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They must take us for fools

One of the worst offenses a plebe at the Philippine Military Academy can commit is to attempt to fool an upperclassman by providing information that is blatantly incorrect, in order to justify unacceptable actions.

More than a month ago, some 220 Chinese maritime militia vessels were spotted by the Philippine Coast Guard, anchored at the Julian Felipe Reef near Palawan in mass formation. The reef is well within the country’s exclusive economic zone. Diplomatic protests ensued but to no avail. After two weeks, many of the vessels remained in the area. The explanation given by the Chinese ambassador was that the fishing boats, not maritime militia ships, had sought shelter from bad weather. This time, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana took on the role of an upperclassman and berated the Chinese ambassador for the continued presence of their vessels, not just at Julian Felipe Reef, but in other parts of the Kalayaan Island group. He called out, “I am no fool… The weather has been good, they have no reason to stay and should get out.” Had the Chinese envoy been a plebe at the academy, he would have been squat jumping in front of Lorenzana’s room.

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In support of Lorenzana’s actions, the Advocates for National Interest (ANI) came out with a strong statement on the need for greater national unity and resolve, bearing in mind that the defense of the state is not just an AFP responsibility but the responsibility of the entire nation. ANI is a grouping of retired military officers who have devoted their best years in the service of the people. They are no longer connected with government and the only cause they serve is the national interest.

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When China was defeated by the United Kingdom in the First Opium War in 1842, the terms of the peace treaty that followed — the Treaty of Nanking — forced her to cede Hong Kong Island to the British in perpetuity, open five coastal ports including Canton, to British trade and ordered payment of $21 million in indemnity to the victors. It was the first of unequal treaties between China and foreign imperialist powers. It would take 155 years before Hong Kong would revert to Chinese rule. This event took place on July 1, 1997. In 1997, China had become a strong and prosperous nation, united under a powerful central government. This turnover would never have taken place if China had remained weak, wracked by internal divisions, with a runaway population suffering from hunger and poverty. For one thing, who would the British negotiate with for the turnover?

My point is the South China Sea conflict is not going to be resolved in our lifetime. The United States, a treaty ally, is not going to sacrifice American lives to get China to abandon the installations that she has set up in the disputed area. Her vital interests do not include defending the Philippines from aggression. Her main concern is freedom of navigation in the strategic waterway. Recently, she has raised provisions of the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty that call for a military response in case of an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft in the Pacific including the South China Sea. But let us not forget what happened in South Vietnam. Let us also remember her short-lived commitment to the Kurdish people in the Middle East. We have won our case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The whole world knows this but the harsh reality is that we live in a world where “might makes right,” most often than not.

So what should we do? Let us refocus our attention on ourselves, on what we have, and what we have done with what we have to improve the lives of our people. Many of our wounds are self-inflicted. Many of our problems are of our own making and within our borders. Why not concentrate our efforts and resources on fixing them first before embarking on new ventures?

We need leaders who will inspire and guide us along the difficult and demanding path of self-reliance, instead of constantly depending on others. We need competence in government to allow maximum utilization of available resources for national development. If we can leave to future generations a prosperous nation, strong, stable, and self-reliant, they will be in the best position to resolve the South China Sea dispute in a manner that would benefit all nations in the region.

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TAGS: China sea incursion, Maritime Dispute, Ramon J. Farolan, Reveille, West Philippine Sea
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