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10:33 PM July 4th, 2013

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By: Benedicto G. Arcinas, July 4th, 2013 10:33 PM

It is a popular belief that the lifestyle of people “sixtysomething or above”—and here I am at 87—slows down, that they prefer to just sit in their rocking chair, watch TV or the world go by, and just let the latter take care of itself. The physiology of it, some people say, is nothing but reduced metabolism, thanks to lazy adrenal glands.

I am not about to quarrel with that theory but, speaking for myself, the pacific and mild disposition is not necessarily a continuum but is occasionally separated by “jump-start” (as in automotive parlance) episodes or spikes of relatively high excitement. I must confess that the recent one I experienced was sparked by no less than the Inquirer, my one and only daily. The attack on my elderly equanimity was provoked by the following series of local and foreign news reports.

Weeks ago I was smiling as I read about Subic and Balamban, Cebu, being emerging shipbuilding hubs. Also, I had not forgotten an earlier Inquirer item about the first delivery ever to a local shipping company, of a merchant vessel made in a local shipyard. It seemed like the initial realization of my long-hoped-for industrialization of our country. In this connection, my thoughts briefly wandered back to the Carlos Garcia administration’s nipped-in-the-bud attempt at birthing industrialization through the backward integration of steel manufacture. But that is another story.

Back to the news. More recently, like notes discordant to a prevailing harmony, came almost daily reports on developments in the West Philippine Sea. One said that some Philippine fishing boats around Panatag Shoal were practically shooed away by some Chinese vessels. Another report followed, saying that a fleet of Chinese ships, naval and fishing, stayed for days on end in our territory while our observers kept themselves at a distance to view and report the aliens. Hardly discouraged by being espied and reported to the world, China (according to more reports) could not care less, shrugged, and roped off more areas for its exclusive use.

All these, together with our Department of Foreign Affairs’ carefully worded protestations and our President’s “no talk, no mistake” stance, were, to my thinking, tantamount to a streak of cowardice. The perception clicked something in my pituitary, which in turn told my adrenals to start working.

After hearing news on my handheld radio that a second frigate from the United States was taking time to be delivered, I nearly threw the gadget in exasperation. What’s with P-Noy doing nothing all this time about those shipyards with skilled and competent Filipino craftsmen, his acceptance of more manufacture to accelerate economic growth, and his readily available budget for infrastructure? Why was it that not a single Philippine vessel, not even a Coast Guard cutter, was allowed to approach the area? Meanwhile, China was nonchalantly losing no time asserting ownership by threading the islets with tangible signs of occupation. In exasperation at the awesome inaction, I pushed so hard to the floor that the rocking chair I was sitting on nearly toppled backward.

That scared me into simmering down and taking it easy lest I fall or blow a fuse. But, as if it had a life of its own, my brain refused to stop its mental gymnastics. It still kept asking if it was possible that no one among the military or civilian leadership had thought of immediately quickening the pulse and pace of several presidents’ obsession for industrialization, infrastructure-spending, manufacture, or what have you. Here was an opportunity to build a meaningful naval force in the form of a less expensive and affordable fleet of patrol torpedo (PT) boats like those that brought President Manuel Quezon, Douglas MacArthur et al. to Australia in 1942, and that which JFK fought with in the Solomon Islands naval battles in World War II. We have so many islands and islets that can serve as their mother ships.

And why not? my brain said, refusing to give up. Starting now with one boat at each shipyard, gain respect in the process, and before long make any troublesome group realize that, if we are shoved, we are ready and capable of putting up a good fight, a costly experience for it. And not just “fighting to the last soldier.”

Assuring itself that its thoughts were not unrealistic at all, my brain returned control to me and I began to feel less “warlike” and to consider as well the boats’ peaceful applications. Surely, I mused, if we had a good number (a fleet, preferably) of the boats, they could plug the holes in our backdoors. Or serve as floating bridges between islands on which to carry victims and relief goods during calamities.

I was truly becoming more enthused. What about the East Philippine Sea? Did no less than a UN agency declare that the entire area is indisputably part of our exclusive economic zone? Today, yes. But when fish in universities and oil reserves rivaling those of Saudi Arabia are discovered there, would it not be a comfortable thought that this time it will not be all talk and wringing of hands?

Still, as a member of a passé generation, I remained unassured by the “vox populi” that is so difficult to determine. And so, why don’t I just leave and expose them in the Inquirer supermarket of ideas? Like the Libre which anyone can feel free to pick up?

Benedicto G. Arcinas describes himself as “a retired lawyer, a former executive in the erstwhile Elizalde empire under Don Manolo Elizalde, and presently still active and running a family corporation.”

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