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How to deal with Taiwan

Taiwanese officials would do well to review their history, specifically their island’s relations with the Philippines, before they further ramp up their anti-Philippine rhetoric over the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman.

This is the advice of former President Fidel V. Ramos when asked about his views on the issue during the Fourth General Assembly of the Centrist Asia Pacific Democrats International (Capdi) in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Remarking on the imbroglio between Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and our own P-Noy who have exchanged “words” over the incident involving Taiwanese fishing boats and a Philippine patrol boat off Batanes, FVR urged the government to explore “track-two diplomacy” to settle the row, devoid of emotion and heat, and far from the public eye.

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“Taiwanese and Filipinos have been the best of friends,” said FVR, whose father Narciso served as Philippine ambassador to Taiwan before the adoption of a “One China Policy” by the Philippines in 1974. After that, the older Ramos became the first chair of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, the de facto embassy in Taipei.

FVR urged the P-Noy administration to “come out with the results of the investigation right away,” prodding officials “to move a little faster” to defuse the escalating tensions.

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He recalled that in 1946, as many as 30,000 Chinese fled Mainland China and sought shelter in the Philippines as the communists steadily gained ground. “By the early 1960s,” he said, many rich Filipino-Chinese set down roots in Taiwan, to which the Kuomintang forces had fled. And this is why, he added, the Philippines has maintained mainly friendly and strong ties with Taiwan, even as the island plays host to thousands of Filipino workers who are valued for their skills and specialized knowledge, especially in the field of electronics and digital devices.

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“DON’T add more burdens on   Lolo   (Grandfather),” the octogenarian former president begged, when Philippine journalists urged him to volunteer as a “go-between” to settle the Taiwan-Philippines issue, given his family’s relations with Taiwanese officials. But he conceded that it remains his “duty to give out advice” when this is sought, or when the national interest demands it.

He may have adopted a lower political profile these days, but FVR seemed to be on a revived “campaign mode” during the Makassar assembly. Wherever he went, including a press conference attended by mostly local media, he drew public attention. Although one must say his own antics—drawing people close to him for the eternal “photo op,” using his omnipresent unlit cigar as a prop, and even jumping in the air to prove his “youth”—seemed designed to attract publicity. And much to my surprise, it seemed that it was young people, many of them working as “LOs” or liaison officers to the bigwigs attending the meet, who seemed most drawn to the former president.

But our present crop of officials would do well to heed FVR’s advice, even if unsolicited. As the saying goes, as long as people are talking, they will not have the time or inclination to wield arms. And given our mostly positive relations with Taiwan until recently, a scaling-down of tensions and some form of understanding should emerge.

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ALSO doing the country proud at the Capdi assembly was its founding president, former Speaker Jose de Venecia, who was singled out in the final “Makassar Declaration” as the “Asian Guru” who helped found organizations throughout Asia that bring together political parties and that serve as “bridge(s) between countries, continents and civilizations.”

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As the declaration noted: “[We] see unfolding before our eyes Capdi, together with ICAPP, and other organizations [continuing] to play a vanguard role so that the destinies of the teeming millions in Asia and other developing countries are shaped by leaders who have the willingness and the capacity to change an unstable and unequal political and economic status quo to a more just, humane and peaceful world.”

In a meeting with journalists, De Venecia said one of his major thrusts as a leader of political groups in the region is the call for an “omnibus amnesty program” from governments to various rebel groups to finally bring an end to conflicts that not just result in bloodshed and loss of life but also threaten the security and economic stability of entire societies.

“There are many examples of conflicts resolved peacefully through negotiations,” De Venecia pointed out, including the pending settlement of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebellion. But, he warned, peace must only be achieved with justice, with instances of genocide or large-scale massacres properly heard and tried in appropriate international or local courts. Only then, perhaps, can generational and age-old grievances be addressed and mitigated.

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THERE could not have been a more appropriate setting for a movement that seeks to bridge differences between nations and populations than Makassar.

The port and capital of South Sulawesi made up a thriving center of trade from as far back as the 16th century, becoming the heart of the “Spice Trade” that drew the avaricious interest of various colonial powers.

It was the Dutch that finally succeeded in invading and occupying the island, and the entire chain of islands that makes up Indonesia. But Fort Rotterdam, which was built on the grounds of the old fort ruled by the Sultan of Gowa, is full of artifacts that testify to the age-old cultures of the island.

In modern Makassar, there is plenty of evidence of the seafaring culture and widespread trade, with rich harvests of fish and seafood, as well as excellent Arabica and Robusta coffee imported from inland plantations.

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TAGS: fidel v. ramos, jose de venecia, Philippine-Taiwan relations, Taiwan
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