Jose Ma. Montelibano
I write at the tail end, hopefully, of a very wet no-name rain with a very terrible impact of Metro Manila and several Luzon provinces. It is almost impossible to believe that there was no storm, that this was only another of those southwest monsoon rains. Wow! When I was first told by a high-ranking environmental officer about the meaning of “new normal” last year, I understood the words intellectually but had to experience these last few days to REALLY understand.
I had taken a firm stand against Charter change initiatives when three presidents pushed it. My reason was simple. They seemed and smelled to me like they used all kinds of alibis to hide a crime – the extension of their official hold to power. They all claimed economic reasons, dangerously saying that certain provisions of the Constitution weakened our competitiveness. More specifically, charter change pushers wanted foreigners to own land.
It had always puzzled me why politicians with all the pomp and perks of office would want to be real estate salespeople. I know that there are commissions involved in selling land, and you can double or triple your earnings if you buy low and then sell high. With inside information, this is easy. There are a few local phrases to describe these, such as lutong makaw, ginisa sa sariling mantika, and even bantay salakay. But are thirty pieces of silver really worth it?
Without a doubt, the SONA of P-Noy can go down in Philippine history as one of the best. It is less the good report that was presented than the fact that a full-fledged report was submitted to his boss – the people of the Philippines. I hope that the TV stations that cover SONAs continue to keep in their archives the previous SONAs delivered by past presidents. That way, direct comparisons can be made.
Would you believe that after one and a half hours of a long speech, I still read certain comments about what was missed out. P-Noy was right again, that there would be the usual critics just listening and waiting to find fault. It mattered less to them that this SONA was so detailed, the most detailed ever given, because they were only waiting for what was not mentioned.
It never entered my mind that China, the new superpower of the world, would even think of bullying our small nation. For so long, experts on China would tell me on the long history of China not attacking its neighbors although often had itself attacked, invaded, conquered. I saw only the Tibet takeover of China, but China claimed that it had not attacked a neighbor – only reclaimed what was China’s in the first place.
When China suddenly, and irrationally, claims Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Reef) as theirs even though the shoal is less than 200 miles from the nearest Philippine shore and about 800 miles from the nearest Chinese counterpart shore, I did not know what to make of it. I say irrationally because the Philippines is already largely owned by Chinese-Filipinos, many of whom sourced goods, credit and capital from China. It did not seem useful, or even sane, for China to start provoking the Philippines when Chinese-Filipino businessmen, or Chinoys, dominate the Philippine economy.
Perhaps, I underestimated the awesome volume of strategic resources that lie under the waters within the 200 miles from Philippine shores. The oil and gas reserves that have been pinpointed as within Philippine jurisdiction represent value that is beyond the trillions of dollars they are worth when monetized; more than that, they represent fuel to drive the engines of factories. Simply put, they mean security.
Perhaps, I underestimated the newfound power of a giant of a country with over a billion people – and the natural superior valuation of itself over other nations. What would I understand about the possible resentment that China may have been felt as foreigners once divided Chinese territory like loot being shared? The revolution that Mao began may not be over in the minds and hearts of key Chinese leaders who want to do to others what was once done to them.
I remember the case of Great Britain when their isles were fodder for the invaders of mainland Europe for 1,500 years. It seemed every Tom, Dick and Harry of a country in the mainland had their turn in looting, raping and plundering the tribes in the British Isles. But when Alfred the Great managed to make the warring tribes unite to fight the foreign invaders, he also triggered the birth of a powerful nation that then went on a conquering spree around the world. The once conquered followed the footsteps of its previous masters and became the primary colonizer of the earth.
Or, perhaps, I know next to nothing about the internal power struggles of a superpower whose civilian leaders have not tamed their military counterparts. The Central Committee can be locked in a competition for power and perks with the PLO, at least according to experts who make it their profession to follow and study China. It seems corruption is a major issue even within the military, and any effort to cleanse their ranks of wayward officers is meeting stiff resistance. A recent article claims that the hawks now control the PLO, and the PLO is the one dictating the aggressive incursions into, and claims of ownership over, islands that are part of Philippine territory.
It may very well be opposing mindsets within the power blocs in China that has made this superpower an enigma of sorts to Filipinos. Even as tensions rise in the West Philippine Seas, or the South China Seas as China will surely insist when referring to this body of water, China grants us billions in concessional loans for a dam. And I am sure there are many more projects that China has been not only cooperative in supporting the Philippines but actually generous. So, we have a spectrum of views and attitudes within the ruling factions in China, and these find their confusing way to us.
