Can We Be Heroes

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Filipinos should be battle-ready. We have enemies who are determined to harm us, steal from us, abuse us, destroy us. We have no choice but to fight back, to defend ourselves, to defeat the enemies, and to establish the way of life that benefits us, our families and nation.

No, I am not talking about fighting the Chinese whom some suspect are intruding into our territory to eventually take the wealth beneath the sea. Because the existence of oil and gas reserves in quantities that are awesome have been confirmed by exploration companies, there is unusual interest in areas where possible mother lodes to this reserves are. The Philippine government and the Filipino people believe that most of these strategic areas are well within our territorial boundaries.

China says otherwise. We do not know to what extent China will go to back up that claim. We are hoping that China is just posturing so they have an edge when we go to any negotiation table. They can claim never theirs to start with. But China can be more belligerent than that. It depends how worried or desperate they are about their own energy needs – and we do not have a good reading about their situation. All I can say is that China will move aggressively if their level of concern is high.

So we hear that our government will protect and insist on its sovereignty on territory it deems its own. In media and the Internet, including angry rhetoric from Filipinos (and some Filipino-Americans), we say we will fight China if we have to. And “having to” seems to mean if China takes action in not just claiming but actually occupying islands and then build up a military presence as though these islands and the seas around them are Chinese, not Filipino.

Who, then, will fight? The Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police? What about the citizens of our republic? How about the Filipino people themselves who are not part of the military and police? Who among us will fight knowing we most probably will die quickly if we engage China in a war? Supposing China does not invade the Philippines like Japan did in World War II? Supposing China will just occupy islands without residents somewhere out there near them but nearer us? How many of us will be willing to die to defend these islands where there are no Filipinos and which most Filipinos never cared about until the news of huge amounts of oil in the area came out?

Or, are we just banking on the United States to fight our battles for us? And if America comes to our rescue, what would motivate it? Surely, it is not love for us, nor love for democracy. How about control or open access of sea lanes? How about having a foothold or a firmer grip in a region dominated by China and Muslims? How about the lure of the same oil and gas that is attracting not just China but other neighboring countries as well? And at what cost to us, to our sovereignty, to our independence?

But beggars cannot be choosy. And those who are not willing to die for their country must suffer the consequences of another nation fighting for us. These consequences include staying second class in one’s own land, or experiencing a foreign country which has the same rights as natives of the homeland. We were set free when it was convenient for the United States. It may not be convenient for them to take us back as a de facto territory. Filipinos may have lost our attitude of being pliant and submissive. We could be a bigger headache than what America is willing to pay for.

Besides, the United States, with Great Britain and Malaysia as collaborators, may just choose to protect, and control half of Mindanao and the island of Palawan. They can cede Luzon and the Visayas to China and the taipans for as long as they have their share of the oil and the wealth of Muslim Mindanao. They can allow a potential conflict between the Philippines and China to weaken both so they can move in and take control of what they have been hankering for not so secretly.

In the end, our salvation cannot be anything less than our courage and our heroism. China may risk killing some of us but it will find too costly to kill millions of us. The world can gang up on it if it does so. But China has to see that millions will risk death rather than allow an interloper to land-grab and to sea-grab. Spain had done it, the United States had done it, and Japan had done it. How many Filipinos have the memory of history and a kind of patriotism that enables us to face the worst danger with an attitude? What else but courage and love of country can see us through hell and back?

Can a people at a ripe time for change not have the perspective to embrace that change but can see clearly the need for heroism and feel strongly to accept that fate? If we cannot have the capacity to protect our morality, our patrimony, and even millions of Filipinos from hunger, where will we get the courage to be heroes for the motherland that is being asked only to share its territorial resources? If in easier times, we cannot find the solidarity to battle corruption, poverty and the assault on our ethical standards by plunderers and their protectors, why will we die for something less?

It is a moment of rebirth, of resurrection. That can happen only with an act of will for most of us to believe and act together. The alternative, though, is always there. We can always go back to Purgatory.

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