MT’s Tempest in a Lonely Tea Cup

The Manila Times (MT) published an editorial last Dec. 11, 2016 entitled, “Filipinos glad to see US do West Phil Sea maneuvers but not our government”.  In its sweeping claim that “Filipinos” are glad to see the US’ Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the area, there was no basis to be found, neither by way of any survey nor study cited.

The second assertion in the said title is also inaccurate because the Duterte government has not made any declaration of “gladness” or woe regarding the US’ conduct in the South China Sea (West Philippines Sea), only that Philippine territory will not be a “springboard” or launch pad for such activities.

There are important reasons for refusing to allow Philippine territory to be a springboard for such FONOPs: First, to do otherwise undermines the very basic principle guiding the country’s independent foreign policy as provided for by the Constitution; and, second, it rightfully sends a signal to the international community affirming the independence of the Philippines.

Reading through the entire article leaves one with the impression that the MT simply intends to stir up a tempest in its lonely and miserable tea cup.  While everybody else in the hall is celebrating, toasting the wine of harmony between the Philippines and China, and toasting to the bright future ahead, this Manila Times editorial simply falls flat.

There are many reasons for Filipinos to support Duterte’s policy not to allow US FONOPs to be launched from Philippine territory, and that will be the subject of our next paragraphs.

Fruits of an Independent Foreign Policy

Denying the Philippines’ territory to be used as a launch pad for another country’s military operations is just being consistent with the Independent Foreign Policy that the bold and innovating new government of this country enunciated on Sept. 10, 2016.

It was upon his return at the Davao airport from Indonesia that President Duterte announced: “We will observe and I must insist – I repeat, I must insist – on the time-honored principles of sovereign equality, non-interference, and commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes to best serve our people and protect the interests of our country…”

The 1987 Philippine Constitution states that “The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy.  In its relations with other states, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.”

The US FONOPs serve only US interest; Asian governments, meanwhile, are pressured to accede to it.  The countries of Asia, including Asean—the ones with the most at stake in keeping the free flow of trade, commerce, and all other economic activities unimpeded—have never faced insurmountable obstacles to working together (such as joint maritime anti-terror efforts) to ensure such freedom.

The Duterte government’s implementation of its new Independent Foreign Policy has already enhanced many times over the community spirit amongst Asian and Asean nations.  Asean has seemingly been relieved of a thorn in its side, with harmony restored as the former US-influenced Philippine foreign policy has been supplanted by Duterte’s new Independent Philippine Foreign Policy.

Clouds Open to Bright Skies

For years since 2012, when the former US-influenced Philippine government stirred up dark clouds over Panatag or Scarborough Shoal, such that a 2015 SWS survey showed 85% of Filipinos “worried” over the possibility of armed conflict, the Philippines’ Global Peace Index ranking also dropped.  Suddenly, everything changed after Duterte declared his Independent Foreign Policy.

With this policy shift and his visit to China, President Duterte parted the dark clouds over the shoal within a week: Filipino fisher folks were back and brought home thousands of tons of catch while those fishermen who were imperiled by storms found succor with the Chinese Coast Guard (the latter rescuing them when Philippine Coast Guard vessels were unable to).

Another bright news from the West Philippine Sea has been the re-opening of the access to the marooned Philippine navy ship for resupply of food and other provisions for Filipino troops.  In all, these are but twinkles compared to the vast new panorama unfolding before Filipinos’ eyes that the new Independent Foreign Policy has made possible.

Glaring Immediate Prospects in the $Billions

Over the China Sea horizon to the north is the vastest market the world has ever seen, waiting with open arms to engage with Filipinos in trade and cooperation.  Just weeks after the handshake between Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping, delegations upon delegations of Chinese officials, state bankers, and business people have arrived to close deals to bring mutual prosperity.

Filipinos will be greeted by a 2017 that brings them $1-Billion in export to the vast Chinese market for fruits – not just bananas but also of pineapples, papayas, mangoes, and dragon fruits.

The president of the China Chamber of Commerce for the Import and Export of Foodstuffs and Native Products led a delegation of Chinese firms visiting Manila and Davao that signed contracts to import 100,000 metric tons of such Philippine fruits amounting to $1-Billion.  Indeed, what can be a more tangible fruit from President Duterte’s re-opening of ties with China than this?

But there’s more that will bring in immediate benefits for Filipino entrepreneurs and working people—the area of tourism.  The most comparable country in terms of offer of sea and sun to the Chinese tourist market, Thailand, is expected to receive 8 to 10 million Chinese tourists in 2016, spending an average of $160 a day.

