Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A weakling’s response

It was an apology that wasn’t an apology. Worse yet, a weakling’s show of remorse after wilting to pressure from a foreign government that has no diplomatic relations with the Philippines.
The Taiwan government rejected as insincere the apology issued by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III for the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman last May 9 on Philippine waters just north of the island of Batanes. Taiwan’s premier Ma Ying-jeou rallied his countrymen to “prepare for a prolonged war” as he announced a slew of sanctions to be imposed against the Philippine government, which included an immediate ban on the recruitment of Filipino workers, the recall of the Taiwanese representative in Manila and an order to the Philippine envoy in Taipei to return home.
Taiwanese fishermen burn Philippine flag as they  protest inTaipei last May 13
against the killing of a local fisherman by the Philippine Coast Guard. Click link to view Taiwan vs. Philippines
(The Fishing War) - Golden Retriever vs. Chihuaha.

More sanctions from the Taiwan government could be expected such as the suspension of economic and trade relations between the two nations and a ban on tourism travel to the Philippines. All sanctions considered, both countries will be hard-pressed, although the Philippines will be hit hard most.
Taiwan is behaving like a great power that looks down on little countries in Asia like the Philippines. One foreign observer noted that even India is a small country in Taiwan’s eyes.
Taiwan doesn’t want just an apology but also to conduct its own investigation of the shooting incident. President Noynoy Aquino has blinked first, exposing his obvious lack of preparedness to face a diplomatic row similar to his handling of the Rizal Park hostage-taking incident in 2010 involving Chinese citizens from Hong Kong.
Foreign policy appears to be the weakest chink in President Aquino’s armour. After being rattled by Chinese bullying in the South China Sea, Aquino had to run to America, his former colonial master, for help. Spurned by the ASEAN for his proposal for a united stand against China in the South China Sea conflict, President Aquino went alone for an international arbitration of the dispute which would most likely prolong the impasse instead of solving it. To date, China continues its aggressive behaviour in intruding in Philippine territory in the South China Sea and President Aquino could do nothing but issue empty reassurances that the Philippines has the capability to repel any foreign intervention.
When the ragtag army of the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu attempted to recover Sabah which it claims has been the sultanate’s property all along last March, President Aquino again could not do anything but watch in horror as Filipino Muslims were massacred by the Malaysian military. This just proves President Aquino’s weakest suit as Taiwan now takes its turn in bullying the Philippines.
The Philippine government has acquiesced to Taiwan’s demand that it conduct its own investigation of the shooting incident in the Bashi Channel where the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of both countries overlap. In agreeing to a parallel probe, the Philippines has waved the white flag although it has also allowed Hong Kong the same right to jointly investigate the hostage-taking incident in 2010. At least, Hong Kong is part of China which has diplomatic relations with the Philippines. But one wonders why the Philippine government didn’t demand that Malaysia similarly accede to a joint investigation of the Sultan of Sulu’s failed foray on Malaysian land?
There are reports that Filipino workers in Taiwan are being subjected to physical assaults and harassment as Taiwan’s nationalistic jingoism heats up. The interests and protection of Filipino workers must have weighed heavily on President Aquino’s mind in giving in to Taiwan’s demand for a joint investigation rather than defending the country’s territorial integrity. This kind of father-figure was sorely lacking in the President Aquino’s diplomatic stance during the massacre of Filipino Muslims in Malaysia last March.
Besides an official apology and a joint investigation by Taiwan and the Philippines, the Taiwanese government is also demanding compensation for the fisherman’s family, punishment for the guilty and bilateral talks over a fisheries agreement to avoid similar incidents. In other words, Taiwan is dictating the terms of an acceptable resolution, leaving the Philippine government with nothing to do but comply. But these are not preconditions in promoting diplomatic peace and harmony. Instead, these are terms coming from a position of arrogance.
If international relations would be carried out unilaterally, then such relations should be called by another name. Taiwan is behaving badly and its reaction to the shooting incident is way out of proportion, especially for a country which has not been officially recognized by its neighbours in the region.
In allowing its citizens to turn their nationalistic anger toward Filipino workers who are fully blameless, Taiwan is committing xenophobia and racial intolerance. Is Taiwan actually gearing up for war? It’s ludicrous to think so.
Should the safety and security of Filipino workers in Taiwan be the Philippines’ primary concern, the government should prepare a plan to repatriate these workers and not simply caution them about limiting their visibility that could further enrage the citizens of Taiwan. Just like in previous wars such as those in Iraq and Libya, the Philippine government immediately took steps to repatriate Filipino overseas workers caught in danger’s way. The government should not vacillate and worry about the loss of jobs and dollar remittances. Nothing is more important than the safety of Filipino workers, especially when Taiwan is ratcheting up its threat of a “prolonged war” with the Philippines.
Never mind that Taiwan is the Philippines’ fourth largest source of remittances from Asia. Or Taiwan was the fifth largest source of foreign tourists (216,511) last year. Or Taiwan was the Philippines’ ninth biggest trading partner and eighth largest source of foreign investments.
The Philippine government does not deserve to be treated in an arrogant and high-handed manner by Taiwan. It has continued to treat Taiwan as a friend by maintaining economic and trade relations despite of the One-China Policy. Is there any more room left to allow diplomacy to work?

Amid row with China, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III announces
$1.8 billion military upgrade vs. "bullies."
Allowing Taiwan to conduct a parallel probe of the shooting incident is demoralizing to the Philippine Coast Guard in particular, but also establishes a wrong precedent. From now on, we could expect foreign governments to demand that they conduct their own investigation of any shenanigans committed by their nationals on Philippine soil or waters. When Filipino citizens are victims of crimes or suspects of criminal wrongdoing abroad, never has the Philippine government demanded that its National Bureau of Investigation be allowed to conduct its own probe. Our NBI does not act in the same way as the US Federal Bureau of Investigation or the CIA when American interests are at jeopardy abroad. We just don’t have the ability and resources, and we are only a small nation and our timidity is only natural and to be expected.
But at least the Philippine government can use diplomacy by requesting the safe repatriation of Filipino workers when they are unnecessarily placed in harm’s way. There is no substitute for the safety and lives of our overseas workers, and this should be the single and most important factor that the president must consider.
If it would mean a significant drop in foreign remittances by overseas Filipino workers, then that it is the price we must pay. Maybe this a wake-up call for the government to concentrate its efforts in generating jobs instead of prostituting our skilled workers overseas. It’s about time for our government economic planners to realize that overreliance on foreign remittances is not the best way to strengthen the economy. In addition to promoting job growth, the government should redirect its economic priorities in developing local industry which is necessary to arrest the foreign drain of talents because this is the most effective way of achieving full employment.
The real test of an effective national leader is not solely his ability to win elections for his party. If this is so, then President Aquino must be a good and strong leader and he has passed the test.
But when his countrymen are being slaughtered in a foreign land or when a foreign government tells him his apology is not enough, that he should accept the foreign state’s demands or else face more sanctions, then that president must be lacking of courage and will to stand up for his country. In any estimation, that president is a weakling.

1 comment:

  1. sometimes I wonder if we have not reclassified our foreign policy akin to be that of a prostitute...with the end (remittances and jobs) justifying the means ( pimping our people to a megamillion OFW labor contracting industry).