China triggers the rise of Filipino patriotism

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

PBBM rallied the troops to demonstrate courage and firm resolve in preserving and upholding the country’s territorial integrity. | File photo – PCO – Dec. 21, 2023

This is a delicate moment in the Philippine–China relationship. It can be arguably claimed that this relationship is one of our longest and most enduring, spawning back almost a thousand years if we accept ancient Chinese artifacts as evidence. A trade relationship, definitely, and over time and interaction, a cultural one, too.

Today, studies show that as much as 27% of Filipinos have some Chinese blood in them. Genetically, it would seem logical that our blood ties would make the Chinese influence the most dominant among all foreigners. But it never became so. We are being swept by the drums of war against each other for the first time.

While not being a scholar in history, it is clear to me that there was no political history with China, only local political incidents involving Filipinos of Chinese descent. And when there was a moment for the Philippines and China to engage each other as sovereign states, it was as enemies in the Korean War. Filipinos fought as allies of the United States and South Korea, while China sides with North Korea.

In the Cold War era, the Philippines stood with Western democracies while China stood out as a prime Communist nation, along with Russia. The adverse political relationship, however, did not disturb the cultural and economic ties. Filipinos kept buying cheap Chinese products and never stopped eating Chinese cuisine embedded in Filipino taste buds.

Political colors were added to Chinese migration into the Philippines from the conflict between Mao Tse-tung and Chiang Kai-shek, from the 1940s onwards. Most migrants to the Philippines favored Chiang’s Kuomintang, which coincided with the Philippines doing the same. China-backed the North Koreans in the 1950s, while the Philippines allied with the United States to help South Korea.

However, as the American-China relationship improved in the 70s, so did ours. The last 50 years have been a dramatic thawing and emerging acceptance of one another – until the 9-Dash line claim of China and its aggressive moves to impose its convoluted concept of empire on others, including the Philippines. Former President Ramos saw it coming and grounded the BRP Sierra Madre as an outpost, like an extraordinary marker saying part of the ocean belongs to the Philippines.

China fantasized about empire, and the 9-Dash Line claim over oceans became its primary face. In recent decades, China converted its fantasy into an operational mission to make its claim accurate using superior naval force. The fantasy has been turning into fanaticism. There is only one ending for fanaticism, the same ending we must prepare for.

It is our great misfortune to be strategically located within China’s fanatical delusion of empire. Furthermore, the West Philippine Sea is surrounded by massive gas and oil deposits, fuel sources that can catapult China to even greater heights.

“The Marcos administration must be credited with standing up to China and re-establishing a stronger bond with its mutual defense partner, the United States. It also deserves credit for engaging other nations to join the Philippines to protect our territorial sovereignty, exclusive economic zones, and open access to international sea lanes.”

China flexed its muscles in 2012, probably sensing President Aquino and the United States would actively cooperate to protect the seas that belonged to the Philippines. China triggered the Scarborough Shoal drama. Chinese ships cordoned off the shoal, denying Filipino fishermen access to our traditional fishing grounds.

China put itself in a position it cannot retreat from, no matter what it says. Too much pride to swallow. Too much greed for the resources they want. Too much firepower in its hands. Too much arrogance among its military-dependent leaders.

The Scarborough Shoal incident allowed the Philippines to bring the case to the United Nations. As expected, the Philippines won its case against China. Chinese propaganda was not enough; superior military and economic resources were also not enough to change the physical terrain of the earth and its oceans. The arbitral tribunal naturally followed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which China is a signatory, affirming the rights of the Philippines and debunking China’s 9-Dash Line claim.

Despite that, however, the insulting bullying of the Chinese naval and other maritime vessels against our fishermen, re-supply mission boats, and Coast Guard ships continued. It has triggered a sharper resentment in the Filipino people. This elevated resentment includes the attempts of some Filipino politicians and businessmen to favor China. No wonder there is now more noise about treason and traitors. Many believe they have sold their souls to China’s dream of empire and profited from it.

With an international ruling favoring the Philippines in a territorial dispute, a solid basis exists for engaging in a multi-party agreement to protect countries’ rights against Chinese aggression. The United States has openly assured of its participation in an allied defense of the Philippines should it be attacked. Japan and Australia have shown active sympathy as well. Many more are expected to join that allied defense initiative if the Philippines pursues it.

I am seeing the ingredients for a violent confrontation find convergence. That is a sad development because China is not an enemy we want to make, not an enemy we want to fight. But China is not giving the Philippines and the Filipino people any palatable choice other than to submit in fear to superior military and economic might. Filipinos must prepare for the worst; political and civic leaders must cooperate to develop a comprehensive plan immediately.

The Marcos administration must be credited with standing up to China and re-establishing a stronger bond with its mutual defense partner, the United States. It also deserves credit for engaging other nations to join the Philippines to protect our territorial sovereignty, exclusive economic zones, and open access to international sea lanes.

Yet, the same administration must understand that major internal bickering will divide and weaken us, as in the unpopular push for Cha Cha. One hand fighting the other is a classical blunder of moronic dimensions. As China enjoys our political zarzuela, let me relish seeing Filipino patriotism rise.

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