Filipino leaders consisting of a crime-busting mayor, a Supreme Court justice and a military rebel have taken a stand against China’s trespass into the West Philippine Sea, while fifteen senators have tried to thwart the only viable defense against such aggression. As presidential aspirant Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and former Marine Captain Nicanor Faeldon reacted to the national security concern, the senators voted to disallow a treaty with the United States protecting the Philippines from foreign incursion.
Davao City Mayor Duterte, who rose above other Filipino leaders vying for the presidency by promising to wipe out criminality within three to six months of his election to the top post, took a stand against China’s land reclamation projects threatening Philippine sovereignty. He made no bones about bringing back the Americans he’s been known to call “arrogant”.
Incensed at the Chinese Coast Guard reportedly using water cannons on small Filipino fishing boats within their traditional fishing waters, Duterte issued the following statement on Inquirer in April 2015.
“If China continues to make trouble, there’s no other recourse for the Philippines but to seek the help of its ally, the United States. So, I’m telling China, do not stretch your territorial boundary further. Do not shoo away Filipino fishers because they’ve been there for a long while.”
The Philippine constitution is a dilemma for leaders because it disallows war as an instrument of national policy. To take an effective stand in an armed conflict means resorting to the obvious default action.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio of the Philippine Supreme Court has made himself iconic to the Filipino mind, through his exposé of the Chinese leaders’ stand regarding a nine-dashed line boundary encompassing most of the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea. As a lecturer on the international circuit, he has traveled across Europe, the Americas, and Australia to educate academics on the “grand theft of the global commons” positing China’s threat to “freedom of navigation”.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago in 2015 called for an inquiry into the activities of China in the disputed territorial waters. Then, in an unexpected twist, the senator revived an appeal she made in 2009 for all Filipino leaders to stand with her in abrogating the Philippine-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement (V.F.A.), her country’s only shield against foreign attack. In what pundits see as an attempt to score political points, Santiago posted a remark on her Facebook page.
“Philippine sovereignty, as well as the rights and dignity of its citizens suffered immensely during the 17 years of operation of the V.F.A. Let us assert our sovereignty and call for the total abrogation of this agreement.”
While the indignities she refers to pertain to the logistical consequences of operating a military base close to a populated area, they add a whiff of activism to her populist message. Also a presidential aspirant, she is hard-pressed to find relevance among Filipinos half of whom are under 25, brighter than her generation, and attuned to entrepreneurial leaders like Bill Gates.
Carpio’s Supreme Court, however, has declared the V.F.A. completely valid, and the 15 Filipino senatorial leaders’ stand on the issue moot. As if to stress a point, more than 100 U.S. Navy ships have docked at the Subic naval facilities in 2015, and two advanced nuclear-powered stealth submarines have visited in the first two weeks of 2016.
Filipino protesters under former military rebel Marine Captain Nicanor Faeldon returned to launch-point Palawan on Sunday, January 3, 2016, from their seven-day Freedom Voyage to Pag-asa, an island in the South China Sea. The student leaders and volunteers of Kalayaan Atin Ito (K.A.I.) or “This Freedom Is Ours” left southern Palawan on December 24, 2015, and reached Pag-asa island in the Spratly archipelago on December 26, where they camped for a three-day stand against China.
Rebel hero Captain Nicanor Faeldon, known for his 2003 Oakwood Mutiny against corrupt generals, subsequent incarceration and pardon by the new Filipino administration, attempted the Pag-asa excursion in 2012 but was stopped by government leaders not wanting to offend China. When he was finally allowed to make his island stand, Faeldon called it a continuation of the voyage that was stopped in 2012.
According to Reuters, Beijing sent its first group of tourists, mostly soldiers’ families, to the man-made Fiery Cross in the Spratly Islands, as it began recent test flights on the 10,000-foot runway. In response, Kalayaan Atin Ito spokeswoman Vera Joy Ban-eg announced the following.
“In April, we will make another voyage to our islands. This time, we will spend a month to visit all the islands we occupy in the Spratleys. We are encouraging all patriotic Filipinos to join us and fight for our territory.”
According to Rappler, Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach arrived in Manila early Saturday, January 23, for her much-anticipated Filipino homecoming. When asked at the pageant, “Do you think the U.S. should have a military presence in your country?” Pia answered that she had no problem with it.
As with other leaders, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago went out of her way to congratulate 26-year-old Wurtzbach on Twitter.
“Congratulations, @piawurtzbach! You are regal. But from what I’ve heard, we need to talk. See you! #MissUniverse2015″
To stand up to the senator’s pseudo-nationalistic xenophobia, Wurtzbach needs only Duterte’s pragmatism and common sense as ammunition.
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