earth Warrior, 65

FROM the notes of Kristine Sabillo of ABS-CBN News: Whether it was providing for the needy, protecting the environment, or promoting meaningful change, Gina Lopez said she always followed her heart. It was the principle she lived by until she passed away on Monday. She was 65.

The second of seven children of Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr. and Conchita La’O, Gina was born on Dec. 27, 1953. In an essay, she described her childhood as being warm, full of love and a lot of fun. Still, she longed for something else.

While studying in the United States, Lopez tried meditation. “I felt something I had not felt in church or in school. I had a feeling of Divine Love. That changed my life forever,” she wrote in an essay describing her entering an ashram, a monastery or place for spiritual retreat.

At 18, Lopez left her life of privilege to become an Ananda Marga yoga missionary. After serving in Portugal and India, she spent 11 years in Africa.

“I was constantly looking for money to survive and take care of the children I was responsible for,” she recounted working as a teacher in yoga-run, pre-primary schools. In India, Lopez “lived as the poor lived” and learned “how not to be wasteful.” When she returned to Manila after 20 years of missionary work, Lopez devoted her time to social causes.

In 1994, back with her family and their flagship business, Lopez headed the ABS-CBN Foundation. Among her pioneering projects was Bantay Bata 163, which rescues children victims of domestic violence.

Lopez also produced educational TV shows, drummed up support for micro-entrepreneurs, and tapped on the Filipinos’ bayanihan spirit to support medical missions, feeding programs, and other outreach projects.

Lopez, however, is best known as an environmental activist. Through Bantay Kalikasan, she pushed the rehabilitation of the 2,700-hectare La Mesa watershed and the development of the La Mesa Eco-Park. In 2010, Lopez headed the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission.

Turning 60 in 2014, she retired from ABS-CBN Foundation. Two years later she took on the challenge of heading the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the Duterte administration.

The country saw an outspoken and principled public servant. Lopez ordered all mining firms inspected for compliance with safety laws, and closed down violators. She stirred opposition among those adversely affected, but found support among religious leaders, indigenous groups, and environment advocates.

In May 2017, the Commission on Appointments rejected Lopez’s nomination as DENR secretary, despite her appeal that the environment should be prioritized over business interests, and despite Duterte’s public remarks supporting her.

Until her death, Lopez was active in promoting sustainable development and lifestyles. In her Philippine STAR columns, she often talked about meditation, lifestyles through nutritious food and exercise, and natural remedies.

“One of the biggest mistakes of humanity is to think we are these physical bodies and life ends when this physical body deteriorates,” she said. “The truth is that we are spirit. Living now gives us the opportunity to ‘hone’ our spirit so it is more aligned with higher forces of truth and light.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 20, 2019)

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