“The next president must be the exemplar of statesmanship with unwavering respect for the rule of law and its enforcement.”
Under the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a serious geopolitical crisis has exploded in Europe with the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Here in Southeast Asia, our region has been confronted with the escalating aggression of China in its relentless creeping invasion into the territories of the littoral states around the South China Sea.
Chinese incursions into our territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone EEZ since the start of the Duterte administration have been most rampant with well over 200 diplomatic protests and loud volleys of strong indignation from every sector of Philippine society and the international community. Harassment of our fishermen and the reckless destruction of our marine resources from the region’s big bully will continue until we are able to develop our capacity to deter and challenge these intrusions.
Defending our country’s security interests and sovereign territory is a non-negotiable responsibility of government and an embedded duty of every citizen. This is not just a romantic notion often dramatized in war themes of the cinema. It is a deep emotion of belonging and loyal commitment that when founded on universal values of goodness and the rule of law will be the driving spirit that propels a nation to greatness.
This is not a mere passionate claim akin to a patriot but is a fact based on data. The October 2021 Social Weather Stations survey commissioned by the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi) showed that eight out of ten of Filipinos, eighty two percent (82%) in fact, expect that ‘the next Philippine government should assert its right on the islands in the West Philippine Sea as stipulated in the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.” This is a clear objection to the appeasement approach of Duterte that has, in my opinion, is a betrayal of the prime mandate of the President to defend the interests of the country.
The President’s kowtowing to China has been rationalized by lofty promises like loans support for the big-ticket projects of the Build Build Build programs, which didn’t really materialize at the scale projected. Chinese loan deals and projects were criticized for unfavorable provisions and warnings of caution to avoid the traps suffered by other countries. When the virus from Wuhan plunged the country to the longest and most stringent lockdowns and economic ruin, China shoved their Sinovac vaccine which at first was appreciated but later avoided by Filipinos for its inferior efficacy compared to Western manufactured vaccines. Billions were spent for this and will surely be a point of reckoning when the time comes.
No wonder China is the least trusted country by Filipinos as revealed by the same SWS survey where the United States is most trusted at 75%, then Australia at 62%, United Kingdom at 52%, Japan at 53%, the European Union at 42%, India at 22%. Majority of Filipinos (55%) have “Little Trust” in China.
What the next president should do about China’s exploitative and invasive offensive against the Philippines and the region for that matter is also at the top-of-mind Filipinos, especially voters. Respondents were asked what the next president should do about the West Philippine Sea issue. They said they want a president who will: “Strengthen the military capability of the Philippines” (80%), “Conduct joint military patrols and military exercises with allied countries” (65%), and “Fully implement the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA” (58%). Also important is the “Finalization of the ASEAN Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (45%) and to “Bring the issue to the United Nations General Assembly (40%).
Even the “building of infrastructures on the vacant islands in the West Philippine Sea to assert our rights to these islands” is deemed important by 79% of the respondents.
So now that we have so many presidential aspirants fervently campaigning for our votes, we must seize this opportunity to wield our power to elect a leader who will be the anti-thesis of the defeatism and appeasement that has cost our country immeasurable loss of marine resources, assault against our fishermen, and has even constrained our rightful access to our sovereign territories.
The next president must be the exemplar of statesmanship with unwavering respect for the rule of law and its enforcement. The next president must have the stature and initiative to strengthen partnerships with the growing alliance of like-minded freedom and peace-loving states as a formidable force to uphold the rule of law and sustained regional stability.
The recent pronouncements of the presidential candidates are showing responsiveness to the clamor of the Filipino to stand up against China’s expansionist ambitions. All except one who has already chosen to mouth the deceptive narrative of Beijing.