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‘Back-channel statesmanship’

09:47 PM October 04, 2012

President Aquino showed statesmanship when he resorted to back-channeling to ease the tension between the Philippines and China.

China is the Philippines’ third biggest partner in the areas of trade, investment, development assistance and technical cooperation. The Philippine National Oil Co. and the China National Offshore Oil Corp. have signed in 2004 an “Agreement for Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking on Certain Areas on South China Sea.” Vietnam joined the agreement in 2005. (This agreement could form the nucleus for a joint exploration and exploitation of oil and gas resources in disputed areas, benefiting all parties.)

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But the rising tension between China and the Philippines over their conflicting territorial claims adversely affected the two countries’ relations. China imposed restrictions on banana exports from the Philippines, while the flow of Chinese tourists to the Philippines slowed to a trickle. This has hurt our tourism and banana export industries, threatening the livelihood of hundreds of Filipino families dependent on these industries.

Whether we like it or not, China is a rising economic power—the second largest economy in the world and a large source of investment for developing countries in Africa, South America and Asia. Besides, it is our biggest neighbor, and it is always a good policy to be at peace and to have good relations with one’s neighbors. Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, is a big destination for Filipino OFWs.

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We must of course stand by our territorial claims in defense of our sovereignty. But it would be foolish and self-destructive for us if we allow this dispute to go beyond peaceful discourse and negotiations. We have had our territorial dispute with Malaysia over Sabah, but we have remained friends despite it.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV may have volunteered to help ease tension between China and our country, but is it wrong to volunteer one’s services if one truly believes he can help? Mr. Aquino, concerned for his country’s welfare and the livelihood of hundreds of families affected by the dispute, accepted Trillanes’ offer. He has acknowledged that Trillanes achieved some success, and the tension has indeed palpably eased. Interior Secretary Mar Roxas pursued the back-channeling and now we are back to normal, if not more friendly relations with China. Trillanes also deserves the people’s commendation.

Department of Foreign Affairs officials should not feel bypassed by the back-channeling. After all, as one former ambassador said, back-channeling to ease tense relations between countries is “normal.”

Calling Trillanes a traitor and a coward is way off-mark. This former naval officer and PMA graduate, cum laude, risked his life and career in defense of foot soldiers fighting an anti-insurgency war in Mindanao, without shoes, proper clothing and equipment; and without support helicopters to rescue them when wounded. Trillanes’ “mutiny” resulted in reforms benefiting ordinary soldiers.

—MANUEL F. ALMARIO, spokesman,

Movement for Truth in History (MOTH),

[email protected]

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, China, Diplomacy, Foreign Affairs and International Relations, letters to the editor, opinion, Philippines, Scarborough Shoal, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, West Philippine Sea
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