The President’s provocation
About the most memorable and controversial of statements President Manuel Luis Quezon made as president of the Philippine Commonwealth was that one where he declared: “I would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than a government-run like heaven by Americans.” Quezon would eventually confide to a gathering of students and civic leaders: “I want to tell you that I have, in my life, made no other remark which went around the world but that.” But he went on to clarify that the remark was “not an admission that a government run by Filipinos will be a government run like hell,” much to the amusement of his audience. “Much less can it be an admission that a government run by Americans or by the people of any other foreign country, for that matter, can ever be a government run like heaven.”
After all, forgotten in the hubbub that the first part of his provocative statement made was Quezon’s immediate clarification that he preferred a government of and by Filipinos because “however bad a Filipino government might be, we can always change it.” Which dovetails neatly with Quezon’s insistence that the Philippines and Filipinos were ready for full-fledged independence and democracy.
Now to the present day. What did President Duterte exactly mean when he recently declared that if the Philippines could not stand on its own feet to defend our territory, “we have no business being a Republic”? Instead, he said, “you might as well choose. We can be a territory of the United States or a province of China.”
Malacañang at once rushed to clarify the meaning behind the President’s troubling words. Spokesperson Salvador Panelo sought to parse the President’s remarks: “He’s just saying, if we cannot run the government by ourselves, then we should have ourselves colonized. That’s what he meant.”
Panelo was apparently referring to criticisms of Mr. Duterte’s abrupt decision to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) forged with the American government in 1999. The scrapping of the VFA, critics had said, placed the Philippines in a dangerous position, vulnerable to attacks from foreign hostiles without the deterrent of American military support.
Opposition to the President’s decision, widely perceived to be a rash reaction to the cancellation of Duterte stalwart supporter Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s US visa, is apparently wider than it appears. A majority of the Duterte Cabinet have expressed dismay at the VFA abrogation, Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon have said, while remarks made by the President himself hint at unease within the ranks of the military despite their reassurances that our armed forces could very well defend the country.
But why must we choose between the United States and China like a toddler seeking succor in times of trouble? Kabataan party list Rep. Sarah Elago pointed out that the country need not choose between the two superpowers, asserting that “we need to choose the Philippines.” Her colleagues among the progressive party list coalition supported her declaration, saying that the Philippines needs to take a “principled position” to show that “it could stand on its own feet because it really is capable of doing so.”
MLQ, in the days before the war, gave voice to his provocative insistence on full independence from the United States even if it meant living under a government “run like hell” by Filipinos. Mr. Duterte today opens the door to recolonization or appeasement, making it appear that dominance by either China or the United States is the only option for our security needs. Of course, since he’s cut ties with the United States, it’s clear where his true sympathies lie. In fact, given that the President’s remarks were made in the wake of the abrogation of the VFA, it appears he’s planting in the Filipino public’s minds the possibility of nothing less than Chinese co-optation.
Is this any way for the leader of a supposedly independent republic to talk about his country’s freedom and sovereignty? But then there’s our current reality—tolerance and encouragement of illegal online gambling operations by Chinese firms; the related social and criminal evils of illegal entry, kidnapping and extortion; the weak-kneed response to aggression and territory-grabbing in the West Philippine Sea; even the much-delayed response and reluctance to temporarily ban travelers from China at the height of the COVID-19 contagion. Under this administration, the specter of the Philippines becoming what Mr. Duterte has repeatedly and casually mentioned—a “province of China”—seems to be fast coming to fruition.
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