"Have a Blessed Christmas, wherever you may be in this season of our Lord."
Los Angeles—My wife and I are holed up in my brother-in-law’s place in Harbor City, an LA suburb that seems farther away from the international airport than I’d remembered. Ageing does have a way of telescoping one’s memories.
The trip over on a foreign airline wasn’t bad. But after what seemed to me an unusually rough plane takeoff from our layover at the Taipei airport, I promised my wife that we’d become PAL regulars again, for reasons that might be obvious to my readers:
Seatmates you can schmooze with. Attendants with the unique “Filipina touch”. Comfort food even in the skies. And importantly, the peerlessly pacific air currents above our islands to which I’ve become accustomed, after nearly two years of flying around the country to speak and train on federalism.
Tomorrow we’re taking a local discount airline on our final leg to Philadelphia. I don’t look forward to the brusqueness of the experience, although it’s a small price to pay for American efficiency. And after all, the very first long-distance Christmas trip by a Family of note wasn’t that comfortable either: cold winter, rough transport, and overbooked accommodations that forced the Family elsewhere, into an animal stable.
Like them, this trip for me is also about a special child: the baptism of my very first apo, who to my delight will carry the same name as my father, brother, and son. As age advances, I don’t expect to be taking such long trips again, but this one promises to be memorable. Expect endless selfies!
The recent repatriation of the bells of Balangiga from their exile in Montana provoked some spirited discussion about who should take the credit for it. Oldtimers reminded everyone that the process was started by FVR. Duterte diehards wanted to heap all the credit on him. But the current President has set a gracious example by saying that this victory really belongs to everybody.
The return of the bells marks the latest high point in the Philippines’ most important trans-Pacific partnership. Regardless of all the sound reasons why we should be diversifying our alliances, it’s in the hearts of the Filipino people that Americans can find their biggest asset in this relationship.
In an SWS survey, two-thirds of respondents said they believed that the United States would come to our aid if we were invaded by another country (no names mentioned, of course). Only one-third disagreed, and less than 10 percent had no opinion.
Tellingly, this trust in the U.S. was stronger among respondents who claimed to be familiar with the details of the West Philippine Sea maritime dispute. This, despite the processual hedges built into the US-Philippine mutual defense agreement, as well as the Americans’ own hedging of late whenever they’re asked if their commitment would extend to the atolls and islets we’re disputing with China.
Clearly, our aspirational Chinese friends are facing an uphill climb. They’ll have a hard time wooing us with trade, aid and investment when, at the same time, they’re flouting international rulings in our favor, building military runways only miles away from our contiguous territory, and occasionally harassing our sea-bound countrymen.
Do they really want to win our hearts and minds when they’re so obviously dismissive of our own role in the world? One has got to be given up for the other. Wanting to have your cake and eat it too isn’t a philosophy that endears.
Another guy with the same philosophy about cakes used to be a Chinese ward himself before that country went capitalist. That’s the communist leader Jose Maria Sison, whose factors see absolutely nothing illogical about branding Duterte a puppet of both the Americans and the Chinese.
But there’s more. Responding to Duterte’s executive order promoting localized peace talks, after the failure of national-level negotiations, Sison proclaimed that the EO “seeks to weaponize the civil bureaucracy for the military suppression of the revolutionary movement of the people.”
His double talk is remarkable. After all, any government is certainly entitled to defend itself any way it can against its sworn enemies. And any people’s movement that really enjoys the kind of popular support Sison claims should be ecstatic over the prospect of firearms being put in the hands of the people, among whom—to use their own picturesque language—they should be able to move about as easily as fish in the sea.
The likelier reason behind Sison’s intransigence—despite his interminable protestations of peaceable intentions—must be a well-founded fear of how effective localized peace talks might become.
Reelectionist Davao city mayor Inday Sara set the tone by reaching out to her own homegrown guerrillas. Here’s a toast to her and to other local government executives in conflict areas who can now do the deals they need to do for the sake of peace.
What better way to wind up this column from abroad than to share what must now be the public joy back home over the proclamation of another Filipina, Ms. Catriona Gray, as the next Miss Universe?
I read about it online just now, but the (delayed) telecast of the pageant is still going on. Time for me to take a break from writing and relish this high note on which the year will end for my countrymen. To all of them, to all of you: Have a Blessed Christmas, wherever you may be in this season of our Lord.
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