The magnificent Del Rosario-Morales gambit
It was a magnificent three-point shot. A complaint submitted on March 13 beat the buzzer by four days, before the Philippines, in the contemplation of Rodrigo Duterte, effectively opted out of membership in the International Criminal Court on March 17.
The Del Rosario-Morales gambit was a strategic counter-elite move. It shows respected leaders like Albert del Rosario and Conchita Carpio Morales taking personal risks to file a case against Xi Jinping before the ICC for crimes against humanity and for implementing a system to control the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea (WPS) that has caused environmental degradation and livelihood losses to Filipino fishermen.
The domestic impact of the gambit is electrifying, because far too many of the powerful elites in this country, in government, in the private sector and civil society, have actively aligned with President Duterte, or have fallen silent. Even those who may have realized their grievous mistake in egging Mr. Duterte to run for president in 2016, notably Fidel V. Ramos and Aquilino Pimentel Jr., have kept silent.
The move has been criticized as a “political move” with no chance of success. It is, in fact, a bundle of political, legal, psychological and other moves. The Philippines has greater chances of taking on China before international law and world public arenas than in the military and bilateral diplomacy arena. Besides, one cannot judge a whole game by the first move alone.
From the Philippine perspective, the move has already been a success. Thousands have signed a petition supporting the complaint. It has helped lift the sense of paralysis that has enveloped this nation in confronting China on the WPS and its intrusion into our domestic affairs.
The Del Rosario-Morales gambit pushes the envelope for more pervasive but low-key activities that will help sustain this nation’s viability and integrity. There are layers of patriotism and national community-building that are at play. Many people just do what they have done all their lives — exude professional excellence, day in and day out. Many others are deeply engaged in social responsibility — working with people, generating inclusive livelihood, defending and promoting human rights, protecting the environment and moderating profits. Many others play out servant leadership, helping communities help themselves, and helping organizations achieve their missions by making such achievement about teams and not about egos. And many people plant trees and pick up the trash.
The Del Rosario-Morales gambit sustains the narrative of Rodrigo Duterte as a vassal of China. Mr. Duterte has disowned the initiative, declaring so to visiting Chinese leaders. But this posture is not without cost.
Mr. Duterte himself is experiencing a reduction in his degrees of freedom. Scolding the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System has not solved the water crisis. The drug and corruption problems have worsened. Economic growth forecasts are less optimistic. Nur Misuari is hovering menacingly over the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Presidential intrusion into the electoral process is alarming. Public opinion is much more attentive and critical. Over three years, he continues to rail against his special enemies, but he now realizes he needs to pause and ponder the consequences of his actions.
Recently, Facebook degraded Mr. Duterte’s “air force” — drastically shutting down 200 pages and accounts that partly constitute the massive intravenous infusion of fake news that sustains the Duterte cult.
That the Del Rosario-Morales gambit will ruffle Chinese feathers is certain, but it will win us respectability among fellow Asean claimant countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, and
other countries intimidated by this new imperialist on the block.
The Del Rosario-Morales gambit has taken the war to Xi Jinping, the capo di tutti capi, and the local boss is embarrassed. What can he do — add Del Rosario and Morales to his hit list? That will only boost the psychological lift from this gambit.
Filing the complaint doesn’t look like a futile act, after all.
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