Outraging” is a word seldom used, but it somehow perfectly sums up the current mood of many citizens, as our government flounders from one explanation to another in trying to accommodate contradictory positions regarding China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea. Not only does this administration’s pronouncements betray a subservient posture in the face of flagrant violations committed by that country in our territorial waters; the President’s incendiary remarks even border on betrayal and defies the provisions of the 1987 Constitution.
What the steel-hulled trawler named Yuemaobinyu recently sunk is not only a lowly fishing boat anchored at Recto Bank; it also rammed and hurt the deeply felt sentiments of Filipino citizens who have taken offense at the inability of our so-called leaders to uphold Filipino dignity and protect the national patrimony for future generations. No longer is this a tiff between the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China. It has become an affront to the soul of the Filipino.
In a situation such as ours, leaders are teachers as well, for what we have in front of us is an eminent teaching moment. For the sake of our future, we should draw a number of lessons from the recent crisis.
Establish the facts. Considerable time has elapsed, and yet our government still has to establish the essential facts from our perspective as a sovereign nation—facts that we need to report to our people and the international community, which also has a stake in this contentious region of the globe.
Listen to our fishermen. The fishermen whose boat was sunk by the Chinese trawler have told and retold their stories. Either we believe them or not, and if our government doesn’t, then it has to explain why, in a reasoned and credible manner.
Follow the rule of law, especially the Constitution. Filipinos can view the current situation from an abundance of diverse legal frameworks: Republic Act No. 8550, amended by RA 10654 of the Philippine Fisheries Law; Article 1 (National Territory) and Article 12, Section 2 (“The state shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens”) of the 1987 Constitution; Article 73 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that ensures compliance with the sovereign rights of coastal states; and the final decision/award made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which ruled for the Philippines against China on July 12, 2016.
Bring our people together. We are a people of an island nation, with our islands strung together by our seas. If the first task of a leader is to keep hope alive, then that leader’s most urgent task at this time is to keep our people together. In the face of mortal danger, when resources that we safeguard for future generations are at stake, we have to take a stand together.
Right is might, and proclaim that message to the world. We received a favorable judgment before the international tribunal that reaffirmed right over might. Public pressure, international public opinion and a steady and sure command of diplomacy can advance our cause.
Our challenge comes from within. Recalling the timeless admonition of the Roman statesman Cicero in 42 BC, Taylor Caldwell writes in the 1965 book “A Pillar of Iron”: “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within… For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their garments, and he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation.”
Ed Garcia is one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution and a teacher and mentor to the young.
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