Jojo A. Robles

We’re our own backup

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Now that President Noynoy Aquino is leaving, I guess we can finally put to rest the old lies that he so brazenly told us during the six years of his now-ending term. And one of the biggest whoppers told by Aquino is the one about how the United States has got our back in our territorial dispute with China.

I don’t know where the Aquino administration got the idea that the reason the Americans are so interested in the South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea, if you insist) is that they want to protect us from Chinese hegemony. But I heard that line again from the Department of National Defense this week, in reaction to the arrival of the giant US aircraft carriers John C. Stennis and Ronald Reagan in the disputed waters for war exercises.

Department spokesman Peter Galvez said the exercises showed that the US was “resolute” in fulfilling its “ironclad commitment” to defend the Philippines. “We welcome the strong partnership we have with our friends and allies in light of [the dispute] where our legitimate rights have been overstepped,” Galvez said.

Incoming Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, a longtime campaigner for independent policy and action by the Manila government in the sea dispute, was quick to point out that the US has always taken a very different view of the problem of Chinese encroachment in the contested waters. “The interest of the US has always been freedom of navigation, not the territorial integrity of the Philippines or any other country contesting the sea,” Roque said.

And that freedom, according to most estimates, is worth $5 trillion in goods that pass over the important sea annually. The defense of the Philippines, no matter what Aquino and his minions have told us, is just not that important to our Great White Brothers.

Thus, according to the US Pacific Command, which sent the two giant aircraft carriers into the sea, the current drills “were meant to promote freedom of navigation and overflight in the region’s airspace and waters.” The command never said that it was siding with anyone in the dispute over the shoals and other features of the sea; and even China’s island-building efforts in the area have always been framed by the US in the context of freedom of navigation.

Of course, with the upholding by the Supreme Court of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which basically gave basing rights to the Americans in the Philippines, we are now certain to become participants - with large targets on our backs for the Chinese - if war breaks out in the contested sea. But again, it is important to point out that if war happens, it will be because China will not accept the idea of free navigation of ships and their precious cargo, and not because the Americans will back us up to the hilt.

That thing about the US as our backup is really just Noynoy talking. Because if the Americans really had our back, they would have certainly stopped the Chinese from taking Recto Bank, Panatag Shoal and all the other features in the sea that the Philippines has standing claims to, but which were weaponized without resistance by China during Aquino’s term.

The good thing about the incoming Duterte administration, according to Roque, is that it appears to understand that while there is an overlap in US-Philippines interests in the sea dispute, Manila can and should chart its own course diplomatically and even militarily, if need be. “The pronouncements of incoming President Rodrigo Duterte and his foreign secretary-designate, Perfecto Yasay Jr., tend to show that our policy should be upholding our own interests, which are not the same as those of the US, China, Asean or any other country or group involved in the controversy,” Roque said.

Time will tell if Duterte’s jet-ski policy will succeed where Aquino’s promised defense of Recto Bank (“we will defend it like Recto Avenue,” Noynoy said in one Sona) failed. But if Duterte is able to make us understand that what happens to our territorial claims is really our lookout, then he will have already made a lot of progress.

* * *

Speaking of whoppers, I fail to understand why the Commission on Elections granted the once-ruling-but-now-virtually-defunct Liberal Party a two-week extension to file its statement of contributions and expenditures for the last May 9 elections. This is, after all, the same election agency that refused to extend the period for the registration of voters - something that various sectors requested way before deadline, to no avail.

As some have pointed out, Comelec has no business giving LP an extension to file its SOCE after the deadline expired. Because the party already failed to make the deadline without seeking an extension before that, it is already in violation of the law and should be penalized accordingly.

To put this in context, if a student has already failed to submit a paper on time, he has already been graded on that basis. And any request for an extension for the submission should have been made before the deadline, when his teacher has not yet given him the appropriate grade that takes into account his non-submission.

But, of course, we’re talking about the LP here, which has always been above mere laws and regulations. Right, Chairman Andy Bautista?

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