THEN Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus once quipped during a Senate inquiry into the rape of Filipina domestics in Kuwait during the 1990 Iraqi invasion that “if rape were inevitable, one should relax and enjoy it.”
The late Manglapus, a polished speaker who could nimbly navigate through the layered meanings of words, survived the storm whipped up by his somewhat indelicate remark.
His statement hit me at that time (three years after the dismantling of martial rule) as a commentary on the rape of democratic processes, human rights and people welfare by would-be autocrats promising the masses “short-time” gratification in exchange.
This rape metaphor comes to mind when Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano talks about relations with Beijing and starts sounding like an apologist of China. He is not a solo performer. President Rodrigo Duterte himself, a master of rape jokes, leaves the same impression by just keeping quiet in the face of China’s doublespeak on bilateral issues.
This entanglement with China is beginning to look more like consensual relations, with the administration hinting at its willingness to be seduced with a $24-billion basket of promised loans, grants and assistance.
Its heart racing in “Build! Build! Build!” anticipation, the administration is reaching to embrace the new partner and just let the future take care of the “Pay! Pay! Pay!” flip side of the coin.
Cayetano’s bias for China surfaced again this week when he defended his limp handling of the closing communique of the meeting in Manila of the foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
He has admitted not wanting to include in the joint statement the concern of the Philippines and some neighbors over China’s land reclamation and the militarization of the artificial islands it has built on disputed areas in the South China Sea.
While the statement mentioned “non-militarization” and “self-restraint,” it still read like a watered-down version of the communique last year (under the chairmanship of Laos) that voiced grave concern over China’s militarization of its artificial islands.
Cayetano explained: “I didn’t want to include it. It’s not reflective of the present position. They’re not reclaiming land anymore. Why will you put it again this year?”
But just the other day, this stance was blasted by revelations and satellite photographs taken Aug. 5 that – contrary to Cayetano’s disinformation and the claims of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi – China had not stopped its buildup in disputed areas.
• Howls of ‘treason,’ ‘sellout’ heard
CAYETANO’S tolerant attitude toward Chinese expansionism and militarization in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone has raised howls of cowardice, treason and sellout among wide-awake Filipinos protesting the rape of their sovereign rights.
Like the communique of the 30th ASEAN Summit last April, the foreign ministers’ statement was silent on the 2016 award by the UNCLOS Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague upholding Philippine claims over features in its EEZ that had been grabbed by China.
President Duterte, who chaired the summit, defended his allowing this omission. He explained that he did not want to antagonize China and trigger a lopsided armed conflict. As on other occasions, he mentioned Beijing’s offer of investments, loans, grants, et cetera.
Are Filipinos being told, again, that if rape is inevitable anyway, they might as well enjoy it – and even cash in on it?
The President and his top diplomat failed to see the value of putting on record Manila’s submissions at The Hague having been upheld before the UNCLOS community.
They missed the point that citing it in ASEAN documents is not meant to force the issue or provoke the Chinese dragon, but simply to ensure that the case is kept alive until other Filipinos with stouter hearts rise to pursue it.
The longer the favorable arbitral ruling is ignored, the more difficult it will be to raise it at some vague future that Mr. Duterte professes to have in mind. The unresolved matter could become a diplomatic burden to his successors.
• China’s reclamation still on – AMTI
THE CLAIM of China that its reclamation and buildup of some features of disputed maritime areas was stopped two years ago has been belied by satellite imagery obtained by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative based in Washington, DC.
The AMTI reported this week: “Beijing continues to reclaim land farther north, in the Paracel Islands. The two most recent examples of this are at Tree Island and North Island in the Amphitrite Group.”
Manila periodically gets technical and intelligence reports of continued Chinese reclamation and militarization of outposts built in Philippine maritime areas, but Malacañang appears too scared to complain – raising questions of what the deal is, if any.
In February, the AMTI reported, Beijing completed a new helipad and installed wind turbines and two photovoltaic solar arrays on Tree Island.
It shared satellite imagery showing that the island has had substantial upgrades in the last year. China has dredged a new harbor off the southwest end of the island, considerably expanding its land area.
In 2016, according to AMTI, China started reclamation work to connect North Island with neighboring Middle Island in the Paracel group. After a typhoon washed out in October that year, China started new reclamation on the southern end of North Island and built a retaining wall to prevent erosion.
The think tank also documented Vietnam’s dredging and reclamation work at several islets in the Spratlys. It said: “Vietnam and all the Southeast Asian claimants also have an interest in deterring future island-building, for instance at Scarborough Shoal.”
It reported that both China and Vietnam have done dredging and reclamation work since 2017, but not on a scale approaching that of Chinese activities from late 2013 to mid-2015.
Such work, the AMTI noted, is “environmentally destructive, undermines regional stability, and warrants mention in diplomatic statements.”
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