The China card played 13 years ago | Inquirer Opinion
Friday, August 17, 2018
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The Long View

The China card played 13 years ago

So people are upset that President Duterte’s political life insurance is provided by Xi Jinping. In two months, we’ll be marking 13 years of China playing a big role in our domestic politics.

Recall July 2005. After a few chaotic weeks of congressional hearings, members of the president’s Cabinet decided to give up on her and resign. President Gloria Arroyo got wind of it and preempted matters by dismissing her Cabinet in the evening of July 7. The next day, the disaffected Cabinet members resigned anyway, calling upon Arroyo to follow suit. In quick succession, leaders such as former president Cory Aquino, business organizations, schools, and others took up the call. The US Embassy, without an ambassador, trotted out its deputy chief of mission on ANC:

Ricky Carandang: “Do you categorically support President Arroyo?”

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Joseph Mussomeli: “We categorically support the rule of law.”

Carandang: “Are these Cabinet members, as some have said, adventurists?”

Mussomeli: “Not the ones I know.” America, he said, was “disappointed.”

Just when it looked like Arroyo’s major constituencies had turned their backs on her, and it seemed Arroyo might flee to
Cebu to hunker down there, another former president, Fidel V. Ramos, appeared in the presidential Palace and pledged his support (and, perhaps, that of the generals close to him). Suddenly, a stalemate was reached. The battle of press conferences continued to unfold on television.

I remember summarizing two rah-rah pressers beamed from Malacañang that day. An earlier one went like this:

The Press: “What of America?”

Eduardo Ermita: “We are glad the US supports the President …”

Alberto Romulo: “We just had the Chinese delegation here, with all their ambassadors, from the first one; China supports the President. My meeting earlier with Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they support [the] President; Yemen, too; the State Department, when I was there, expressed support for the President. I have no doubt whatsoever, that this is a legitimate government.”

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So on one hand, there was the invocation of the State Department to overrule the acting head of the US Embassy. Then the next presser went like this: Speaker Jose de Venecia galloped into the Aguinaldo Room and called for a coalition meeting that afternoon to accelerate the shift to a parliamentary-unicameral-federal government with the full support of governors, mayors, and barangay officials. And the shoring-up of Arroyo continued:

Alberto Romulo: “Japan supports the President.”

Jose de Venecia: China, “the largest nation on earth today, supports the President.” As does the European Union.

Romulo: “Libya supports the President.”

Ignacio Bunye: “League of Mayors and Vice Mayors supports the President.”

Of course Fidel Ramos coming to the rescue of Arroyo eventually led him to call a press conference in January 2006 where he said that she ought to quit by 2007. (Considering he’s been bamboozled by two of his successors, Arroyo and Mr. Duterte, you have to consider the relevance of the old saying, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”) De Venecia ended up ousted when he stopped being useful to Arroyo.

The point is while most might recall De Venecia being the one who pointed to Chinese support at a point of maximum peril for Arroyo, she herself had steadily, and studiously, angled for China’s backing and in the process reversed the essential continuity of her predecessors’ policy on the Spratlys and Philippine claims by means of two agreements. The first was the “Agreement for Seismic Undertaking for Certain Areas in the South China Sea By and Between China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Philippine National Oil Company” signed on Sept. 1, 2004, and later superseded by a “Tripartite Agreement for Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking in the Agreement Area in the South China Sea” signed on March 14, 2005.

The agreements were kept hush-hush by the three governments, understandably so in the case of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the People’s Republic of China, but not so in the case of the Philippines. As reported in 2005 by Ricky Carandang, even Merceditas Gutierrez, then acting justice secretary, “told former senator Frank Drilon, who was then allied with the administration, that she believed that the deal violated the Constitution because while it was a deal between the state-owned oil firms (PNOC of the Philippines and CNOOC of China) of the two countries, it implicitly gave China access to our oil reserves. Officers of the foreign affairs department were also upset because the deal effectively strengthened China’s and Vietnam’s claim to the Spratlys.”

As the saying goes, today began yesterday.

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TAGS: China-Philippines relations, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Manuel L. Quezon III, Rodrigo Duterte, The Long View, xi jinping
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