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A premature surrender?

Does anyone have a jet ski to spare?

Remember the campaign boast of President Rody that the way to solve the Spratlys dispute with China was for him to take a jet ski to the nearest shoreline and plant the Philippine flag there? Even if the Chinese do arrest him or shoot him down for his daring, he said, it was all right because he had always wanted to be a hero.

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There was no sign of that brash, daring leader in the past few days. Instead, what we got, in the face of a clear, unequivocal verdict in favor of the Philippines by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, was a sour-faced acting foreign secretary (“looking like he had lost a family member,” said an FB wag) cautioning “sobriety” on the part of Filipinos.

What was this? We had not yet gotten off the ground with our celebrations and already authorities were throwing cold water on our rising euphoria?

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True, even former president P-Noy had sought to downplay our boasting, saying the PCA’s favorable verdict was a victory not just for Filipinos but for “all,” since it managed to clarify a situation that had been bothering countries surrounding the South China Sea.

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Of course, no one wants war, not even the most jingoistic warmongers among us. But neither should we surrender our hard-won ground, nor soften our conviction that we have territorial dominance over waters and isles and rocks that the PCA had declared fall within our jurisdiction.

“Explore” options for cooperation and joint development, sure, but we can do that even as we continue to assert our legal claim now affirmed by an international tribunal.

Isn’t it strange how Mr. Duterte and his officials tolerate—even encourage—the summary arrests and killings of our own people on mere allegations of drug use, while seemingly kowtowing to a foreign power? Of course, China is a far more formidable opponent, much more deadly than vicious drug lords and heartless syndicates. But the threat the Chinese Dragon presents for now is mostly verbal and consists of hard-line positioning. It hardly helps that we seem to be folding and backtracking even before a single shot has been fired.

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When a fire hit the Faculty Center of the University of the Philippines Diliman some time back, I was by turns touched and amused when students, staff and faculty (including Chancellor and Inquirer columnist Michael Tan, as well as retired professor and Inquirer columnist Randy David), and alumni (including my daughter) posted tributes to the iconic building and the memories “enshrined” there.

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I expect that save for these personalities, the fire that gutted the “FC” was of little consequence to the rest of the nation. Although in terms of cultural and intellectual legacy, Filipinos as a whole lost an incalculable resource: books (many of them first-edition collections of faculty members), artifacts, student theses (the budding fruits of potential genius, naks) and of course intangible memories of everyone who once walked the FC’s corridors. I, too have my own memories of that building, attending several symposiums and discussions over the years, covering matters that ranged from the political to the personal (a memorable exchange from students and faculty on sexual harassment on campus, for one). But, not having an emotional connection to the campus (I went to a different university), I didn’t feel all that shaken or even stirred.

But yesterday morning, a fire gutted Shoppersville on Katipunan Avenue and I felt as if part of my youth had gone up in flames. To Maryknollers—and Ateneans and UP folks, too—Shoppersville has been a favorite hangout since 1968, the year I graduated from grade school, by the way.

I understand that the place had faded in appeal somewhat, especially since restaurants, fast-food concerns and even a mall (the UP Town Center) had sprung up in the vicinity. But residents of the Loyola Heights/Diliman district still looked on Shoppersville as a convenient, familiar and comforting presence.

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So while no historic or important books or documents were lost in yesterday’s fire, the flames did take with them a tangible reminder of this and subsequent generations’ youthful foibles.

My strongest memory of Shoppersville, as I laughingly told my husband, was crossing Katipunan Avenue while discreetly folding the waistband of my uniform, to raise it from the regulation knee-length dictates of the Maryknoll nuns and teachers, to halfway up my thighs, which was the daring fashion of the day. All this in hopes that “boys” would likewise be hanging out at the snack bar on the second floor.

Shoppersville was a convenient outlet for school supplies, snacks and gift items that young people coveted, yes. But more important, it provided a safe environment for off-campus socializing and incubating budding romances. I wonder how many couples met up in Shoppersville, mooning over milk shakes and cupcakes, while looking around to check if teachers (as they threatened) were patrolling the premises.

“They’re pouring concrete on a part of me,” goes a song bemoaning the disappearing landmarks of youth. Who knows what will take the place of the rubble to which Shoppersville had been reduced? On social media, there are speculations that the fire was actually triggered by plans to build yet another condominium building on Katipunan. There goes the neighborhood, and with it, a once-indelible reminder of the young people we once were.

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TAGS: China, jet ski, Rodrigo Duterte, Shoppersville, South China Sea, UP Faculty Center, West Philippine Sea
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