Unforced error

"Let’s focus on building up our defenses."


The President’s off-the-cuff spontaneity can lead him to the occasional gaffe. That may be tolerable for a city mayor, less so for a head of state. His latest was a piqued challenge to former SC senior associate justice Tony Carpio to debate with him over West Philippine Sea issues.

Not surprisingly, Carpio eagerly accepted. He’s a member of the famously combative UP law fraternity Sigma Rho, which includes CPP leader Raf Baylosis, Palace legal counsel Sal Panelo, and—from an earlier era—the unconquerable JPE. And no former SC justice would run away from a challenge by anyone to debate points of law.

Most importantly, Carpio has much more to gain from such a debate. Win or lose, he reaps a ton of publicity that will put his new opposition coalition 1Sambayan into the spotlight. It also burnishes his credentials to lead that coalition in the number one or two electoral contest next May.

Not surprisingly, Duterte cut his losses and instead assigned his spokesman Harry Roque—a UP law professor himself—to take his place. Roque thereupon sweetened the pot and offered to debate Carpio AND his sidekick, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, together, thus indicating how little he thought of the views they hold.

With the elections only a year away, Duterte can’t afford to make too many mistakes anymore. Already his erstwhile ally, Senator Manny Pacquiao, has publicly complained: “Nakukulangan ako (kay Duterte)…Dapat ipatuloy niya (yung posisyon niya bago siya tumakbo nuon) para magkaroon din naman tayo ng respeto (mula sa China).”

Pacquiao’s pugilistic pugnacity may sell better than the restraint needed to handle a giant neighbor like China. As voters choose between head and heart on this issue, Duterte should simplify and popularize the hard facts of international law and geopolitics behind his position. And he should be trying harder to hold on to his friends and keep his camp together as he ponders whom to anoint as successor.

* * *

This month is when a lot of my cohort belonging to the favored A2 category (seniors) in NCR-Plus will be getting their second doses. Already some of my high school classmates are planning a beach get-together. Although, to be safer, one might want to wait until the fourth quarter at the earliest, when authorities see us at or near herd immunity. Full-on Christmas reunions, after waiting nearly two years, sounds scrumptious.

Much is owed by us to the Chinese, who were the very first ones here with over a million donated doses of Sinovac, and who are now about to hit 5 million doses sent here. However, this well of generosity may dry up soon, as Sinovac chair Yin Weidong confirmed last month that they’re running short of vaccines. The NY-based Council on Foreign Relations predicts that China will have to hold back on its vaccine diplomacy at least for a couple of months.

Fortuitously, other mechanisms are showing up to fill the slack. The United States and its QUAD partners—Japan, India, and Australia—reportedly plan to produce up to a billion doses in India by the end of 2022 for distribution solely within the Asia Pacific. For its part, ADB is setting up a $9-billion vaccine financing facility aimed at just four countries: Indonesia, Philippines, Afghanistan, and the South Pacific islands.

But the outlook for the whole world remains foreboding. According to England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty,  “Until we have got a situation where we have induced immunity in those who are most vulnerable everywhere in the world, we will continue to see really significant morbidity and mortality from this virus.” And even if the virus subsides over the long term, new variants will crop up to cause new sicknesses.

It’s an intractable problem that respects no boundaries, especially national borders. Even in the best-managed health systems who’re today reporting few or no cases, the virus in one form or another is likely to recur. Which is why, as we approach election campaign season, it’s best to avoid taking cheap shots at our health officials—despite their all too real shortcomings—and focus instead of working together to future-proof our health care defenses.

* * *

In today’s Gospel (Jn 16: 5-11), before the start of His Passion, Jesus tells His disciples in the upper room: “If I go, I will send (the Advocate) to you. And when he comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation.”

By freely accepting the pain and mortality of His Passion as the price to pay for saving the human race He so loved, Jesus also enters into the authority to pass judgment on that same race—those who sin by not believing in Him, those who remain righteous despite His physical absence, those who remain loyal to the “ruler of the world” although that ruler has already been condemned.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: Unforced error , Antonio Carpio , West Philippine Sea , Harry Roque , Albert del Rosario

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