I carry no rancor for China, or the Chinese. God knows how much Chinese blood has intermingled with our native strain, but I can safely say a lot. We are Asians, we have much more commonality than differences. And we are a small-sized country with a weak military capability if attacked by a superpower. There is no motivation for Filipinos to fight China.
At the same time, I am aware of what partisan politics can do to a nation. I do not have to look far. I do not have to read the history of nations to know just how destructive internal conflict can be not only for citizens of an affected country but to its international relations as well. We have had decades of pro and anti-America sentiments that have led to divisiveness, and death, among Filipinos. The screaming rallyists who pounce on every possibility to go against a government they believe to be pro-American or elite-led have become unusually quiet in the face of China’s aggressive posturing over Philippine territory. If we can have diametrically opposing agenda here, why can it not happen to China?
It is most unfortunate, then, that we receive from China a contrast or contradictory set of attitudes and actions. That is a political reality, however, not much different from how Democrats and Republicans in the United States, especially during campaign periods, give the impression that they are two countries with such conflicting values and perspectives. We Filipinos just have to be prepared for everything, for the good and the bad, and survive no matter which kind of policy is applied to us at any time.
Today, there is urgency in preparing ourselves. We begin by being aware that our government will be as weak as we are as a people. That is what democracy is – that government reflects the people. If we want our government to be firm in its dealings with China, we as a people must first provide the government with our firmness. Do we negotiate meekly or stubbornly? Do we submit or do we fight? That is up to us.
Meanwhile, I can only ask, “Why, China, why?”
It is a different world out there now. It is not necessarily better, but we have to realize just how different it is from before, and more importantly, just how fast the changes are happening. The rate of change, after change itself, will determine the kind of environment we all live in – the individual environments and the global one. Those who plan the future of countries and those who govern and implement those plans must be keenly aware that the speed by which our lives are shifting demands an understanding that anticipates flexibility. Conversely, the rate of change today will wreak havoc on patterns that impose rigidity.
Removing a Chief Justice seemed like an impossibility. Who would have thought it could happen? A President expressing his honest concerns about the unacceptable actuation of a Chief Justice before a public forum and with the Chief Justice present already shocked the status quo. Fears of an open clash between the Executive and the Judiciary provoked all sorts of commentaries, and speculations. A crisis of governance became a common conclusion—among many opinion makers and writers, that is.
When I read that a Chinese vessel rammed a Filipino fishing boat off the shores of Bolinao, Pangasinan, I felt so enraged. Then, I wondered why the incident was not near the Scarborough Shoal, and decided to wait for more information. It did surface a few days later that a HK cargo ship was a primary suspect. The latest report says a number of commercial ships did pass by the area of the incident but there is yet no certainty which ship was responsible. I was immensely relieved that what I suspected at first as a serious provocative incident related to the contentious issue over Scarborough Shoal may, after all, be simply an accident at sea, not normal but not rare either.
After one long month visiting the United States and Canada, it is so good to be home. No doubt, there are modernities and opportunities that only developed countries can give. No doubt, traveling in countries with vast lands, with lakes where the whole Philippines can fit, can be quite alluring. And staying in cities like San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Toronto can dazzle a Filipino. North America is super rich, not just pound for pound, but in volume, too. It is no wonder that different peoples around the world want to migrate to the US and Canada.
It is difficult not to be optimistic about the future of our country. In fact, one would have to be totally blind, totally prejudiced, totally compromised, or simply too emotionally constipated not to be optimistic. Optimism does not remove the problems, but makes it easier to do so. Optimism does not paint a bright future but makes it attractive to have one. Yes, optimism looks at the glass half full instead of half empty, but it has good reason to do so – like realizing the water is coming in and not going out.
I witnessed via the Internet the Corona conviction and removal from the Supreme Court. I had just arrived New York after visiting San Francisco and San Diego – long hours on the road and long hours in airports and airplanes. Yet, I stayed glued on streaming video from 2 to 6 a.m. New York time to watch the Senate finishing the impeachment trial with a decisive 20- 3 vote to convict. There was not a minute when I felt sleepy; I knew I was witnessing history. Beyond that, I knew I was part of that history.