More than a week after a Chinese vessel rammed and sank a Filipino fishing boat and left its crew of 22 in open water, the President finally broke his silence. He spoke, not to condemn the Chinese crew for abandoning the Filipino fishermen, or the fact that they were operating in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In his speech to the Navy, the President spoke, not to exhort the sailors to do their duty to protect Filipinos in our territorial waters, but to admonish them to stay “out of trouble.”
Then, this week, the President said friendly ties between the Philippines and China make it difficult to stop the Chinese from fishing in the country’s territorial waters.
Asked what the country could do to prevent Chinese fishermen from plying their trade in the country’s EEZ, the President replied instead by saying the Chinese would unlikely stay away.
“I don’t think that China would do that. Why? Because we’re friends,” he said. "And they (China) are of the same view that that should not result in any bloody confrontation."
In saying the country would not go to war against China over “a minor maritime accident,” Mr. Duterte returned to the same shopworn—and patently flawed—argument he has made time and again. In the President’s binary calculation, we are either friends (or lackeys) of China and live in peace and prosperity, or we stand up to them by going to war.
War, after all, is seen as the failure of diplomacy—and none of the obsequious kowtowing we have seen so far from our officials in the last three years qualify as a serious attempt to further our national interests through diplomacy.
Serious diplomacy won the country a 2016 arbitral ruling that recognized the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its EEZ, a victory Mr. Duterte quickly set aside in favor of friendly relations with China. In the years prior to that, it should be noted, we never came close to a shooting war with China despite our hardline stance on territorial disputes.
Sadly, the friendly relations Mr. Duterte extols have not stopped China from encroaching on islands and reefs in the West Philippine Sea that we rightly claim.
In yet another example of the administration’s “just say yes” approach, the President apologized to the 22 fishermen who were abandoned at sea and who had to be rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
"I'm sorry. But that's how it is. It's a maritime incident. Little in the sense that there was no confrontation, there was no bloody violence," Duterte said in a mix of English and Filipino. “If you want to get even, that is not a reason to go to any military exercise there. If you do that, that’s war.”
Government officials are wont to say that there are no sacred cows in this administration. We need only look to our giant neighbor in the north to know this is simply not true.