Our ranks are thinning

With the passing of former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez, an important voice has been lost in the never-ending debate on how to respond to what China is doing in the South China Sea. A former naval officer who retired from the military service with the rank of Captain, he was one of those who understood what really was at stake with regard to the ongoing militarization of China of the SCS.

With China at our very doorstep, he believed that the country has basically lost the protection of the 600-mile-wide SCS that separates our country from the Asian mainland. Luzon can now be targeted in a matter of minutes.

This was what Roy and I talked about the last time I saw him in a coffee shop on my way home from Manila over a year ago. In contrast to Justice Carpio’s concentration on the historical claim of China and the legal implications of the government’s policy stance on the SCS, the issue with Roy was more on the security implications of what the administration is doing and the issue of transparency.

Roy was a graduate of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in 1970. He therefore belonged to the batch of officers commissioned into the regular force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in 1970 from various sources like the US Service Academies, Philippine Military Academy, Australian Army Officer Candidate School, and people like myself who were directly commissioned into the regular force.

I first met Roy when we worked together in the then-Ministry of Transportation and Communications in the early 1980s. He was one of the whiz kids tapped by former President Ferdinand Marcos to run the Postal Service as the Postmaster General. He eventually retired from the service and then entered politics as a congressman representing one district of the City of Paranaque for many years but he never forgot his military roots and his passing is much too soon.

Two 1970 graduates from US Service Academies have now passed on to the great beyond. The late Major General Andy Floria, the 1970 graduate of West Point and now Roilo Golez. The 1970 ranks are thinning but some of us are still soldiering on. Roy Cimatu is still around as the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources and Rudy Garcia, his Undersecretary. Egay Galvante is running the Land Transportation Office while Nesty Carolina is with the Philippine Veterans Administration.

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This SCS debate has been going on for some time. It continues to simmer every time there is an incident like the Chinese coast guard confiscating the catch of some fishermen in an area that is clearly within our 200-mile exclusive economic zone. There are two sides of the story here. The government led by the President believes that it is better to be friendly with China than confrontational. This stems from the belief that there is no way our country can win a war with China and that in the Presidents own words, he refuses to send his soldiers simply to be slaughtered in a very one sided war. Quiet bilateral negotiations is also the better way to do it rather than the multilateral approach favored by the last administration.

With regard to exploiting the mineral resources in the area, it is also better to go for joint exploitation even if the mineral resources are in areas that is not contested territory and clearly belongs to us.

The other side of the argument is led by senior justice Antonio Carpio, Golez and others. Their point is that by acquiescing to what China is doing, we might be losing on a technicality in any future legal battle. This side is also trying to point out that by protesting diplomatically to what China is doing, it does not mean that we are going to or want to go to war, a point which President Duterte inexplicably believes to be the case.

One belief is that it was the fault of the United States that China has occupied the whole of the SCS by not preventing China. The other is the sincere belief that in a shooting war, the President does not believe that Americans would be willing to go to war and die for Filipinos in spite of the fact that the US is a treaty ally. The result is that China has taken over the US as the most influential country currently represented in the Philippines today.

The Chinese Ambassador is now the center of attraction in social events instead of the US Ambassador. China’s naval ships have been calling on our ports and just a few days ago, a military transport plane was suddenly allowed to land and refuel in Davao City of all places.

Any significance of this? Senator Panfilo Lacson raised some questions but Secretary Bong Go said that the landing was done with prior coordination.

One thing about the Chinese, they are very smart. They know exactly what they want and know how to go about getting it. They have promised billions of dollars in aid and soft loans to finance our on-going government infrastructure programs but we have not seen anything yet and the conditions of these soft loans have not yet been made public for the sake of transparency.

Our country’s geographic location is of vital strategic importance to China because we stand in the way to their march to the Pacific Ocean.

Let us hope therefore that our country’s leaders realize this and make the right policy decisions. Otherwise, we might be swallowed by China without even realizing it.

Topics: Roilo Golez , South China Sea , Ministry of Transportation and Communications , Rudy Garcia , Antonio Carpio
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