There is nothing the Philippines needs more today than patriotism.
Love of country is what every Filipino should be asking himself at this hour. There is no stronger call for national unity than a foreign invasion. If there is still doubt that we are being invaded by China, look around you and think again.
There is no more glaring issue which necessitates us Filipinos coming together to defend our homeland than the presence of unwelcome foreign vessels in our shores stealing our natural resources and violating our sovereignty.
Why should we defend and protect the West Philippine Sea? The duty to do this is explicit in our Constitution, which states that ‘the Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them. 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.’
At present, 287 Chinese militia vessels remain in the San Felipe Reef, within our Exclusive Economic Zone. There have been many such illegal incursions into our EEZ over the years. These have been increasing in intensity since 2013.
We cannot afford to lose rich maritime resources in our waters, which are estimated to be worth tens of trillions of pesos in food security, oil, and gas reserves when fully developed. These are more than enough to fuel our economic development for years to come. Moreover, we cannot let the illegal incursions destroy our coral reefs and adversely impact not only the livelihood of our fisherfolk but our environment by threatening it along with our sustainable development.
Why is there a need to be patriotic at this time? The short answer to this is because we have not been patriotic enough beginning with our own President and Commander-in-Chief. I echo what former AFP Chief and Senator Rodolfo Biazon said recently referring to President Duterte’s flip-flopping statements confusing everyone. There were times when the President uttered patriotic public policy but there were also other times when he said things that sounded more like a Chinese narrative than a local one.
President Duterte sounded patriotic when he said the following before the United Nations General Assembly in September and echoed in his appearance before ASEAN in November: ‘The (Arbitral) Award is a triumph of the rule of law. It is beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to ‘dilute, diminish, or abandon.’
Months later, however, the President belittled the Arbitral Award saying it was just a piece of paper that can be thrown in the waste basket. Then he also appeased China after SND Lorenzana and SFA Locsin issued strong statements against the illegal Chinese presence in the West Philippine Sea. In fact, the entire government was gagged from issuing any statement on the WPS except for SFA Locsin. Then, yet divergently again, the President came out patriotically stating ‘I will not retreat. Kill me if you want to kill me, I will be here. This is where our friendship will end.’ Patriotic words spoken against China. And yet before all these, the President once said that he agreed to China’s fishing in our waters as long as it does not mine our oil and gas minerals underneath. He later denied he ever made such an agreement.
In fact, there appears more to be lost than gained from the President’s pivot to China.
First, the Filipino people prefer the US as an ally over China. A 2020 SWS survey found that the US has a +42 trust rating with Filipinos while China only has -36. While the US enjoyed positive trust ratings with Filipinos since 1994, China only had 9 positive ratings in 53 surveys over the same period and that its rating worsened from a -27 in 2019.
Second, China’s economic aid to RP is $600M while Japan’s official development assistance to RP is greater at $11.2B low-interest loans and grants.
Third, the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US assures support in case of an armed attack on RP. As I write, the US has a standing communication with us of support in the WPS if we ask for it.
Fourth, most, if not all Filipinos, do not want their country to become a province of China, the President’s joke notwithstanding. China and the Philippines are so radically divergent in almost every respect. While RP is a democracy, China is autocratic. While RP is a predominantly Christian State, China is Communist. While RP may lie in Asia, its heritage is predominantly western the last five centuries.
Is the military patriotic enough? I have no doubt whatsoever that our AFP is patriotic. The core being and make-up of every man in uniform has always been anchored on love of country and duty to protect it even to the point of paying the ultimate sacrifice. The services and sacrifices of the men and women in uniform are well-documented throughout our history. To the point that not only do our active-duty soldiers feel the passion of patriotism flowing through their veins, but even the veterans do. Like myself. However, no matter how patriotic our soldiers are, they still need firm leadership from their commander-in-chief as they follow a chain of command. This leadership must not be flip-flopping. It must demonstrate firm resolve to address an enemy of the State.
The West Philippine Sea is a unifying issue. A multilateral approach is best towards advancing our maritime claims. This is opposed to the bilateral approach chosen by President Duterte. A multilateral approach builds upon the 2016 Arbitral Award we won in the international courts. The Award is a triumph of the rule of law. It is ‘beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to ‘dilute, diminish, or abandon’ at the same time affirming the Philippines’ commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea.’ This the President said so himself. The multilateral approach is our best option to not only protect our fishermen and natural resources but moreover, to safeguard our national sovereignty and territorial integrity enshrined in our Constitution.
Among the concrete actions we should recontinue are the joint patrols of our EEZ with fellow claimants Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Vietnam as well as join freedom of navigation and overflight operations with allies like the US, UK, France, Japan, Australia, and Canada in the West Philippine Sea.
In case of an armed attack, we even have an MDT with the US, which treats an armed attack against the Philippines as an armed attack against the US, thus bringing in support from the UN.
Through it all, patriotism is the key that binds. At the end of the day, I do not think we Filipinos want to become a province of China. This is why regardless of our differences in every possible way, we still see eye to eye when it comes to the reality of a foreign invasion. Which is really a creeping invasion.
That is why we all should really transform into becoming super vigilant patriots now more than ever. The need for the patriotism of every Filipino today cannot be emphasized enough. It can only put on meaning when every citizen takes concrete action. Like explicit expressions of patriotism through social media posts, overt displays of our Philippine flag by every Filipino household in their residences, vehicles, offices, social media profiles, among others. Education drive about the WPS and East Philippine Sea and about patriotism. Love of country included in family affairs, faith gatherings, and homilies. These must be consistent and sustained. All fired up by our love of country. After all, we are patriots. Whether we know it or not.