Saving Lives vs Saber Rattling

By Herman Tiu Laurel

Another 400,000 doses of Sinovac Covid-19 vaccines from China are scheduled to arrive in Manila on April 11, 2021.  With this, Sinovac deliveries since February 28, 2021 or in the past month-and-a-half, will total up to 2-million doses. Half of these are donations while the other half are the first million of the 25-million doses ordered by the Duterte administration for the year.

Two million doses of the coronavirus vaccine is equivalent to 1-million fully-inoculated Filipinos who will be secured from severe Covid-19 disease with a two-vaccine dosage treatment. The on-schedule roll-out of the inoculation – first of the medical front-liners and followed by other exposed essential public personnel – was made possible by the arrival, as-scheduled, of the Sinovac vaccines at the start of March.

Just a few days ago, the good news for the country’s senior citizens was handed down by the Philippine Vaccine Panel who approved the use of the Sinovac vaccine for those 60 years old and above. This is in lieu of the AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX U.N. pool, which was delayed as many of the other promised vaccines have also been.

 China has proven to be the most reliable partner and supplier in the COVID-19 crisis, from the May 2020 commitment of President Xi Jinping to make China’s vaccine a “global public good” to China’s subsequent fulfillment of its pledge of donations, availability of supply and as-scheduled deliveries.

Sinovac is now ramping-up its production to deliver 2-billion doses to the world in 2021.

This joyous news that stemmed from President Duterte’s special relationship with China has been underplayed by Philippine media. Instead, Philippine media has spent the last three weeks with headlines focused on a distorted news item aimed at creating an agitation and propaganda scene: the phantasm of an “invasion” by “220 Chinese militia boats” of a Union Banks reef called Whitsun Reef.

The headlines were accompanied by a photo of trawl fishing vessels (a fact I confirmed with fishing experts of Frabelle Fishing Corporation) moored alongside each other as we have seen in many photos of previous years that operate annually before China’s 3-month SCS fishing moratorium that starts in May.

And when 180 of the boats had left the Whitsun reef lagoon to spread out to the fishing grounds, the agitation and propaganda machine then concentrated on demanding that the remaining 40-odd boats leave posthaste, as if fishing boats can just rush off without studying, planning fishing targets, undertaking repairs and other considerations.

Even more basic is the fact that the Union Banks is within the disputed area whose territorial rights or EEZ are being claimed, not only by the Philippines but at least three other nations.

The Philippines agitators were also being arbitrary and discriminatory as Vietnam’s boats are also in the area; moreover, Vietnam has already built five structures built on these reefs to buttress its stakes in the area.

This major distraction –the specter of an “invasion” that never was – shelved the continuing good works and good news China had been engaged with the Duterte administration in addressing one of the two major crises of the country, namely, the COVID-19 crisis, and the government’s campaign against the CPP/NPA led by the Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (TF-ELCAC).

Even as the US-sourced agit-prop fake news of an illusory threat of Chinese occupation of Whitsun Reef by ghost “militia boats” continued blasting, assistance from China to protect Filipinos from COVID-19 continued apace. Even Navotas Mayor Toby Tiangco, an anti-China politician who had hypocritically linked the vaccine to the SCS issue, took the vaccine anyway.

Around midpoint in the twenty-day saga of the “militia boat” media-driven hoax, Lorenzana tried to dampen the emotions being whipped up by declining to send Navy ships to Whitsun Reef to avoid “provocation.”, The next day, however, he returned with a harsh diatribe on the Chinese embassy saying he was not “fooled” as the weather in the reef is already fine and he wanted the remaining 40 vessels out.

It is possible that Lorenzana may have been piqued by the Chinese embassy’s statement regarding the ships’ presence in the reef as “sheltering from inclement weather” during those weeks and the perfunctory reiteration of China’s claim over the SCS. However, I thought it uncharacteristic of the usually-professional Lorenzana who may have been advised to tactically draw all discussion to himself and deny mileage to the opposition.

DFA Secretary Locsin followed through with tough comments about a “demarche” and unofficial mouthpiece Atty. Sal Panelo warned of “unwanted hostilities.” Again, however,” the two turned to dampening the rhetoric quickly with Locsin saying “talk better than missiles” while Panelo opined that “US offer to help in dispute is useless.” At that point, it struck me that the administration was controlling the narrative already.

By April 9, the ABS-CBN was attempting to develop a new hostile storyline with its headline “Filipino vessel chased down by 2 Chinese missile attack craft in West PH Sea!” The photos accompanying this ridiculous story showed a white Coast Ship that cannot be mistaken for a missile attack craft. Absolute nonsense!

As the anti-Duterte and anti-China elements attempt to stage a new fake news controversy to headline and broadcast massively, administration spokesman Harry Roque was on media announcing that Sinovac would be delivering up to 4.5-million doses of vaccines in the month of April. Meanwhile, my research found that numerous PHL-China projects are certain of completion this year.

Of these, two donated bridges worth Pesos 3.5-billion will definitely be commissioned within the year. The Estrella-Pantaleon bridge, which is 85% complete today and will be finished by June, will accommodate 50,000 vehicles a day and cut Mandaluyong-Makati travel to 12-minutes. The Binondo-Intramuros is 70% complete and ready for opening by September to serve 30,000 vehicles per day.

In the East-West battle to win the strategic psychological war for the hearts-and-minds of the Philippines and its people, it is clear whose side is truly benefitting the Filipino people and will win in the long run.

Only the dwindling number of fools among Filipinos will continue to hope for the return of the “Great White Hope America” even as the Philippines is destined for progress and peace with Asia.

For the meantime, the Filipinos ought to be asking, “Where are the vaccines made by America and its allies?”

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