We, the Filipino people, own Panatag Shoal. Or at least, some of us believe.
The rest of this nation of almost 100 million is still divided on this issue. While some of us have joined mass protests today in various Chinese embassies and consulates worldwide, most of us are still weighing the consequences of such actions towards our relationship with our commie neighbour. And as such reservations continue to divide this nation rather than create a sold stand on the issue, the Chinese are continuing its united, armed incursion in Panatag Shoal.
United is the key word here. What makes China ever more confident about taking claim over Panatag Shoal is not just the fact that they have the largest military in the world, but also the fact that majority of Chinese society are behind the Communist Party and the Armed Forces in this endeavour. You can see it in the way they respond in Internet forums or in interviews on Chinese media: how ordinary Chinese netizens, with their substandard English, would bash and threaten Filipinos in forums; or how Chinese hackers have the audacity to attack and maim our websites. Even as their claims lack substantial proof, Chinese society has shown that unique fervour that Panatag Shoal and the rest of the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea are theirs. They are aware of their strength and capability as a people. Hence, with the people’s mandate, the Chinese government has the guts to draw out the big gun and threaten us in our own waters, and dictate the course of this crisis.
In the Philippines, meanwhile, it is a different story. While the executive department is keen on asserting Filipino rights to Panatag Shoal by sending the BRP Goyo and the Coast Guard in the area, other branches of government are not impressed by these moves. Some members of Senate and the House are quick to dismiss government action and called for diplomatic solutions. Even members of the academe have expressed doubt if we can stand up against China in this crisis. Such calls to back down are even supported by members of civil society. And so, while Chinese fishermen reaped the richness of our waters in Panatag Shoal, here we are calling for dialogue and diplomatic solutions. As if mere Chinese fishermen know what those things are. In the end, as Chinese surveillance ships came to protect its fishermen, the Navy and the Coast Guard could only watch from the horizon, because of a few unpatriotic voices in the government. The government can only do so much if the majority of the people are not behind it.
Now, granted that we are way behind China in terms of naval power and military strength, it doesn’t mean we cannot stand up against it. However, the problem with Filipino society is that it doesn’t know how to play its cards well. There are a variety of cards involved in this game, not just military ones, such as economic and diplomatic cards. We just have to be aware of which cards to play and be consistent in playing it. Otherwise, if we don’t act as one, China will sense our doubts on ourselves, and will up the ante at pressuring us by whatever means.
|Reaping What is Ours. When will Filipinos act as one on issues like this?|
For example, if China has the guts to bar entry of Philippine bananas or prevent its citizens from taking vacations our country, we can put forward our own economic demands and restrictions on the table, such as banning all Chinese exports of cosmetic products and medicines, or banning all Chinese exports of meat and vegetables. We can also play the diplomatic card, such as recognizing Tibetan independence or Taiwanese independence, or work with countries which share common hatred for the Chinese such as Japan or Vietnam. President Benigno Aquino tried playing these cards, such as invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US, or urging ASEAN nations to draft a joint resolution, but without positive public opinion behind him, such efforts will be futile. We may not be capable militarily of imposing ownership over Panatag Shoal, but we, as people, know what we are capable of, and must use those to stand up against Chinese hegemony.
In fact, we must even go beyond just playing our cards. Various sectors of our society can go as much as supporting our government directly in such endeavours. The academe can help present evidence of our claim to Panatag Shoal to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). The business sector can invest on military hardware such as additional ships for the Navy. Civil society has proven that it can support the government by conducting mass protests today, but it can also go as much as boycotting prominent Chinese-owned businesses. We, as a people, must act as if we ourselves claim ownership to this tiny island. If we don’t, then we are denying ourselves of the opportunity to harness the vast resources such island has in store for our people.
To quote from the Preamble of our 1987 Constitution:
We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society, and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity, the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.
We, as a people, all dream of a prosperous and free life for our patrimony. Thus, we must all act to secure such kind of life for us and for our children, and for future Filipinos to come. We have established a government that embodies our ideals and aspirations, but such government will only defend us, in as much as we want to defend ourselves. Let us not be defeated as people, by people larger than us or even by ourselves. With our hands, hearts and heads, we must be one in laying claim to what is rightfully ours. TSS