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BEYOND THE BEND: Friend to all, enemy to one

By Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M


MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews)—As a democratic nation, we consciously endeavor to establish meaningful relations with other states. Our Constitution mandates adherence “to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations.” But it seems that out of the 195 countries in the world today, one is hellbent on treating us with disdain and violence. Indeed, is there any other way to interpret the act of a country invading our territory?

Our troubles in the West Philippine Sea are well-documented. The entire world knows that armed Chinese vessels are terrorizing our ships and fishers there. The fact that most nations subscribe to a rules-based international order and submit to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea explains the universal support for defending our sovereignty and preserving the integrity of our national territory.

Rightfully, this matter is now front and center in our political discourse. All shades of the political spectrum have shared their views on how we should deal with Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea. While there is an apparent consensus to protect what is ours, some politicians and academics are insisting that our government “resume” bilateral talks with Beijing.

However, this is such an odd proposition because according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the communication line with their Chinese counterparts has never been closed. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. himself promised that his administration is taking every chance to engage with China, saying, “We still continue to talk at a ministerial level, at a sub-ministerial level, at a people-to-people level.”

Obviously, we must keep the door to a diplomatic resolution always open. This is a clear command of the 1987 Constitution. But we also cannot deny the fact that Beijing’s insistence on “consultation and dialogue” is just a coded demand to concede our sovereignty.

China has always been upfront with their precondition for a bilateral agreement. We must disregard the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration and instead recognize their 10-dash line claim. In other words, for Beijing, a diplomatic resolution means we surrender essentially the entire western side of our country. No Filipino in his right mind would ever accept this condition.

So ostensibly, bilateral talks with Beijing may not be a viable option for us at the moment. Nonetheless, we need to maintain a long-term perspective here. Justice Antonio Carpio described the West Philippine Sea crisis as an “intergenerational struggle for Filipinos.” Hence, the sensible path that we can pursue now is to strengthen our national defense capabilities.

Sadly, it is not an exaggeration to say that we have no credible self-defense force. And this is not a knock against our soldiers. In fact, the bravery and smarts of our uniformed personnel is the saving grace of our national defense capability. But by any meaningful metrics, our armed forces still fall behind our regional allies and rivals.

Pertinently, according to the 1987 Constitution, “The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.” (Article II, Section 3). Therefore, the lynchpin of our national security strategy must inevitably be a self-reliant defense posture policy.

Congress plays a critical role in strengthening our national defense capability. The institutionalization of a self-reliant defense posture program involves the disposition of a significant portion of our national coffers. And as the wielder of the power of the purse, it is the responsibility of Congress to find the funds for this effort.

The lack of sufficient revenue is never going to be an acceptable reason to give up on pursuing a self-reliant defense posture policy. It is worth mentioning that Justice Carpio once proposed the use of Congressional “pork barrel” to buy warships. Certainly, a suggestion worth considering.

Late last year, the chairperson of the House Special Committee on the West Philippine Sea, Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II, conceded that Congress must reallocate confidential and intelligence funds given to civilian offices (such as the Office of the Vice-President and the Department of Education) to security agencies. Expanding the scope of this particular reallocation in the national budget must also be given serious consideration.

The truth of the matter is, the situation in the West Philippine Sea has become so grave that expressions of outrage against China from our lawmakers are simply not enough. Promises of fighting in the frontlines are just not enough. The establishment of a self-reliant defense framework requires from our legislators actual lawmaking, not just politicking and blustering during televised congressional hearings.

By constitutional fiat, Congress must maintain an intergenerational perspective. Hence, it is perfectly reasonable for us to rely on them to make sure the objectives of a self-reliant defense posture policy are met.

But this reliance also asks from us to be more demanding and critical of our lawmakers. We must use all means at our disposal to publicly convey our expectation as well as our disappointment. And hopefully, the images of Chinese Maritime Militia ships blasting our sailors with water cannons can make us be exponentially more demanding and critical in the 2025 midterm elections.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M is a law lecturer, policy analyst and constitutionalist.)


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