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Whose friends are we?


Once upon a distant past, a Filipino dreamer of a politician envisaged the Philippines becoming the
53 rd state of the “land of the free and home of the brave”, the United States, which was and still is
viewed by many as the metaphor for the “land flowing with milk and honey” promised to the Jews in
biblical history.

That was before China’s Deng Xiao Ping decided to spur the Chinese economy forward via
capitalism and Israel Prime Minister Golda Meir complained that the Jews marched in the desert for 40
years only to reach a land prowled by giants but without oil.

The Filipino politician, in all likelihood, must have read the late Carlos P. Romulo, the Filipinos’s
arguably finest foreign secretary and diplomat par excellence who immortalized himself wading in waist-
deep ( his) waves alongside McArthur and others as they strode toward the Leyte beach sometime in
1945. Romulo, in one of his essays, described the Filipinos from the American point of view: little brown brothers. Millions of Filipinos have since embraced the legendary American dream.

But times have changed.

At least two modern Philippine presidents, the outgoing and incoming, the old and the new, are
looking the other way, banking on an old Tagalog proverb “ sino ba ang magbibigay ng sabaw kundi ang
kapitbahay”. The Chinese, of course, are much-nearer than you think, considering, among others, that a
day or so ago, Chinese militias harassed Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.

First off, soon-to-be ex President Rodrigo Duterte. Calling the Chinese bluff in the contested sea
marine territory was his boisterous campaign vow by riding a jet ski to plant the Philippine flag thereat. He realized later he spoke to soon: it was a fool’s errand to mouth such a braggadocio, much less do it. After meeting with the taller Xi Ping, Duterte declared the Philippines will not go to war with China. End of debate. China has been a benefactor, even if it blocked the Bajo de Masinloc where Filipino fishers used to make big hauls of marine catch, including galunggong. Now, even galunggong is hard to come by.

Second off, soon-to-be new President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., son of the late dictator who was
allowed to be buried in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani by Duterte. And ex-Senate President Tito Sotto
thought that history could only be rewritten in books. Understandable. He has sounded a timid overture
for a possible role in the new dispensation. New news actually is old news, according to Malcolm

Of late,Marcos Jr aka BBM, has been quoted as saying that China is the Philippines strongest
partner for recovery. What’s right or wrong about that? China is the second largest economy in the
world, next to the US. It is also fast-rising as a world hegemon – a bu cheng ba- next to the US. The US saved the Marcos family from what-might-have been in 1986 after the People Power Revolution and
flew them to Hawaii. After his recent victory in the polls, an American diplomat told BBM he could visit the US since presidents have immunity from arrest , notwithstanding a pending case in New York. Is that insult or injury?

BBM’s incoming security adviser, who got BBM’s attention when she asked him patronizingly if he
was a Machiavellian and probably sensed she was applying for a Cabinet job, has reminded all and
sundry that Filipinos are closer to the Chinese by genes than to the Americans by geography. Ninety
percent of Filipinos have Chinese blood, close to the American anthropologist H. Otley Beyer’s estimate
of our Chinese heritage. Why, her children look Chinese, too.

BMM himself has taken pride in that her famous mom was the greatest builder of China-
Philippines relation, invoking a past with a kind of sepia glow when the then First Lady disarmed the
great helmsman Mao Tse Tung with her incomparable beauty and grace. It’s uncertain, but likely, that
she serenaded the old warrior with “Dahil Sa Iyo”.

The Chinese show must go on, if you read between the lines. In the meantime, the Chinese continue to block, intimidate and harass Filipino fishers and scientists in the West Philippine Sea. It’s based on their baseless claim of the nine-dash line equivalent to their old superstition. It’s theirs because it falls under their “All Under Heaven” mantra as an ancient civilization, not merely state, even if the rest of the world disagrees and disapproves.

As it is, the “Pearl of the Orient”, is torn between two lovers, friends, partners and what-have-you.
Apropos, a perspective and a caveat are in order.

In his book ‘World Order’, former US State Secretary Henry Kissinger drew a sharp contrast between the two rival global hegemons. “China,” he wrote, “rejects the proposition that international order is fostered by the spread of liberal democracy, and especially to achieve its perception of human rights by international action”. On the other hand, “ in light of its history and conviction of its people,
Americans cannot abandon these principles altogether”, Kissinger concluded.

Former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew issued a relevant caveat in an interview for the
book ‘Hard Truths’.

“You can go (to China) and the more successful they are, the less they will think of you and the
more they will treat you with condescension”, he said. As a rising power, China’s unabated controversial, let alone illegal, actions in the West Philippine Sea speak volumes in this direction.

Who do we side with or, inversely, who sides with us? Kissinger noted with a sense of history
that when an established superpower met a rising one, tension more often than not led to war. Duterte
walked the tightrope. Marcos? Let’s see.


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