Troubles on the West Philippine Sea: how far is enough?

President Aquino should not have graced the 13th Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day celebration. Given the increasingly tense situation in the South China Sea, the country’s not exactly friends with China at the moment. China knows that. It is the aggressor from the Philippines’ point of view, hence the President’s absence would’ve been merely regarded as consistent to the fact. On the Philippine side, the best that it could describe it’s state of relationship with China is, suspended.  Trade is still OK though.  At worst, China’s reaction to his absence would just be a shrug because even if the President were around the Chinese Government won’t be calling off their ships that are now permanently deployed all over the place, inching closer and closer.  China is a signatory of UNCLOS but not for all it’s provisions which is why it can legally ignore international arbitration on those points. So one wonders why the organizers didn’t cancel the Filipino-Chinese commemoration this year. I think that they realize that Philippine society is essentially a polite society.

In big house parties like weddings, happening especially in the countryside, almost the entire village go as “guests”, invited or not, friend, stranger, or enemy. After the party, having had their fill, you’d hear plenty of these “guests” making snide remarks, about the food, the newly-weds (if it’s a wedding), etc. Hosts are too polite to show strangers and enemies out the door at first sight of them. In fact, they’re distressed when they don’t have more to fill the gastronomic penchants of “guests”. Weirdly polite, Filipinos generally are, and suggestive of a highly-tolerant culture.

But, at some point, with China continuing what it’s doing, and this is bound to happen, the Philippine Government would have to call China out, not because it is itching for war but out of self respect. The US Government won’t do it for the Philippines. The responsibility rests on the Philippine Government.

That said, the question now is how far into the waters before we say enough is enough?  Like what the bullied principled man whom Kenny Rogers sings of in ‘The Coward of the County‘ realized,

I promised you, Dad
Not to do the things you’ve done
I walk away from trouble when I can
Now please don’t think I’m weak
I didn’t turn the other cheek.
Papa, I should hope you understand
Sometimes you gotta fight
When you’re a man.

Without creating undue fear and panic, the government and media should start providing the Filipino public, especially the communities most affected (e.g. Zambales) a more honest and clearer picture of the situation.  Filipinos are all hoping and praying that the tension will be resolved soon, but we need to be prepared regardless.  And the quality of preparedness, as the country’s all too familiar with in it’s experience with typhoons is hinged on the quality of information provided.  Should the affected communities draw up an evacuation plan?  Should residents conduct drills?  identify hide outs? What to do when nuclear weapons are used?  Are responsible agencies prepared – the local Red Cross, Municipal Health Offices, Municipal DRRM Offices, etc.?  Are emergency resources in place within the localities? These and more are, should be, part of national and local governments’ disaster risk reduction plans. The lesson with Haiyan is that more lives could’ve been saved if the communities were more prepared. The Philippine-China sea row is a situation that’s volatile.  Both sides appear cordial but the tension between them has the potential to blow up any time.  The catalyst could be as mundane as rotting vegetables, considering that China isn’t budging.  The important thing on the Philippine side is communities are informed and prepared.

As for the US-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), it would be highly irresponsible to argue now that it’s unconstitutional. At the moment the country has little choice. Can the good people behind the argument guarantee the security of communities when mayhem actually breaks out? (If they insist on submitting arguments on the matter, they can look at the clause pertaining to rent, because for me, the US Government ought to given the economic disparity between the two. The rent could go to, say, an equity fund to upgrade host communities’ security capabilities — as part of the US military’s risk mitigation strategy, learning from the controversy surrounding it’s presence in their former bases in this country, one being how host communities e.g. Olongapo City was transformed into a red light district, which brought about the notion that presence of American troops equals the rape of Filipino women (although for me the City’s transformation is common sense economics.))

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