The Philippines is this year’s host of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Being the host means accommodating the leaders of dozens of states and their respective delegations. It also means a security nightmare for Philippine authorities, considering that the Apec summit—an assembly of the leaders of about a third of the world’s countries— will be a tempting attraction to international terrorists, and to some local kidnap-for-ransom bandit groups.
Metropolitan Manila roadways, Edsa in particular, are almost always congested daily. To prevent Apec delegates from getting stuck in the traffic jams of the metropolis (where they can be easy targets for troublemakers), the government declared November 17 to 20 as holidays. Government offices will be closed, and there will be no classes at all levels during that period. Only two of those four days, however, will be holidays for private enterprises.
All international and local air traffic at the area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport will be banned for the duration of the summit to give way to aircraft shuttling Apec participants. Maritime activities in Manila Bay are likewise disallowed during that period. Even the giant mall in the bay area is expected to be closed on November 18.
Road use in proximate cities will also be restricted. Special lanes along Edsa, from Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City, all the way to Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City, will be kept for the exclusive use of Apec participants during the same period. Roxas Boulevard itself will be off-limits to trucks for the duration of the summit.
By the way, the re-routing of vehicles during the Apec conference will not mean less traffic woes for the motorists of Metropolitan Manila. It means that the traffic mess on the alternate roadways motorists will be forced to use, will get worse.
The holidays will not help solve the traffic mess, either. Only two of the four Apec holidays apply to the private sector. Moreover, shopping malls, restaurants, and entertainment centers make money precisely by staying open during the holidays.
For the taxpayers, the tab for the Apec summit is expected to reach at least P10 billion.
All the foregoing will require a lot of sacrifice on the part of the Filipino people living in the metropolis and its adjoining areas. For private enterprises, the holidays mean less productivity at the workplace, as well as additional pay for employees who have to work on those days.
While students in the metropolis rejoice at the prospect of an extended pre-yuletide holiday, parents are upset that the school days this semester, shortened already by chronic bad weather, will have to be reduced even further.
Surely, there must be some benefit to the Filipino people for all the wastage and inconvenience visited upon them by the Apec summit. Why be a part of Apec when nothing worthwhile will emanate from it?
Aside from the expected improvement in trade relations between the Philippines and the other Apec countries, the Apec summit is a rare opportunity for President Benigno Aquino III to discuss with the international community the illegal activities of Communist China in the West Philippine Sea. Since Apec protocol dictates that Aquino and Chinese president Xi Jinping must sit side by side during most parts of the summit, Xi cannot ignore this matter during the entire summit.
Malacañang, however, announced that as insisted upon by Communist China, the Philippines will not include the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea in the Apec agenda.
As an excuse, the Aquino administration cited the arbitration case between Manila and Beijing currently pending in the international arbitration court in the Netherlands.
Aquino may not realize it but he gave up an obvious advantage the Philippines had over Communist China by removing the maritime issue from the talks. Likewise, the excuse tendered by Aquino is lame and untenable.
Since Apec is mainly about international trade and business, Apec should at least take up the issue in the West Philippine Sea, particularly Beijing’s insistence that almost all of the South China Sea is Chinese territory. To allow Communist China to get away with its self-serving nine-dash line scheme in re-drawing the map in this part of the Asia-Pacific rim is to allow Beijing to choke the most vital sea lane in this part of the globe. That should spell very bad times for international trade, and enough worry for Apec countries.
It must be emphasized that Beijing is very conscious of its international image. Putting Communist Chinese bullying in East and South East Asian sea lanes in the Apec spotlight, even for a week, should soften the stubborn stance of Beijing. Aquino’s predilection for sacrificing the national interest in favor of his undisclosed, private agenda once again prevailed when Manila removed this vital issue from the Apec discussions.
The mere pendency of the arbitration case between Manila and Beijing in Holland is not a valid ground to keep mum about Communist Chinese aggression in the sea lanes of East and South East Asia. For the record, Beijing refuses to participate in that case, and insists on ventilating its position through propaganda heralded in its state-controlled media agencies, and in the international news media. If Beijing is confronted by world opinion, particularly condemnation from countries which have an economic interest in keeping those sea lanes open, Beijing will likely shut up on its hollow political rhetoric, which has no purpose other than to confuse the issues.
Since the Philippines has no military muscle to sustain it in a war with Communist China, and considering that Secretary Voltaire Gazmin’s Department of National Defense is largely a hollow structure plagued with accusations of corruption, Aquino has no choice but to use every international venue to put a stop to Beijing’s bullying. That opportunity was given to Aquino by the coming Apec summit, but he squandered it.