Piñol averts nuclear war | Inquirer Opinion
On The Move

Piñol averts nuclear war

We have heard the story of the ship captain who threatened a young lady passenger who repeatedly rebuffed his advances, “If you do not sleep with me tonight, I will sink this ship with all 1,000 passengers.” The next morning, the young lady wrote in her diary, “I saved 1,000 souls today.”

This came to mind after Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol convinced the Recto Bank ramming victims to change their story. Now the fishermen say they are no longer sure they were intentionally rammed by the Chinese vessel.

Piñol is a talented agriculturist. He planted doubt in the minds of the victims. First, he had the President’s seed of an idea — “little maritime incident.” Second, he had the fertilizer — motorboats for the individual victims. Third, he had a powerful plow — a squad of policemen in full riot gear. Finally, he had the greenhouse — a closed-door meeting.


Piñol must have written in his diary afterward, with a moustached smirk on his face, “I saved the world from nuclear war today.”


This preposterous perspective issues from the binary mind of President Duterte. When he finally broke his silence 10 days after the incident, he warned that if he treated the Recto Bank incident as more than just a “simple maritime accident,” he would be triggering a nuclear war. He said he vehemently refused to send gray ships (the Philippine Navy) out to the West Philippine Sea (WPS) in reaction to this incident (he does not tell us who, if any, is calling for this ridiculous course of action). Mr. Duterte’s presumptuous argument is that if the United States comes to the aid of the Philippines against China under the Mutual Defense Treaty, this might eventually lead to a nuclear war between the United States and China.

Mr. Duterte was pugnacious and uncharacteristically defensive. He displayed lack of empathy (belittling the nation’s hurt), lack of credibility (jumping to conclusions without offering evidence) and lack of coherence (no carefully crafted argument) about the Recto Bank incident.


As Mr. Duterte revealed more of his true self, an unbelieving nation caught on and felt “heartbroken” as Sen. Panfilo Lacson aptly put it. It was a crushing betrayal gilded with a mellow, lingering hurt.

Filipinos are now hostage to this bizarre nuclear war scenario. Having declared the Recto Bank incident as merely a maritime incident, the whole top bureaucrats — Secretaries Delfin Lorenzana (defense), Alfonso Cusi (energy), Piñol (agriculture), Teodoro Locsin Jr. (foreign affairs) and Salvador Panelo (spokesperson), now contort themselves to officially adjust and align their previous narratives to the assessment of Mr. Duterte. This is not a single-use nuclear war scenario; it has actually been Mr. Duterte’s habitual excuse for inaction in dealing with our vexing issues with China.

To complete the turnaround to the simple maritime incident narrative, however, the victims themselves must abandon the certainty of their initial story. This is where the heartbroken nation witnessed the coup de grâce. Piñol used the poverty and vulnerability, helplessness and voicelessness of the victims against them. There was instant dismay on the part of the whole nation as to what was afoot when Piñol went to talk to the fishermen.

The besieged boat captain, Junel Insigne, carried away by the storm of instant benevolence, nevertheless was able, in my mind, to signal his defiance. He wore only a sando to publicly face Piñol. It was the whitest sando I have seen on television, contrasting sharply with Insigne’s sunburnt features. He had a constant sullen glint in his eyes. He apologized for declining to meet the President with the lamest excuse — “masama po ang pakiramdam ko” (I was not feeling well).

To be sure, Insigne is not a naturally glum-faced person. Vice President Leni Robredo enjoyed instant rapport with Insigne’s family when she came to visit. Insigne wore a proper T-shirt and had a broad and easy smile on his face.

Where do we go from here? This is just the beginning of a new stage in the Philippines-China saga. This ramming incident will refuse to remain isolated, refuse to be simple and refuse to go away. China’s predatory trajectory is already firmly set in its WPS behavior since 1985. There will be more ramming incidents in the future, as the parallel Vietnamese experience suggests.

Afflicted by traitorous leaders, the Philippines has become a Philippines with disability — a Philippines with Duterte — in the eyes of the world.

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TAGS: Emmanuel Piñol, nuclear war, On The Move, Reed Bank incident, Rodrigo Duterte, Segundo Eclar Romero

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