Grossly misinterpreting ‘Isang Dagat’

“Those who object to the song show only their ignorance.”

Rod Kapunan / Manila Standard / May 2, 2020

There is now a brouhaha of protest over the song “Isang Dagat” composed by the ambassador of the People’s Republic of China, Huang Xilian. The song was dedicated to the Filipino people to help ease the suffering they now experience, and to reemphasize that the sea that sets us apart is one, that we in Asia are living in one planet, sharing a common future.

The song was simple and should not have been interpreted to create confusion. Rather, it should have been seen as extending the hand of friendship by a brother in this trying time when our people need it most.

When some sectors reacted rather impulsively to denounce the song, they only exposed their complete ignorance to the truth that we should unite and act as brothers to face the threat to humanity. The whole of South China Sea is one and speaks to affirm that we live and inhabit the same planet.

The preparation and the undertaking to come out with that beautiful song was actively cooperated by the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. to purposely assist his country’s fight against COVID-19.

On April 27, Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian held a video conference with the board of FFCCCII on how to jointly assist the Philippines’ in its fight against COVID-19. Composing a song was one suggestion. The lyrics convey to the whole world our assistance; Ambassador Huang personally received 53 boxes containing medical supplies, masks, protective gears, medicines donated by the Philippine government to China last February. The song was our token gesture of friendship, solidarity and support to the Chinese people.

It was sung by Imelda Papin, a known singer who sang many songs during the Marcos administration. But even before it hit the airwaves, local media like Rapper and ABS-CBN denounced it as Chinese propaganda.

It would have been different if the lyrics glorified China for its assistance to contain the pandemic. In fact, in exchange, China delivered to us masks, air ventilators, protective gear, medicines and all things that could set the pace in our effort to contain the virus.

Denouncing an otherwise beautiful song is most pathetic. Their cry have clear undertone of Sinophobe slur that exposed our ignorance how differently we treat our former colonizer that decimated ten percent of our people in the name of democracy and freedom at the turn of the 20th century. They want us to turn against our neighbor that has been there with us for civilizations. Our action was characterized by ambivalence, for it seems we hate everything about China. We even refuse to understand their language but uncannily could sing in public many of their patriotic songs.

There is paradox in us of hating what is ours but loving what is alien to our culture and way of life. In fact, there is nothing in that song that China is claiming a portion of our territory even by metaphor. We react to a point of madness when all it stated is about the friendship between China and the Philippines and they have a fine tradition of helping each other in times of calamity. Ambassador Xilian recalled that the Philippine government and people from all walks of life rendered massive support to tide over the Chinese people during the initial wave of the pandemic. Such valuable assistance, he said, will be remembered by the Chinese government and its people forever.

Our misinterpretation of “Isang Dagat” only exposed our ignorance and our prejudgment of China. Our reaction is telling how the Americans brainwashed our people that it is deeply embedded into the inner recesses of their brain. Our reaction is Pavlovian that we react to it with our neighbors in Asia wondering why we always seek to identify ourselves with our former colonial master instead of with our Asian brothers who are much closer to us both in racial and cultural identity.

It would seem that many of our people from the so-called “learned class” got it all wrong to assume that the song is intended to remind us of our indebtedness for the help they extended to overcome the pandemic. As said, it was meant to thank us for the help we extended to contain the deadly virus that was then taking its toll in the city of Wuhan. As ambassador Huang said, “China’s assistance is in reciprocation to the Philippines’ help and friendship rendered to China, demonstrating the tradition of helping and supporting each other in this trying time.”

The song was not meant to remind us of our indebtedness. Their assistance is beyond the giving of material support like the medical supplies and protective gears, but foremost in their sending of medical team. As President Xi Jinping once said, your closest neighbor even becomes closer to us than to our relatives living in the next village much that the building of strong friendship and good neighborliness becomes mutually obligatory.

* * *

It is but proper that Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin lodged a diplomatic protest over the decision by the Chinese government to create two districts to exert its control over the South China Sea, referring to the disputed islands in the Paracel and Spratly Islands. The protest is meant to let the world know we continue with our claim over those islands but should take caution not to interpret that to mean China is about to forcibly takeover those islands claimed and occupied by other countries like the Philippines. It is, in plain language, something for the record.

China’s decision was intended to scuttle once and for all the bothersome adjudication filed by countries with the unrecognized and unauthorized arbitration court over claims in the South China Sea. That decision is no different from the decision by President Marcos to issue P.D. No. 1596 declaring Kalayaan Island a municipality.

China has not acted to recover the island they equally claim as part of their territory. Rather, Marcos improved our relations with China despite that. It would be totally different if China would take steps to physically eject the present occupants for the purpose of taking over. That would constitute a clear act of aggression which is prohibited by international law and by the UN charter.

Let us ignore former foreign affairs secretary Albert Del Rosario. Maybe he and his mentor have their agenda on how to handle the problem which we seek to avoid.

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