The reality of being China’s neighbor

"If the Philippines goes to war against China, history will only repeat itself."


The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan began his historic voyage to the Pacific in search of spices for the European market. His arrival in the Philippines in 1521 was accidental -- he wasn’t searching for land to conquer; he was searching for spices.

Once Magellan planted the Spanish flag on Philippine soil, and after converting the natives to Christianity, it became a different story altogether. Spanish soldiers, civilians and clergy eventually arrived and made the Philippines a territory of Spain.

To state the obvious, Spain exploited the natural resources of its new territorial conquest. With a few exceptions, the Spaniards made serfs of the natives.

As far as Spain was concerned, the Philippines happened to be along Magellan’s way to the land of spices and had to be colonized.

Fast forward to 1898, during the Spanish-American War.

After losing to the United States, Spain sued for peace and ceded its territories in the Caribbean and in the Pacific to the United States through the Treaty of Paris. That treaty converted the Philippines to a territorial possession of the United States.

Although the Treaty of Paris ceded the Philippines to the United States, it was evident that America never really planned to annex the archipelago.

Then US President William McKinley had to consult the almanacs just to find out where the islands are located. He even said he “consulted” God about what to do about America’s new territorial acquisition, and that God told him to take over the archipelago.

The reality, however, was that the Philippines happened to be in the center of the Spanish-American War, and the archipelago’s annexation by the United States was an inevitable consequence of America’s new status as a world power.

To put it plainly, the Philippines fell under Spanish dominion and then later under American colonial authority whether the Filipinos liked it or not. Filipinos went to war against Spain, and ended up becoming an American colony.

The grim reality, therefore, is that the Philippines was and is not a powerful nation in terms of military and naval might, and this fact makes it inevitable for the Philippines to be at the receiving end of the aggressive behavior of powerful countries adjacent to it, or interested in its strategic location in South East Asia.

In the middle part of the 20th century, China was a backward state. It already had a powerful army, but it was an economic poorhouse. Back then, the communist country’s priorities was to invade Taiwan and to keep the Americans out of communist North Korea.

China today is a rich and powerful country run by a ruthless, totalitarian, communist regime. It has the money and the military resources to wage a war of conquest in the South China Sea. That explains its brazen decision to expand maritime territory. It also explains why China has intruded into the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines in violation of international law.

The communist government in Beijing does not really honor friendship. Vietnam was China’s ally in America’s anti-communist war in Indo-China (1959-1975) but Beijing still seized the Paracel Islands near Hanoi which are claimed by Vietnam.

China professes to be a good friend of the Philippines, but it currently occupies islets and shoals in the South China Sea that belong to the Philippines under the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea treaty which is part of international law.

More importantly, while the Philippine claim to the maritime area was recognized a few years ago by a United Nations arbitration tribunal, China refuses to recognize the ruling.

China’s expansionist activities in the South China Sea are, of course, an affront to Philippine sovereignty. That reality notwithstanding, what can the Philippines do about it?

The comical troika of anti-administration personalities composed of ex-Supreme Court Justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio-Morales, and ex-Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario are correct in insisting that China’s presence in Philippine maritime territory violates international law.

Unfortunately, based on the way they have been criticizing President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, it looks like they want the Philippines to go to war against China, a war which the Philippines cannot win.

If the Philippines goes to war against China, history will only repeat itself. We may end up a territorial possession of China. How the United States will take that is currently a matter of speculation. We cannot let our country’s future depend on speculation.

Until and unless we have a practical solution, outside of war, to China’s maritime aggression in Philippine territory, it is best that we keep mum about our plans and strategies in the meantime, with the optimism that Beijing will, one day, regret its bullying, much like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan did at the close of World War II.

Topics: Louis "Barok" Biraogo , Ferdinand Magellan , Philippines , China ,
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