Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was asking for it. He said last week: “Our problem is we keep on complaining about the Enhanced Defense Cooperation with the US. Why don’t we complain when the Chinese use water cannons on us? Why? Nasaan ang pagka-Pilipino natin? (Where is our Filipino spirit)? We demonstrate against those who are helping us but we don’t demonstrate against those who are bullying us?”
To which Bayan Muna, the group Gazmin had referred to by “we,” replied by daring him to join its members in their demonstrations against China’s incursions into the Spratlys. Said Rep. Neri Colmenares: “Bayan Muna has publicly criticized China through rallies and public statements, and even led the recent Congress investigation into China’s incursions into our territories. General Gazmin has not attended a single anti-China rally.”
Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon added that his group had been protesting China’s “strong-arm tactics” over Ayungin and Panatag Shoals for some time now. “Secretary Gazmin should not play the China card to justify the surrender of sovereignty in the new access agreement with the United States.”
I leave them to debate the attitude/response of Bayan Muna and its kindred groups toward China. But that aside, I agree with Bayan Muna’s disputation of the way the government has dealt with the China problem. I’ve expressed the same sentiments of late.
First off, putting it in terms “Why do we rally against those who are helping us and not against those who are bullying us?” is deceptive, if not deceitful. While there is no question about the Chinese bullying, there is every question about the American help.
In fact, the American help is not help in the sense that we normally understand help. It is not voluntary, it is obligatory. It is not a matter of choice, it is a matter of necessity. It is not a matter of entreaty, it is a matter of treaty. The Americans are duty-bound to help us, whether we allow them to put up military bases here or not. Indeed, whether we allow them to use our military bases or not. Which raises the stupefying question of why we need to give them access to our bases to get that help. Which raises the brain-addling question of why we need to give them a new haven to get that defense.
We already have the Mutual Defense Treaty, which compels them to come to our aid when we are being attacked. We are being attacked. Why is that help not there? Why is that help not being demanded by us even now? Why is that help not forthcoming unless we enter into another agreement to enforce an agreement that doesn’t seem enforceable without new agreements?
Second off, this is trading a birthright for a bowl of porridge, as Esau did his to Jacob. Or for those who do not like metaphors, that is trading off something of enormous value for something utterly trivial out of immediate need. Or more to the point, trading off the past and the future because of some transient need in the present.
What happens once the crisis with China blows over? Then we’re stuck with the Americans and their installations in our bases. In theory, it will be the easiest thing to just send them packing. The Filipino commander calls the shots, the Philippine government is in command. In practice, it is next to impossible. The fact that we’ve had American military presence in this country forever, except for a few years after we kicked out the US bases, and then not entirely so, must testify to how next to impossible it is. Whether out of their refusal to leave or out of our refusal to let them go doesn’t really matter.
Gazmin’s call for us to appreciate the Americans, while excoriating the Chinese, bids us forget our entire history. That history says it was the Americans and not the Chinese that invaded us, occupied us. That history says it was the Americans who occupied a portion of our territory in military bases, and it was all we could do to push them out. That history says that despite the proffered hand of friendship, mythologized by the image of Filipinos and Americans fighting side by side in Bataan, walang iwanan, the Americans did in fact leave us to our devices, and the Filipino veterans who fought a heroic war of resistance can’t even get their due from the government they served. Hell, at least a bowl of porridge can be eaten.
That history says the Americans have oppressed us while we’ve oppressed the Chinese—by discriminating against them, by putting them in pogroms, by stereotyping them as shysters and profiteers.
And finally, why in God’s good name should it be a choice between America and China, between being pro-American or pro-Chinese? What idiocy is that? Why should our foreign relations revolve around other countries, particularly a superpower that can swallow us up and spit us out piece by piece? Why should the equation be that if you’re not rabidly pro-American, you’re resolutely anti-Filipino?
“Rabidly” is the word. Vietnam and Japan are pissed off by China, too, but they are not ceding parts of their territory, even if that means only the inside of their camps, to American troops and equipment to stop China. Vietnam and Japan are rallying world opinion to their side, too, but they are not strutting around with sabers bared declaring noisily, “Don’t mess with us, nakasandal kami sa pader.” Vietnam and Japan are trying to get the dispute settled multilaterally, too, with the help of friends and the blessings of the United Nations, but they are not willing to bind themselves to America in order to be free.
Pro-America or pro-China? Why can’t we just be pro-Filipino? To paraphrase Gazmin himself: We keep complaining about the Chinese trying to own a piece of our country, why don’t we complain about the Americans owning the whole of it?
Nasaan ang pagka-Pilipino natin?
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