In 2016, the Philippines received only 500,000 Chinese tourists.  But with conviviality restored, 1 million Chinese tourists is a realizable immediate prospect for the Philippines, with adjusted visa requirements and ready domestic facilities.  One million Chinese tourists spending an average of $160/day for four or five days could bring in another $41-Billion into the pockets of our Filipino workers.

Helping Finance Filipino SMEs

In turn, the immediate boost in fruit exports and tourism will require huge business expansion financing for local entrepreneurs, service providers, and the hiring of service providers.  Even this aspect does not escape the attention of China’s financial sector and Duterte’s trade officials.

The Bank of China (BoC), one of that country’s four largest banks, has already prepared a plan to start a conference to match 100 Chinese companies with 500 Filipino companies in March 2017 and then with 1,000 by September.  The process will establish a database for matchmaking, one-to-one or one-to-more meetings, onsite survey, and all-round banking services to be provided by the BoC.

These arrangements were kicked off with a cooperation agreement signed by the ICC Philippines, DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), and BoC witnessed by President Duterte and BoC Chairman Tian Guoli in October of 2016.  With this financial support, Filipino entrepreneurs may find more difficulty in keeping up with the pace of growth this economic engagement with China will usher in.

$24-Billion More Bright Lights

President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to President Xi Jinping brought home a total of $24 billion worth of investment pledges and soft loans.  Thirteen MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) were signed in various fields.  The Chinese side is showing its support for the efforts of the people of the Philippines to advance economic development under the leadership of President Duterte.

The Chinese side has also shown its eagerness in transforming the MOUs into tangible benefits for the two nations.  As a result, just in the past few weeks, Chinese working delegations have arrived in droves to meet with their Philippine counterparts to follow-up the implementation of projects.

China’s Ministry of Agriculture sent a delegation and made field visits to several Philippine provinces studying prospects of cooperation on rice, irrigation, fisheries projects, and technology.

China’s Ministry of Commerce also sent to Manila a task force headed by its Director General of Asian Affairs, meeting with officials of NEDA (National Economic Development Authority), DTI, DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways), and the DOTr (Department of Transportation), to discuss infrastructure development cooperation as well as potentials of establishing industrial parks in the Philippines with investments from China.

All these preparations are in conjunction with the resumption of the China-Philippines Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation (JCETC), which allows both sides to pursue concrete implementation projects.  To implement these, the Deputy Chairman of the National Development and Reform Committee (NDRC) of China held discussions with Secretary of Finance Carlos Dominguez III, DPWH Sec. Mark Villar, and others.

The task of financing these huge projects is always a priority and the China Development Bank and the EXIM Bank of China have also sent working teams to Manila to discuss loan facilities with the Philippine side.

On the multilateral level, China has reiterated its commitment to implementing developmental initiatives, such as the “Belt and Road” and the 2 + 7 Cooperation Framework, for further enhancement of China-ASEAN relations and strategic cooperation in transportation.

Mission for Media

The Philippines is on the threshold of a new age of hope and progress, of peace and prosperity in the 21st Century, the Asian Century, through development supported by the main engine of the world’s economy today – China.

Thus, Philippine media is a key component in creating the environment for the durability and stability of the progress being made for the country to achieve the quantum velocity escape from its decades of economic retrogression and social decay.

Philippine media is, of course, fully aware that there are countless land mines being laid by the enemies of the nation’s socio-economic progress, using as one of the main methods the weaponization of misinformation and disinformation to institute perpetual tension and conflict.

In light of this, we note the MT editorial’s concluding remarks:“So when will we be able to assert our sovereignty over Panatag?  Maybe only after dramatic events in world history have happened, and we Filipinos have become people of the Chinese province of the Philippines.”

When the late leader of the great, giant neighbor of our Asian community, the Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping, expressed to the late visiting Philippine President Corazon Aquino in 1989 for parties to “set aside dispute and pursue joint development” that a peaceful, neighborly, and mutually beneficial approach to resolving such issues was established.

China has successfully settled 13 of the 14 border disputes it had with neighboring countries, including the world’s sixth longest border with Russia as well as its land border dispute with Vietnam.  The dispute over the Beibu or Tonkin Gulf was successfully demarcated in 2009, with China and Vietnam having pledged to settle remaining disputes peacefully.

How then does the MT propose to assert sovereignty, to go in and arrest Chinese fishermen again as the previous Philippine administration did?  We have seen where that got us and our fishermen, our trade and tourism prospects, and the fear it generated amongst our own people.  Does the MT propose to call on the US Navy to fly its flag ahead of our US-donated naval frigates to challenge China?  The worst fears of the thinking Filipino would certainly become a living nightmare.

We therefore cannot fathom the depths of the MT editorial’s purpose in issuing such an irrational and irresponsible position.

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