I am not writing about anything new. I am just hoping that those who do not appreciate the vital nuances of geopolitics will have a better grasp. It is not that we can do much to change the world out there, but we must realize we have to do much more for ourselves in our nation.
It is not that the Philippines is not of importance to bigger players in the world. Our country is, thanks to its strategic location and global political dynamics that further enhance the value. As the giants of the East and the West continue their maneuverings for control – political, economic and military – the Philippines is situated in the center of the controversial arena.
Forbes Magazine, which is famous for tracking the wealthiest in the world, has just come out with the top twenty of the most powerful as well. In this special list, the powerful either have great wealth or have control of even greater wealth, and have no compunction leveraging their power and wealth to influence the world. It affirms the powers of personalities who are leaders of powerful countries, such as Putin of Russia, Trump of the US, Merkel of Germany, and Xi Jinping of China.
Rodrigo Duterte can possibly be in the top twenty but is not, and that is because the Philippines, despite its strategic location, is still a small fry in an ocean ruled by sharks. By character and by the attention he generates, President Duterte can be the most colorful, but not anywhere as powerful. That is because the nation he leads has yet to elevate its inherent power – its people and its resources – and not just its radical leadership. Power may manifest itself through the leader of a nation, but the nation’s power is more lasting than the influence of its leader.
It had been clear from his pronouncements that President Duterte wanted a more independent stance in global politics and economics. However, that is more bravado than realistic. It is not that he is incapable, but the country and the Filipino cannot yet qualify for its own political and economic independence. When military might comes into play, the relative lack of capability of the Philippines is further heightened.
The South China Sea and the Western Philippine Sea are connected bodies of water that have become so controversial because of conflicting claims of ownership and sovereignty. Behind those opposite claims is a troubled history of the countries involved. While not as popularly known as the wars in the West, the East has had its rich share of violent conflicts running thousands of years. What has made things even more complicated is that most of the East had been colonized in the past and their old foreign masters are still involved in trying to maintain their influence. Asia is not just a flash point for the region because world powers are interested in having strategic advantage and access to incredible resources.
What can make a nation independent is its people, and this is all the more true of the Philippines where natural resources are in abundance. A country blessed with resources and matched with a hard-working people are powerful ingredients for independence. Unfortunately, that is not our case. The natural resources are envied by many and coveted by a few, but this wealth has not made the people wealthy, only a minuscule percentage of them. The majority have remained poor, and many are landless and homeless. A weak people cannot be independent, and neither can the nation that hosts them.
The talents of Filipinos are not enough unless these result in improving their material state. Little by little, over the last three decades especially, Filipinos by the millions who have found work abroad have parlayed their sacrifice of separation to lifting their families out of their historical poverty. Through them, a new middle class is being formed. Meanwhile, the Philippines remains very vulnerable to what the bigger players say and do.
The efforts of President Duterte to move away from a historical closeness with the United States show his determination. But he has to move closer to China which shows how the Philippines is still far from being independent. If he wants to move away from the European Union, he has to become friendly to Russia. And here in Asia, the Philippines has to dance with Japan, South Korea and Australia, not just ASEAN. No, independence needs more than just shifting alliances. Independence has to have strong pillars in the homeland, citizens who choose nationhood over division, bayanihan over partisanship.
In times of conflict that threatens us today with China and the US playing chess over vital sea lanes and waters with massive oil and gas deposits, neutrality is difficult, and all the more independence. Leadership alone cannot strengthen a people, but people willing to fight and die if need be, and busy building the nation with their productivity and discipline, can be the most effective assets of leadership.
There are little signs that this will happen, though. A national program that is more aspirational has yet to be clearly articulated. A drug war, no matter how necessary, cannot be the central focus of a people because vision, not threat, is what gives direction and hope. Our dreams and not our fears can sustain in motivating us.
The desire of the President to bring peace, to make government more focused on dismantling poverty, to reform and transform the bureaucracy so public service becomes honest and efficient, this is a vision worth buying in and sacrificing for. And this vision can galvanize the citizenry to confront drugs that weaken their communities and children. I see many agencies going in the right direction and it may just need an integrated and concise flagship, a national mantra.
Meanwhile, each of us just must do our share towards our independence despite the distractions that partisanship generates. We are the people. We remain even as our leaders come and go.
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