Speak softly, love

Sun Star Bacolod - - Opinion -

TER­RI­TO­RIAL dis­putes usu­ally out­live pres­i­den­tial terms, although not quite with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping who has free rein since China’s con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment on term lim­its in 2018.

So when you have Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte and Xi on the mat­ter of the West Philip­pine Sea (WPS), the bal­ance sim­ply tilts. The odds are with the Philip­pine Pres­i­dent, with hardly three years left in his term and ob­sessed by his vi­sion of na­tional pros­per­ity hitched on China as its grand en­abler.

Thus, you can see how the WPS is­sue makes a clumsy jug­gler out of the Pres­i­dent, helped in no small way by the re­cent Recto Bank in­ci­dent and a pub­lic pres­sure for a res­o­lu­tion. Duterte, in the days lead­ing up to his State of the Na­tion Ad­dress (Sona), said he will use the bi­cam plat­form to “ed­u­cate” the Filipinos on the WPS is­sue. So we waited for just what sort of en­light­en­ment will de­scend upon us.

In the Sona, the Pres­i­dent men­tioned a stand­off at the WPS that took place dur­ing the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion. He was prob­a­bly re­fer­ring to the 2012 im­passe in which the Philip­pines pulled out its largest war­ship, the BRP Gre­go­rio Del Pi­lar, but only to see China re­in­forc­ing its fleet in the dis­puted wa­ters.

That day, said Duterte in his Sona, “we lost the Spratly and the Pan­gani­ban Is­land.” China has since then been in pos­ses­sion of

the is­lands, it is near im­pos­si­ble to tug them out, the Pres­i­dent said. He could not just drive the Chi­nese away. If he sends the navy frigates, they’d be shreds in seven min­utes.

The tricky part for the Pres­i­dent is that while he ne­go­ti­ates from the po­si­tion that the WPS is ours, he also ac­knowl­edges that China is also a dogged claimant. That’s the prag­ma­tism that he finds hard to ex­plain sim­ply because it is in­com­pat­i­ble with the loftier notions of sovereignt­y and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity. Had the mat­ter been just a swear­ing con­test, he’d have eas­ily won it, but it wasn’t, and so he stepped back with the soft­est of tack— wiser for him who would rather con­duct busi­ness as usual with the Chi­nese.

The Pres­i­dent had al­ways said time and again that he’d rather talk in the board­rooms than go to war. True, in­deed, and from out of these board­rooms emerge deals on joint ex­plo­rations and what­not in­volv­ing the WPS and a good num­ber of gi­ant in­fra­struc­ture projects.

There is a time for ev­ery­thing, to an­tag­o­nize or to make peace, Duterte said, quot­ing Ec­cle­si­astes.

So this is pretty much what we can ex­pect from this Pres­i­dent un­til his term ends in 2022, a soft stance on the WPS. There is a lot of in­ter­est with China, and quite un­char­ac­ter­is­tic of the fire­brand, he speaks softly. -Sscebu

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