By Mauro Gia Samonte
The media continue to sizzle with the Julian Felipe Reef controversy, and it has begun to vex me no end.
Bobi Tiglao calls the narrative of Chinese maritime militia ships intruding into Philippine territory a hoax. An innocent story in my tabloid, Pwersa, narrates a meeting between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Philippine military in which the Chinese had clarified the mooring of those ships as taking refuge from bad weather and assured their Philippine counterparts that those vessels would leave when the weather cleared.
But a few dozen stayed behind to resume fishing. And this is where Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin Jr. made mountains out of molehills, calling the event aggression.
That’s certainly a serious charge, something I could not keep quiet on. If, indeed, that is aggression, then Filipinos have no choice but to fight?
God forbid. In the Second World War, Filipinos were made to fight America’s war with Japan and Manila ended up as the most devastated city in the world, next only to Warsaw, Poland.
I would like to think that what appears as a rising tension in what the liberals and Yellow Media have grown used to calling the West Philippine Sea is an artificial crisis, fanned by politicians who need pogi points for the 2022 elections.
It does seem convenient to seize upon the nationalistic content in the Julian Felipe Reef issue to propel one’s self into the limelight and thereby increase his chances at the polls, for senator perhaps, for congressmen or even for local posts for those who would be graduating from the Senate like Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd, Senators Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, Franklin Drilon and Grace Poe.
Most vociferous and intense among those agitating the people to war with China is former senior associate justice Antonio Carpio. Pulse Asia included him among those aspiring to be president in 2022, assigning to him a rating of .02 percent.
Still, the way Carpio and perennial partner Albert del Rosario in the push of American interest in the region have been making noise about the Julian Felipe Reef “Chinese aggression,” I’d hate to discount the possibility of the crisis exploding into a large-scale confrontation.
I hasten to grant, therefore, the worst-case scenario — that those sighted Chinese ships that dropped anchor in the area last month were indeed militia boats of the PLA — and granting even that such mooring constitutes Chinese intrusion into Philippine territory.
Question now is, are we to meet the aggression head-on and throw the entire nation into a war the Filipinos can never win or are we to summon our utmost expertise at statecraft and diplomacy if only to spare the people the horrors and devastation of war?
It is to the nation’s comfort that President Duterte has dealt with the crisis in a most quiet levelheaded manner, working out what he called a “complicated matter” with the Chinese leader, President Xi Jinping. For treading that path of friendly consultation, President Duterte has gotten the flak from critics, calling him “defeatist.”
But the alternative is unimaginable. If the world bully that is the United States has to push its Philippine ally one more time to get it fighting China as the Philippines did Japan in the Second World War, then it only betrays characteristic American cunning at having other people fighting its war one more time.
This is the core of the issue. Time and again I have stressed that the Philippines has no war to take up with China.
On the contrary, China to date has delivered optimum packages of assistance to Philippine development, like the two additional bridges across the Pasig River constructed entirely at China’s cost; the Kaliwa Dam project to deliver much needed water to Metro Manila; and in the Covid-19 pandemic, the programmed donation of some 2.5 million doses of Sinovac, 1.5 million doses of which have already been delivered.
It is America that has a beef with China because of its geopolitical and economic interests in the South China Sea. But America can’t fight China alone, as it could not war with Iraq, for instance, without getting the Coalition of the Willing, of which the Philippines was part, to fight with her.
America needs to embroil the Philippines in its war against China. And the way things are developing in the South China Sea, there is a strong possibility that the US could succeed in this ploy with the way Lorenzana and Locsin are doing their damn best to confuse, instead of illuminate, the issues.
Given such a situation, the late Dr. Jose P. Laurel, president of the wartime Philippine Republic, had this wisdom to share (LXV Dr. Laurel’s War Memoirs): “Military occupation gives rise to temporary allegiance of the inhabitants of the occupied territory to the occupying power in return for temporary protection.”
The period was the Second World War in the Pacific. A day after devastating the United States naval installations in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, Japan proceeded to bombard US military installations in the Philippines: Camp John Hay in Baguio; Clark Field in Angeles, Pampanga; Subic Bay in Zambales; and Sangley Point in Cavite.
Left by the Quezon entourage to go on exile in the United States, Dr. Laurel was assigned the unenviable task of facing up to the enemy: Was he to meet the aggression head-on? He chose, as he worded it in the same War Memoirs: “To tide the nation over to better times.”
If the Julian Felipe Reef controversy, as purveyors of war would have it, does plunge the nation into what now appears as a military confrontation with the Asian behemoth, it is to the best interest of Filipinos that their leader choose to pursue that primeval need of national survival, “of tiding the nation over to better times.”
On this aspect, President Duterte appears to be passing the test with flying colors.