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Inconvenient truths

More than 65 years ago, a small nation without a single warplane defeated a Western power equipped with the best of military weaponry that superior resources and technology could provide. Led by Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, one of the greatest military strategists of the 20th century, Vietnamese foot soldiers defeated French air and ground forces at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. Giap’s victory signaled the end of French colonial rule in Indo-China after decades of continuous struggle by the Vietnamese people.

In his memoirs, “Dien Bien Phu: Rendevous With History,” Giap recounts how in 55 days of fighting (from March to May 1954), his troops killed or captured “more than 16,200 enemy soldiers including the entrenched camp’s entire command with one general, sixteen senior officers and over 1,700 commissioned and non-commissioned officers.” The French Air Force suffered heavy losses. Bernard Fall, in his book “Hell in a Very Small Place,” reported 62 French planes lost at Dien Bien Phu, with 48 shot down over the camp and 14 destroyed on the ground. Dien Bien Phu was a small village in northwestern Vietnam, near the Laotian border where the French established a garrison in an attempt to draw Vietnamese units into a major confrontation. Instead, the reverse happened. The French stronghold was surrounded and eventually forced to surrender.

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Giap was also the principal architect of the 1968 Tet Offensive in South Vietnam. Seven years later, one of the most famous photographs of the Vietnam War was the sight of a US helicopter lifting off from a helipad on the roof of the US Embassy with people still trying to get on board. At about the same time, North Vietnamese tanks were crashing through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon, marking the end of the South Vietnamese regime established by the United States.

In the history of our own struggle for independence — the revolt against Spain, and ensuing Philippine-American War — perhaps what we lacked were leaders in the mold of Giap: tenacious, resolute, willing to sacrifice and endure hardships in the face of tremendous difficulties, not just for years but for decades. We had the ilustrado, well-educated gentlemen schooled in the finest traditions of European society. Unfortunately, they lacked the stomach for the long and arduous struggles to secure a nation’s freedom. With the arrival of the Americans, a good number simply moved over to the side of the newcomers in order to preserve their dominant influence in society under the new dispensation.

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We have a president. He is a natural-born citizen from Maasin, Southern Leyte. He is more than 40 years old, and a graduate of the San Beda College of Law. He was elected president by 16,601,997 votes, or 39 percent of the total valid votes cast (42,552,835) in the 2016 presidential election. He satisfies all the requirements of the Constitution.

We have a president. What we need is a leader capable of uniting the people, inspiring them by words and actions, developing and nurturing our spirit of sacrifice and self-reliance. We cannot continually depend on others. They have their own self-interests and we should be prepared to do the best with what we have. There are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent national interests.

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Last week, 11 senators signed a resolution calling on the chamber to denounce China’s “illegal and unwarranted incursions” in the West Philippine Sea. The 11 who signed were: Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Lito Lapid, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Joel Villanueva, Bong Revilla, Ralph Recto, and Franklin Drilon.

Those who did not sign for various reasons were: Vicente Sotto, Panfilo Lacson, Miguel Zubiri, Sonny Angara, Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, Bong Go, Ronald dela Rosa, Imee Marcos, Francis Tolentino, Koko Pimentel, Win Gatchalian, and Manny Pacquiao.

Senator Lacson texted me his reason for not signing: “I wanted a different language. I actually proposed to include a review of Philippine-China diplomatic relations in the resolution. Further, I thought condemning a country while diplomatic relations exist was too harsh and inappropriate. Senator Drilon promised to be open to amendments at the proper time. I told him I would vote in favor of the same resolution with its amendments.”

Going by this Senate vote, we are a deeply divided nation.

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