Briones: Pragmatism

YESTERDAY, President Rodrigo Duterte was within short walking distance from our office on P. del Rosario to attend the turnover of vehicles donated by the Japanese Government to the Police Regional Office 7.

So of course, my column today would have to be about the former mayor of Davao City.

But I decided to shy away from his administration’s war against illegal drugs and criminality--although the topic would have been most apposite--because, come on, “been there, done that.”

What about the cause-oriented groups who took to the streets to protest the Train law and to call for the resumption of peace talks with communist rebels?

First of all, it’s too early to tell whether the first package of Duterte’s envisioned comprehensive tax reform program has achieved its desired effect so there’s no point in crying foul over something that hasn’t happened yet. And I didn’t want to discuss the peace talks because, frankly, I’m not well-versed in the subject.

But I am interested in the recent flak Duterte has received from some members of the opposition on Chinese militarization in the West Philippine Sea.

One solon accused Malacañang of doing nothing while China continues to build military bases on its man-made structures in the area, blaming Philippine inaction on Chinese loans and investments that it has to pay eventually.

Another is asking the Duterte administration to disclose “its offers to China and divulge what the Philippines is surrendering to it.”

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque had pointed out that Chinese activity in the area began during the time of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.

“What do you want us to say? All that we could do is to extract a promise from China not to reclaim any new artificial islands,” Roque said.

Abigail Valte, Aquino’s spokesperson, shot back, saying that it was her “boss” who took China to the UN Arbitral Tribunal, which decided that the Philippines “has exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea and that China’s ‘nine-dash line’ is invalid.”

But what Valte did not say was that the Philippine has no way of enforcing the decision, which China, by the way, does not recognize, putting the Philippines at an impasse.

The fact that China’s activities in the South China Sea are left unhindered only proves that the global community does not want to directly confront Beijing over the issue, while Duterte critics want him to do exactly that.

Sen. Bam Aquino earlier wondered if the Philippines had already been sold. But he and his cousin have always lived in La La Land, while men like Duterte are well aware of the nature of the region’s realpolitik.
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