POSTSCRIPT / April 8, 2021 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Duterte needs wider counsel on WPS tiff

PRESIDENT Duterte should come out of his Davao redoubt and seek wider consultation on the escalating dispute over military outposts built by China in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, a situation that could explode into an armed confrontation.

In his brief weekly appearances on TV showing him presiding over a meeting, the President looks tired, unsteady in gait and halting in speech. This does not bode well for a nation in crisis.

Duterte badly needs help in crafting a national survival program to prevent this nation of 110 million from being gobbled up by an expansionist neighbor, and save it from the crippling effects of a raging pandemic and a shrinking economy.

Only the deaf and the blind cannot hear the people’s cries and sense their desperation.

We think the President should initiate a non-partisan national security consultation to which he can invite past presidents, legislative and civic leaders with known probity and whose patriotism is beyond question, as well as experts in security matters, economics and public health.

Although a novice in power diplomacy, Duterte has been relying mostly on his instincts and the advice of a coterie of generals and politicians propping him up in his affair with China President Xi Jinping, who has mastered his psychology to be able to influence his executive decisions.

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DUTERTE’S subalterns who hold the fort in Manila have been trying to scare away the Chinese dragon creeping up on the Philippines’ EEZ by tossing verbal firecrackers at it – with zero effect.

The foreign office has been sending countless diplomatic protests over the Chinese encroachments into Philippine maritime areas. It may soon run out of paper as China’s embassy ignores the notes being sent by Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. in addition to his tweets.

The protests being sent are clear and direct enough. One said, for instance, that the Chinese vessels’ “swarming and threatening presence creates an atmosphere of instability” and infringes on Philippine sovereignty.

The strong language only reaped similarly strong reaction from the Chinese. Where and when will the escalation of the verbal exchange end?

Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo had his own fiery contribution. He warned that the standoff over the flotilla risked “unwanted hostilities that both countries would rather not pursue.” He cited the motherhood statement that “our sovereignty is non-negotiable” eliciting zero reaction.

Why does not Duterte himself speak up? The other day, only his spokesman said for him: “Whatever differences we have with China will not define our bilateral relations and will not be an obstacle to the overall positive trajectory of our bilateral friendly relations and our deepening cooperation in pandemic response, including vaccine cooperation, and in post-pandemic economic recovery.”

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TRYING to recover the ground it lost during the Trump administration, Washington now seems to be more audible in its avowal of support of Manila in its verbal clash with Beijing.

Reacting to Manila’s protests and Washington’s declaration of readiness to come to the succor of its treaty ally, Beijing has come around to saying that no one can drive away its militia boats, which it says are fishing vessels seeking shelter in bad weather, from the Julian Felipe Reef and nearby isles because they are within China’s sovereign territory.

By making that assertion, China has drawn a bold red line and served notice that the Philippines, the US and whoever will join the fray, could be starting a regional conflict that could spread, (we fear) much like the coronavirus that sprang from China and ignited a global crisis.

• ‘Bulletin’ editor Jun Icban writes 30

CRISPULO Icban Jr., editor-in-chief of Manila Bulletin, died Friday at age 85. We were told earlier that he was already recuperating from a two-week bout with COVID-19, so we were surprised when informed that pneumonia, a treacherous killer, caught up with him.

To me, he had always been Jun Icban (not Cris as new acquaintances called him) since our days in the pre-martial rule Manila Times where he was one of the sub-editors when I jumped from campus journalism to join Asia’s then largest circulated English-language daily.

In Jun, who had a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from UP, a master’s from Syracuse in New York, and a Nieman fellowship at Harvard, I saw critical copy-editing that produced clearer and balanced news stories, engaging features, and editorials marked by depth, logic and relevance to real life.

As chair of our Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) based in the Clark Freeport in Pampanga since its founding in 2004, Jun was even-handed, ever protective of the economic interests and professional growth of the working press. His passing leaves a void in Philippine journalism.

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MANY people wonder why we say a newspaperman “writes  30” when he dies. There are many explanations. Mine is simple, but not short.

In those days when there was no Internet yet, correspondents filed their stories via telegrams or cables – usually in takes of two or three short paragraphs per page, not in one long sweeping narration. This allowed rush bulletins of other stories a chance to be inserted in the queue.

One must be able to tell a clear and complete story in those first three paragraphs, with the details supplied in succeeding takes. After the last line of the last paragraph in the last take or page, the sender typed “XXX” to signify end of story.

Later on, instead of typing “XXX” (which happens to be the roman number for “30”, some innovative (meaning bored) individuals sometimes wrote “30” in the place of the roman equivalent.

So when a newsman writes “30” or “thirty”, he has written his last sentence, his last story. In a somewhat morbid application, when he dies, he “writes 30” to his life story. We can also say “writes thirty” but a generally accepted editorial style in writing numbers is to use figures and not spell out the number except when it is single-digit (numbers one to nine).

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 8, 2021)

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