Wenceslao: Diversionary

I USED to join my cousin Jaime in a form of fishing we Cebuanos call “panu” or “panulo,” from the root word “sulo” (torch) in the shores of Poro town in the Camotes group of islands at night. We didn’t actually use the “sulo,” which refers to dry coconut leaves (“langkay”) fashioned into a torch and lit. What we carried was a kerosene-fed Petromax lantern, which could be controlled easier and lights better.

The activity had us walking from the plateau in Hambabawod where my uncle Pedro lived down to the shore less than a kilometer from the old Poro wharf. The shore was dotted with mangroves and was rocky. I tailed Jaime not only to learn “panu” but also because I liked observing the vast sea in the dark and feeling the embrace of the cold sea breeze.

We would wade in the shallows and Jaime would stop every time he observed something in the water. The skill was only for the trained eyes. He would unsheath the bolo dangling from his hips and hit something in the water that turned out to be fish hiding in the rocks. His aim was often true and sometimes the fish would be halved by the bolo. We would then place it inside the basket we were carrying.

But the more interesting part was catching “tabugok” (octopus). Jaime didn’t use the bolo for that. He would grab the head of the “tabugok,” which would defend itself by wrapping its tentacles tightly around Jaime’s hand. He would then bite the head and the hold of the “tabugok” would weaken allowing Jaime to eventually place it inside the basket.

Sometimes I would notice small squids in the water. What amused me was what they did in the face of danger. They would slip away fast while leaving behind black liquid. Because they were small, the liquid they squirted were also small. I had fun attempting to catch them and watching them use the diversion. The same fun I felt watching the diversionary tactic used by President Duterte.

The president announced that he would ride a jet ski in Benham Rise yesterday, the first anniversary of the country renaming the area as Philippine Rise. The jet ski, which was supposed to be a symbol of Philippine defiance of China’s grab of West Philippine Sea territories, has already been reduced to a joke years after Duterte promised during the campaign period in the 2016 presidential polls to ride it in the said sea while carrying a Philippine flag.

The Philippine rise is not a disputed territory because it is located in the eastern side of the country. Focusing on it is therefore diversionary in the midst of our failure to defend our claim to West Philippine Sea territories where China, after constructing artificial islands, has installed missiles. But even the president’s promise of riding a jet ski in the Philippine Rise yesterday became another joke because it didn’t happen.

I say the Duterte administration’s wimpish stand on the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea may end up to be its undoing. The people will eventually see through the diversion, like what I saw from those small squids in Poro. And how would the hawkish elements in our country react to that?


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