One of the most touching chapters in El Filibusterismo, Jose Rizal’s sequel to the Noli Me Tangere, was when Padre Florentino asked plaintively, “Where are the youth who will consecrate their golden hours, their illusions, and their enthusiasm to the welfare of their native land? Where are the youth who will generously pour out their blood to wash away so much shame, so much crime, so much abomination?”
If I may add: “So much cowardice and so little patriotism.”
Last week, I should have known better than to kibitz on a social media discussion on the cabbage tactic that the Chinese have begun to apply on Pag-Asa Island in the West Philippine Sea, otherwise referred to by China as Thitu Island in the South China Sea.
The discussion, which seems to have been initiated by dedicated supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte or DDS, blamed the Philippines for the increasingly aggressive actions of China in the vicinity of Pag-Asa, particularly the presence of over 200 Chinese vessels in the area. This is a significant increase from 24 to 42 ships in 2018 after the Philippines began repairs on a runway on the island. (the number reportedly went as high as 95 ships in December but eventually decreased to under 50).
Apparently the DDS had failed to note that Duterte himself had already bluntly told China to lay off Pag-Asa, otherwise he would be constrained to dispatch a “suicide mission” to confront the Chinese military.
When senatorial candidate Mar Roxas issued a statement to the effect that China had “taken what is ours and that should be defended” (Inagaw ng China yung atin so dapat depensahan yan), he was immediately taunted online by comments such as the following:
• Wow, dami pa din naniniwala kay Mar, tanong ko lng po mananalo po buh c mar dia election?? (Wow, there are still many who believe mar, just asking will he win in the election??)
• So lahat ng country may paninindigan pero pagdating sa china tikom…. ang ibang bansa nga na mas malalakas ang pwersa e di kinaya ang china tayo pa kaya?..(So all countries stand for their rights but when it comes to China they shut up…other countries have more (military) force but cannot buck China, what more us (the Philippines)?
Mar made it a point to add that he was not suggesting that the Philippines should go to war (Hindi ako naghahanap ng away, hindi ako naghahanao ng giyera) but he went on to insist that the Philippines should defend what is ours, because if we just give up, where will it end? (Dapat panindigan natin kung ano ang atin. Kasi kung isuko natin yan basta basta, saan matatapos yan?).
Well, just to give you an idea of where this could end, one Chinese television commentator committed a Freudian slip by stating that the Philippines is part of Chinese territory. She probably meant Pag-Asa or Thitu Island but we can only imagine what the folks in Beijing are salivating over.
Those who have read their history books must be familiar with Japan’s Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. This was a euphemism for Japanese control of occupied countries (like the Philippines) by which puppet governments manipulated local economies for the benefit of the Japanese empire.
But what really got me riled up was the logic of one person whom I personally know and who I would have expected to at least bewail the bullying tactics of the Chinese. Instead, this fellow (let’s call him Junior) blamed former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales for filing a complaint against Chinese President Xi Jingping with the International Criminal Court over China’s incursions into Philippine territory and the way Filipino fishermen have been deprived of their livelihood.
Junior theorized that this offended China and provoked it into increasing the pressure on the Philippines — obviously referring to the increase in the number of ships pressing in on Pag-Asa.
I took that to mean that Junior would have preferred to just allow China to mount its virtual naval blockade of Pag-Asa, “wrapping” its military forces around Philippine territory, denying free access to the island, depriving the inhabitants of supplies, and preventing our fisherman from working within Philippine waters (this is what China means by its “cabbage” tactic). This, in order not to “offend” the bullies.
Perhaps I was overly sarcastic with my comment which was to recall the demented advice of a former Philippine senator and secretary of foreign affairs: “When rape is inevitable, just lie back and enjoy it.”
Junior’s response was sharp and direct. He said that it was none of my business because “You are now a US citizen.” His final statement: “Butt off.”
By “butt off,” Junior probably meant, “Huwag kang makialam!” (Don’t get involved). He probably would have done better by stating it in Tagalog rather than this awkward usage of American idiom (e.g. one works his butt off, meaning working oneself to the bone), but anyway, I got the message.
Thus, I responded by pointing out that I have been a Filipino several years longer than Junior (I am almost 80 and Junior must be in his early 60s).
Junior’s riposte was even sharper: “You gave up your Filipino citizenship.” And patronizing: “Just enjoy your retirement.”
Junior is supposed to be a journalist, but he forgot to check his facts. I was among those who lobbied the Philippine Senate, the House of Representatives and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for the passage of the Dual Citizenship Act. I was also among the very first batch to reacquire Philippine citizenship upon enactment of the law.
But my Filipino citizenship, frankly, is beside the point. I think that Junior, who must believe he is a bona fide Filipino citizen, should reconsider whether or not he deserves to remain so. My last rebuttal to him was: “You should be ashamed of yourself for your cowardice.”
I believe that Foreign Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin is right in his tweet to the effect that he intends to take “legal action” against the Chinese. He may have watered that down with his subsequent statement that it’s “not the right time” to get into a dispute with China. Whatever Locsin means by that, we just hope the “right time” isn’t up to the Chinese to decide.
Like Mar Roxas, I am not suggesting going to war with China. Neither do I subscribe to Duterte’s threat of a “suicide mission” (which implies an attack on the superior Chinese forces).
But the gallantry of our soldiers in Bataan and Corregidor should not be lost on Junior and those who are scared of China. Holding the fort on Pag-Asa Island is not asking for a fight. It is simply an act of defending what is ours.
Neither should the final words of the Philippine National Anthem be taken as pure bluster.
“Ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo.”
These words must surely mean something to every patriotic Filipino. And that includes this almost 80-year-old.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.