IN HIS play “The Merchant of Venice” (1596), Shakespeare had Jessica, the daughter of the Jewish money lender Shylock, saying: “Love is blind and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that themselves commit.”
That may be so, even in foreign affairs, but that is not enough reason for President Duterte to be blind to the obvious – that his runaway love affair with China needs quick rethinking as a growing number of concerned Filipinos raise questions about the direction it has taken.
Commitments and concessions to China made by Duterte will not only affect his remaining three years in office, but also succeeding administrations and generations.
As foreign affairs happens to be not Duterte’s strong suit, we want to see him seeking deeper non-partisan consultation, like with the National Security Council and respected thought leaders in and out of the Congress.
The Davao mayor is showing signs of being overwhelmed by the complications arising from his dalliance with China. After his rebuff from President Xi Jinping in their last dialogue in Beijing, he was reduced to asking even the press for suggestions.
The media were inquiring about Xi’s reiteration of China’s rejection of the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague – based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — when Duterte raised it in their Aug. 29 talks.
Pressed on what he would do, Duterte said: “If you can help by suggesting, is there any other suggestions? Or have you heard of any sane solution short of going to war with China saying ‘we will not budge’?”
It looks like Duterte has gone colorblind eating out of Xi’s hand. He now sees the landscape only in black and white, that the only way out of his stalemate with Beijing is either to yield to China’s position or go to war over it.
In a presscon Wednesday, Duterte recalled Xi’s reply to his raising the PCA ruling: “You know, our statement was: ‘We will not budge.’ We don’t want to discuss that because it’s ours. We own the property. Why should we talk to you?”
Duterte: “Out of courtesy, I said ‘Well, I will not, maybe, insist on your answer now. I am not satisfied with your answer, but I will not ask for any other answer. I’ll just remain where I am, where I started, considering that you are under stress by the incidents in Hong Kong.’”
In those last two minutes of play, the Philippines, with Rodrigo Duterte as captain, looked beaten.
How was the PCA ruling brought up? Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. said Wednesday at the Congress hearing on his department’s budget that the narration of presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, who said Duterte was apologetic, was a lie.
Locsin said: “The report that the President was apologetic in raising the arbitral award, that’s a total fabrication, in every aspect a complete lie. On the contrary, the President has in my experience… in his visits to China, always raised the arbitral award.”
Back to Duterte’s asking for suggestions, our advice is for him to pause and rethink his China policy before making another step forward. In the meantime, he should stop giving China any more concessions. He should protest every single aggressive move or intrusion Beijing makes.
At the same time, Duterte should work hard to win back old friends and allies that he junked in the mistaken belief that China could replace them in realizing his grandiose designs.
He should review all his China deals and freeze those that have hardly moved beyond the signing and the initial meetings. Projects that cannot be 50-percent completed during Duterte’s term should be dropped.
Duterte, an excited new president in 2016, swallowed the bait dangled by Xi, who promised massive loans, aid and investments. He must have imagined a Golden Age of Infrastructure materializing through the benevolence of China. Gullibility then translated to vulnerability.
Also, it will help if Duterte refrained from advertising his fear of China, or proclaiming to the world that the Philippines is no match to China’s military might and so must cower in its small corner whenever the Red Dragon makes its presence felt.
• Alien held at NAIA with infant in bag
THE PHILIPPINES was again in the news in the United States on Thursday when an American woman was caught about to fly out of Manila with an undocumented six-day-old Filipino boy hidden in her carry-on bag.
Authorities identified the woman as Jennifer Erin Talbot, 43, of Ohio. She had passed the immigration counter at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, without declaring the baby, and was already at the boarding gate waiting for her Delta Air flight when accosted.
She was presented to the press in handcuffs and wearing an orange detainee’s t-shirt. She hung her head, tears rolling down her cheeks, and just shook her head when reporters asked her questions.
Airline staff discovered the baby when they went through her oversized sling bag. She could not produce the required papers for the infant. The baby was turned over to the care of the social welfare department and the US embassy informed of the case.
Investigators said Talbot showed an affidavit, allegedly from the baby’s mother identified as a Maricris Dulap giving consent for the baby to travel to the US, but it was not signed. Talbot reportedly claimed to be the child’s aunt.
Manuel Dimaano of the national bureau of investigation said Dulap gave her baby to Talbot in Davao City but he could not say how the baby was taken out of the city which requires a clearance for infants being taken out of the city by foreigners.
Dimaano said Dulap told investigators she wanted to offer her baby for adoption, and that there was no indication that she had sold him. He said Talbot told officials she wanted to give him “a name and a church blessing.”
Talbot was charged with human trafficking, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.