Some people today are beating the drums of war. But are we ready for war? Is the bullying by China enough to make us go to war? Despite our state weaknesses, we are a proud nation. I do understand it when my respectable colleagues argue that no self-respecting nation should take the blatant bullying even by a powerful nation like China. And my response to their position is that the Philippines is already doing everything a bullied nation is supposed to do in furtherance of its national security and interest. In fact, it has been doing so over the years. The Philippines has adopted an idealist strategy and engaged the international community toward resolving Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. It has gone for multilateral engagement of all stakeholders in the disputed waters instead of just a bilateral engagement that China wants. It has invoked the force of international law as a baseline for international dialogue in seeking resolutions that are acceptable to all claimants. The advocated engagements even include possible areas for cooperation and development so long as such are mutually inclusive than exclusive. The Philippines has done all it could toward protecting its territory and larger national interest in the face of a bully for a neighbor and its standing in the community of nations.
That China employs a realist stance does not necessarily mean that the Philippines should go toe to toe with it to defend its honor and sovereignty. To do so would jeopardize whatever gains the country has been able to muster over years of engaging dialogue. To do so would strengthen the enemy’s position but weaken ours. Such tack belongs with the international community because it is only the coming together of nations with a common interest that can stand eye to eye with any nation that thinks it can unilaterally dictate terms of survival in a world-full of nations. Dictatorship in the community of nations without regard to the rule of law including due process simply cannot be tolerated. Unilateralism promotes self-interest and ignores common interest. Such a formula is bad for diplomacy and co-existence. It is bad for world peace. It leads to war.
The rhetoric of war is one thing. Actual war is another. But before I discuss the latter, let me say a few things about the former. The timing of the rhetoric makes all the difference. Before the occurrence of actual war, the conflict and its resolution, though matters of serious concern, appear theoretical, orderly, linear, predictable, and victorious. The hypothetical scenario becomes more glaring for the Philippines whose armed forces organization is among the weakest in the region lacking substantial hardware to effect major disaster response much more fight a post-modern war. Even as actual occupations already unfold in the South China Sea as they have over the years, the DND-AFP is only beginning to acquire second or third string defense hardware from multilateral sources whose acquisitions are not inspired by tried and tested defense doctrine. As one air force officer said, the AFP’s capability today goes as far as monitoring the enemy without the use of advanced technology equipment and readiness posture that may only come about in ten years time. Social media uploads only serve to highlight the AFP’s limitations. But certainly, the nation is not lacking when it comes to the expressed pride and willingness of Filipinos to defend their homeland and pay the ultimate sacrifice if needed. Or so until the shooting starts; then, the post-rhetoric of war would have begun.
Actual war is deadly. Many people will die and most of them will be non-combatants. Today’s wars are total wars, as recent major wars have been, but a lot more deadly. Man’s current capability and capacity to wage war have exponentially increased over the years owing to technological advancements that aim to win wars more efficiently and effectively. Make no mistake about it. The aim of wars is to win. And the objective is to destroy the enemy. However, battle lines are no longer drawn between combatants and non-combatants and between enemy and foe such that minimizing civilian casualties is hardly possible even with smart weapons. We have only to watch the volumes of documentary films from World War II to relive the horrors of war on a large scale. The last great war was a global war, dividing the community of nations according to their national alliances and needs for territorial expansion and natural resources. The world back then did not want war and did not believe it can happen. It was largely unprepared when war finally broke out. World War II was the most lethal of all wars. Millions, mostly civilians, perished. Perhaps it is the faded memory of great, experienced wars as the last one that lulls us into somewhat of a belief system that wars of such magnitude is a thing of the past. The wars we have known in our lifetime are limited, distant, and fought elsewhere in the remote areas and not in our neighborhood backyards.
General MacArthur once said that only those who have actually seen the face of war never want to see it again or words to that effect. Another said ‘only the dead have seen the ends of war’. I had been a soldier and so believe in the necessities of war especially a just war to defend one’s homeland from foreign invasion. There are no moral or legal norms that prevent us from defending our families and country. I will fight the enemy when he comes knocking on my door. I know you will too. But I do not pray for war. I do not glorify war.
I hate war. In fact, I pray that there would be no war. Not with China or anyone. Not now. Not ever.