It’s that time of year when thoughts of freedom and independence drape the air, and when the flag billowing in a stiff breeze evokes feelings of pride. (Think Olympics silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz shedding tears as she looked at her flag, her hand on her heart, as the national anthem played.)
It’s probably why netizens were incensed last weekend by reports of Chinese flags being sold at Rizal Park within spitting distance of the monument of the national hero.
The very idea was sufficiently provocative considering not only China’s continuing incursions in the Philippines’ exclusive waters as well as in disputed areas of the South China Sea, but also that Independence Day was mere days away.
It turned out that Philippine-China Friendship Day was being marked on June 9. But this bit of information, along with Foreign Secretary Teddyboy Locsin’s airy tweet that folks shouldn’t fret because US flags would also be sold during Philippine-American Friendship Day, hardly helped. (Really, the little sarcasms of the nation’s top diplomat grate on the nerves.) If anything, it highlighted what had easily come across as another form of the prevailing kick-me posture.
The National Park Development Committee subsequently announced that the reports and photos constituted “fake news,” as the vendors were supposedly paid by certain persons to pose as though they were hawking the flaglets.
Still, not everyone was mollified. And how, as Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon belatedly wanted to know, could this supposed pretend sale happen under the very noses of the park guards?
Add to the generally antsy atmosphere the report of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Monday that a Chinese Navy warship with hull No. 504 had been spotted circling Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal 22 kilometers off Zambales, where Filipinos have fished since early times but where they now can fish only by the Chinese authorities’ grace.
The warship was apart from two Chinese Coast Guard ships and two militia boats customarily seen there since 2012. The discovery was made during the regular patrol by the BRP Malabrigo on June 6-9, according to the PCG spokesperson, Capt. Armando Balilo.
The presence of the warship may be viewed as yet another provocative act among provocative acts—just the bully showing all and sundry who’s boss while extending loans and largesse from here to Africa.
Philippine-China Friendship Day came about through an official proclamation in 2002 by that great friend of China, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (during whose scandal-plagued term at least two China-funded projects—one, worth $329 million, involving a proposed national broadband network to be set up by the Chinese telco ZTE; the other, worth $421 million, involving the proposed revival of the railway lines connecting Caloocan City and Malolos, Bulacan—were so corruption-ridden that they had to be ultimately scrapped).
The day is on its face special, given the long and enduring ties between the Filipino and Chinese peoples. But the relationship is now strained and constantly tested by China’s imperial stance before which the Philippine government seems not loath to kowtow, as well as sundry acts ranging from Chinese fishers’ harvest of giant clams from Philippine waters to the Chinese government’s building of military installations on disputed reefs and islets in the South China Sea.
From images taken and published in December 2017 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, much of the structures have been erected on Fiery Cross Reef, which the Philippines claims and calls Kagitingan Reef (despite, as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana once noted, Beijing’s earlier agreement that it would not “militarize those reclaimed islands”).
Ritual has long attended the Philippines’ celebration of Independence Day. The ceremonies, presided over by the highest officials of the government, are held simultaneously bright and early in this Land of the Morning, in sites of historical significance including Emilio Aguinaldo’s mansion in Kawit, Cavite, from which was read the Declaration of Independence from Spain in 1898.
Today, the lead celebration is to be held at the Liberty Shrine in Barangay Mactan in Lapu-Lapu City. But already, the board chair of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines has conceded to diminished expectations of President Duterte bothering to show up.
National independence; freedom from oppression, from want, from fear. These are still principles to live by, lasting ideals to teach children. Don’t let them dissolve into nothing, and the ritual to ultimately be empty.
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