THE initial reactions of Foreign Secretary Teddyboy Locsin and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana were correct. The facts were not all in yet, but both Cabinet members were ready to give our fishermen the benefit of the doubt.
Unfortunately, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol and Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi joined the fray and started casting doubts on the story of our fishermen. It seems Piñol and Cusi were trying very hard to appease China.
President Duterte himself was quiet for a while, but eventually tipped the discussions to give the Chinese the benefit of the doubt. He talked about not having the means to go to war against China, but no one is talking about going to war anyway. Just come out in defense of our defenseless fishermen.
I do not understand why the administration is always so worried about displeasing China. I have covered the diplomatic beat and in the course of my career, participated in preparations for diplomatic meetings. There are always things like public postures and backroom agreements.
Mr. Duterte and his minions could have come out strongly in support of our fishermen. At the same time, our ambassador in Beijing should have been in touch with the Foreign Ministry to explain why the President must make a strong stand, but assuring the Chinese government that official ties are not involved.
The Chinese government would have understood. The last thing they want is for the incident to escalate in a way that puts their loyal ally, Rodrigo Duterte, in a very difficult situation with his own people.
Sure… just words… but in diplomacy those words count…prevent situations from deteriorating into a crisis.
But our own government went on an overdrive to force our fishermen to change their story, despite the corroboration made by the captain of the Vietnamese fishing vessel.
The editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer recounts what happened next:
“The most basic response the Philippines could have offered the Vietnamese for their compassionate gesture was a simple ‘Thank you.’ How hard is it for the Duterte administration to do that—to reach out to the Vietnamese government and, through it, to formally thank the Vietnamese seafarers who saved our fishermen from their ordeal?
“Instead, in a bizarre, contemptible turn of events, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol made a big to-do about the Vietnamese being in the area illegally, poaching inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and so whatever thanks they deserved had to be given begrudgingly: ‘Salamat sa mga Vietnamese sa pagtulong pero you are not supposed to be there, but thank God you were there. That was an illegal act that was actually providential.’
“What appalling ungraciousness, and a most shameful stain on a country that, until lately, prided itself on its friendliness and sense of goodwill toward other nations.” I might add, it makes every right-thinking Filipino feel embarrassed such ingratitude came from a high official.
So the incident elicited reactions that divided the Filipinos along political partisan lines: pro Duterte and anti Duterte. We needed a reaction that was pro Filipino.
It also revealed the sentiments of some people. It was disappointing to find out that the president of the Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Henry Lim Bon Liong considered himself as having two fathers, Philippines and China.
The Chinoy entrepreneur was quoted by journalist Tina Arceo Dumlao as saying he hopes the “unfortunate mishap” will not adversely affect diplomatic relations between China, and the Philippines, which he refers to as his “two fathers”, being Filipino-Chinese.
Mr. Lim is probably Philippine-born and should no longer have divided loyalty between the country of his forefathers and presumably, his own. I have many Chinoy friends and they are militantly pro Filipino on issues involving China.
Perhaps Mr. Lim and the federation he heads can clarify how they stand because when push comes to shove, we expect them to be pushing and shoving for the Philippines.
No one wants a war with China. But that doesn’t mean we should not forcefully express our feelings in defense of our national interests. Let us take inspiration from the millions of Hong Kong marchers in fighting for their seemingly impossible objective.
The Reed Bank incident revealed we are not a nation, we have no national feelings, no national pride. This can explain why nations like Vietnam, Thailand, and South Korea easily overtook us in the economic front.
There is truth in the observations of James Fallows back in 1987 when the EDSA euphoria was still fresh and much could have been done, but we failed.
“Filipinos pride themselves on their lifelong loyalty to family, schoolmates, compadres, members of the same tribe, residents of the same barangay…
“Because the boundaries of decent treatment are limited to the family or tribe, they exclude at least 90 percent of the people in the country. And because of this fragmentation—this lack of nationalism—people treat each other worse in the Philippines than in any other Asian country I have seen.”
No wonder our officials had no hesitation in throwing our fishermen overboard because their story doesn’t jive with what the administration wants to believe. Neither Cusi nor Piñol felt any obligation towards folks not in their social and political circles.
Duterte, on the other hand, probably just feels obligated to China.