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Editorial

This ‘non-issue’

/ 05:08 AM February 13, 2019

Are Filipinos overacting in their frenzied response to the “taho”-throwing incident involving a female Chinese national and a Filipino policeman at the MRT station?

Are we being our typical emotional, easily agitated selves when we demand that the Chinese woman who disrespected local law enforcement be meted forceful censure, even deportation?

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The palace by the Pasig thinks so.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. pooh-poohed it as “pathetic,” a “non-issue trying to be one.” This being Locsin, he had more to say, of course. “Let’s not be trivial. This can happen anywhere to anyone in any country. Aggression by taho? Defense by the same? Boy we really need arms deals to flesh out our sense of nationhood and sovereignty.”

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Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo chimed in pretty much along the same lines: “Let’s not make a big fuss out of this,” he said. He made sure to intone the main talking point — “Foreign nationals who sojourn in this country should always behave, otherwise they are subject to laws and deportation. We will not allow them to disrespect authorities and violate ordinances” — while not forgetting the all-important jab at Vice President Leni Robredo, who had called the incident a “wake-up call” on how Chinese nationals seem to be given “special treatment” in the country: “Maybe it’s a wake-up call for her to stop speculating and stop giving statements that may inflame incidents that need not be so.”

By the time Robredo had said her take on the subject, however, the public uproar had in fact been in full swing, and Malacañang should perhaps take a moment to reflect why Filipinos seem to have taken more than a gander at this incident.

Consider: If a Korean national had done the same thing — protest against the ban on bringing liquids inside the MRT train by throwing a cupful of hot soy pudding at a cop — would the public reaction have been as vehement?

Probably not; Philippine and Korean relations have been, for the most part, on the genial side of things, and a one-off incidence of boorish behavior wouldn’t merit virality.

But imagine an American visitor doing it; the image of a foreigner from a powerful country refusing to obey Philippine law and browbeating a local is catnip for immediate denunciations of imperialist behavior.

Context is everything. The public’s incensed response to the incident didn’t come from nowhere, but from an acute realization of the larger picture implied by the fraught interaction between a Chinese national and a Filipino cop: an overbearing foreigner from an outsize country who has behaved aggressively toward the Philippines trying to impose her will on Philippine soil — and at a time when Philippine interests in the South China Sea have been ill-treated by China, and hundreds of thousands of its citizens have flooded the country.

And the way the matter has been dismissed as a “non-issue” by administration officials only furthers that perception — the Duterte administration going soft as usual on another case of Chinese high-handedness when, not too long ago, Locsin himself urged outright deportation for Tony Labrusca, after the young Fil-Am actor allegedly raised his voice at immigration officers.

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On the matter of the Ateneo student bully, Locsin, too, had a startlingly forceful prescription — “beat him senseless.” And his Twitter feed is a daily cannonade of “fuck you” (he spells it out, we’re just quoting him) at people he disagrees with.

Locsin, it seems, has no problem being straight and harsh with his fellow Filipino citizens.

A Chinese woman’s assault of a local police officer, however, appears to flick him only in a slight, amusing way, hence his description of it as “aggression by taho.” Har har.

Would a Filipino conducting himself the same way in Beijing earn the same forbearance from the Chinese foreign ministry?

Pollster and Inquirer columnist Mahar Mangahas put a finger on the prevailing Filipino sentiment in his column “The SWS surveys of 2018”: “There is no letup in the intense antipathy toward China on account of its occupation of islands in the West Philippine Sea. The Filipino people deplore the do-nothing stance on this issue, and demand the return of the area to Philippine control.”

Perhaps Filipinos are loudly exercised over this news because they know they can’t count on their China-chummy government to be as angry for them over displays of Chinese obnoxious behavior, whether in the South China Sea or in the country’s capital.

The larger China symbolism — however unintended—that eventually layered the incident is a “non-issue,” only for a determinedly non-seeing administration.

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TAGS: China-Philippines relations, Inquirer editorial, taho-throwing incident
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