“I do not know what to make of the Presidentís statement.”
How should the statement of President Duterte last Friday be interpreted in relation to the donated 739,000 Sinopharm vaccines? What did he mean when he told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the Philippines will remain neutral on geopolitical issues and remain true to what he has guaranteed? What did he guarantee?
There needs to be some kind of clarificatory statement either from the Palace or the Department of Foreign Affairs on what this means. As of this time however, no statement has been issued.
I do not know what to make of it and I suspect that this might also be true to both the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Defense. The additional vaccine donation from China deserves our appreciation. But the President’s expression of gratitude was so overwhelming that it boggles the imagination. This is because it followed the visit of the United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin where the Visiting Forces Agreement was reaffirmed.
Secretaries Delfin Lorenzana and Teodoro Locsin Jr. must be scratching their heads, trying to figure out what will come next. The additional donation by China was obviously intended to match the more than two million vaccine donations by the United States.
Just when everybody is breathing a sigh of relief vis a vis our alliance with the United States, a curve ball has just been thrown, causing some officials from both governments to panic. With our profuse gratitude, the Chinese Ambassador wasted no time in issuing his own statement not to politicize how the virus originated. I would have thought that a simple word of gratitude would have sufficed.
But with regard to China, the President always goes the extra mile which is perplexing to many diplomatic and security observers. It is because it has many interpretations. One is that in case there is confrontation between China and the United States in the South China Sea, the Philippines will remain neutral and not get involved. But we signed a Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States that necessitates our getting involved. We will have to abrogate the treaty first if the President wants the country to be neutral.
It seems the President cannot make up his mind on what he wants to do. And this is the most dangerous part because it might be sending the wrong signals which could be misinterpreted by both friend and potential foe. And when the time comes that we need help from our friends and allies, no one will extend assistance because the President has been speaking with a forked tongue.
On matters of alliances, the country must abide by provisions of the treaty that it signed. Yes, we can all agree with the President that we must try our best to establish friendly relations with all nations, but we should also be ready to defend our country’s national interests whatever the cost. We should not be playing with fire by having our cake and eating it too.
History is replete with countries that were swallowed by powerful countries by trying to stay “neutral”—Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the low countries of Europe in two World Wars. The neutrality of the Netherlands and Belgium were not respected by Nazi Germany because both countries were blocking the route of attack. If the President sincerely believes that China is the better friend even if it has taken over our Scarborough Shoal, does not respect treaty obligations, and wants to own the whole of the South China Sea, then he has to make a case with the Filipino people. He must try hard to convince us all of the soundness of his position and the goodness of China. After all, he said several months ago that he will consult the people on this issue which unfortunately he has not done up to now.
Indeed, a case can be made for a very much closer Fil-Chinese relationship. We are geographically closer to China and a lot of Chinese blood is flowing in the veins of many Filipinos. We also have had several centuries of economic and cultural exchanges with them.
Meanwhile, our republican form of government, as well as our educational system, were patterned after the government of the US. We were also an American colony and culturally close to them because of the English language. In addition, we follow American sports, movies, fashion, and most of all, there are more than four million ethnic Filipinos calling America home.
So, what will it be?
It is doubtful whether President Duterte would even have the time to do his consultation, given that he only has about ten months remaining in office. But considering that he and his daughter Sara might run for vice president and president, respectively, perhaps that consultation can wait.