This China issue really bugs me, even after 6 years when Scarborough Shoal was land-grabbed and “fenced off” like real estate. It hurt me as a Filipino, and hurt me more knowing that there was no way to dislodge Chinese guards except by committing suicide. I understood then that the Philippine Navy and Air Force did not have the capability to defeat the Chinese naval forces that cordoned Scarborough Shoal. However, it still ate me up inside.
Even at that time, there were many criticisms directed at former President Noynoy Aquino for not taking a more forceful stance against the takeover. I know that he realized then what President Duterte realizes now – that the Philippines has no military capacity to deny China’s grabbing of our territory. Anyway, though it seemed like only like consuelo de bobo, PNoy did go to the United Nations and lodged a formal complaint. The Philippines presented its case for arbitration, proved the fairness and correctness of its claim, and, indeed, received a most favorable judgment in our favor.
But a legal and moral judgment by any international body or court has no power unless it brings with it the kind of force or pressure that can approximate military power. There are some armed conflicts that are condemned by the United Nations but still manage to go on because the protagonists, or at least one of them, simply will not stop. Unless, therefore, the United Nations or enough countries within the organization, will provide the military equivalent that can force protagonists to toe the line, both conflict and killing will continue.
China dismissed the ruling of the United Nations, specifically on the treaty known as UNCLOS or United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, saying it will not abide by it. And to prove its point, the point being it can do as it pleases unless forced otherwise, China took over more islands being claimed by the Philippines and, in fact, has built military facilities on some of them. That is where we are now, still swallowing a pill that is getting more bitter by the day.
The Duterte administration continues to point out the same painful reality of our military helplessness against an invader with superior arms, soldiers and political will. Within the context of that helplessness, the Philippines has simply surrendered. Oh, there are many statements here and there, but they are mere statements that no one believes – not us, not the Chinese, and maybe not even the ones making the statements. The reality of China’s superiority in all ways is now an accepted fact. It seems to have nothing left but a growing resignation.
How can I blame then President Aquino and now President Duterte if they do not want to lead the AFP and the Filipino people to a war where Filipinos, like sheep, will be led to be slaughtered? I cannot. That would be such a heavy decision to make involving millions of lives. At least, it looks that way. In their shoes, I most probably will do the same – which is to avoid armed conflict for the sake of saving Filipino lives. I am fully cognizant of this set of circumstances. Yet, why is there a sickening feeling in my gut?
The superiority of the enemy has a direct bearing, less on the number of soldiers or firepower they can pit against us, but more on the number of deaths they can inflict. We are avoiding death. This fear of death is what paralyzes us to submission. There are, then, questions that we Filipinos must ask ourselves – how afraid are we of dying, and how much are we willing to give up to avoid dying? We must ask and answer these questions because only then will the leadership of our country will be able to weigh one reality against the other.
Our Presidents want to defend our sovereignty, but they also want to save our lives. They are in a quandary but they will always be unless we, the people, show them a way out of their dilemma. China is a given, and so are its more than a billion people, its land area, it economic and military resources, its level of technology. Before, and China itself was proud of saying this before, China did not invade other nations while it itself was invaded several times. Today, the perspective of the leadership of China is vastly different. Today it has a Nine Dash Line, its own idea of what in the world belongs to it. And it is willing to flex its military muscle to get it.
Maybe it is time to count if there are Filipinos who are afraid of dying that may still choose death over a shameful life. There may be only a few, that that would make our President avoid a war at all costs. But there may be enough, a million or so, who would freely choose the possibility of death rather than endless submission to an invader whose limits of aggression we still cannot measure.
I had proposed to some friends of my generation the idea that those 60 years old and above can volunteer to be the first to offer our lives. Then, a second wave can be comprised of those who are 50 to 59 years old – and so on. If the future is about our children and grandchildren, then we of the older generations may choose to die for them.
When millions of people are slaughtered, the rest of the world will react. History has repeatedly affirmed this. If we want the rest of the world, including many among the Chinese people, to react against the aggression of the Chinese leadership against Filipinos, we must give them a basis to do so. The power of the rest of the world, plus a brave Filipino people, will be greater than China’s. But first, we must conquer our fear of death.