Imagined independence | Inquirer Opinion

Imagined independence

/ 05:00 AM June 12, 2020

The Philippines marks Independence Day today gripped in a crisis largely involving the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s aggression in the South China Sea. Whether the Philippines will emerge from the crisis “diminished” or “transfigured”—as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong formulated it in his latest address to his fellow Singaporeans on the state of their own nation’s fight against the novel coronavirus—depends much on its leadership. But for all its bluster, the Philippine leadership shows itself incapable of easing public suffering brought about by the months-long lockdown, or of rallying the people to unite in the face of a foreign power encroaching on our very borders, both physical and not.

Filipinos are looking earnestly to their leaders to show them the way out of the COVID-19 mire. But the path to collective safety and well-being is made exceedingly narrow by the inequitable system that governs daily living, and that allows the wealthy and powerful to merrily flout basic quarantine rules and the impoverished to be routinely fixed by the law in an often fatal chokehold.

Here is a searing irony, just one among many resulting from the pandemic and serving to magnify the contradictions in our sorry state: San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora, escorted by cops, travels in a convoy of SUVs from his enclave to the mountain city. He and his escorts breeze through the checkpoint set up by Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong and burn rubber, as it were, to the country club, with city officials giving chase. They are found to lack the required papers and, despite protestations, to harbor an apparent intent to make mincemeat of the city’s rigorous efforts to ward off the deadly virus. Yet it’s only the cops who got the boot; last we heard, no charges will be filed against the San Juan mayor, who has claimed sleep and his wife’s supposed illness as explanation for his caper.

On the other side of the tracks, Michelle Silvertino, a housemaid, literally perished in the mean streets while scrambling for a bus ride to get her to four young children in the Bicol region. No high-end vehicle for her journey, no escort cops, and the reserves of strength that she summoned for the trek from Cubao in Quezon City to the hoped-for but still-decommissioned bus in Pasay City that would take her home to her native Camarines Sur were of no avail. She died trying, waiting for five days on a footbridge in Pasay—the city police at a loss on what to do with her—and ultimately giving up the ghost as she burned with fever and struggled to breathe.


Independent nations go to great lengths to protect their citizens from the ravages of COVID-19, or what Singapore’s Lee described as “the most dangerous crisis humanity has [experienced] in a very long time.” In moving forward, he said, Singapore is taking measured steps, including protecting its people’s interest “in dealing with other countries, big and small.”

These are points to ponder as this country lurches along toward a “new normal.” In its disjointed exertions, let the government not continue to ignore encroachments on Philippine waters, such as Chinese vessels crowding the fringes of the distant island poignantly named Pag-asa, where Filipino families have settled in a declaration of national sovereignty. That the settlers have somehow grown accustomed to the sight of the interlopers—a surrender to intimidation actually mirrored in the highest levels of government—is worrisome and frustrating.

The completion of development projects on Pag-asa, as reported by the Inquirer’s Frances Mangosing, sounds an encouraging note. It is a clear statement, per Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, that with the new beaching ramp and sheltered port, the Philippines is strengthening its territory despite its mighty neighbor’s machinations.

Nevertheless, the loss of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and Zamora (Subi) Reef should constantly remind the Philippines of the wisdom of uniting with other claimant-nations in resisting China’s dream of empire. It bears repeating: The 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on the baselessness of China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea provides common ground for other claimant-nations.

Independence Day should prod the government to strive to regain lost self-respect in protecting its territories. That it continues to endure China’s destruction of marine wealth in the West Philippine Sea should outrage all Filipinos. And Philippine independence is merely imagined when no compensation is received from Beijing by the owners and fishermen of the Gem-Ver, which was rammed and sunk by a Chinese vessel a year ago this week, its captain and crew left to die in the icy waters.

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TAGS: COVID-19, Independence Day, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, South China Sea

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