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Opinion

Are you going to Scarborough Shoal?


While our government was conducting the Balikatan (the Filipino word for "shoulder-to-shoulder") military exercise with the United States on the islands of Luzon and Palawan, China was also conducting a joint naval exercise with Russia in the Yellow Sea off its east coast just between the mainland and the Korean Peninsula. Aside from being a military drill, the Balikatan, which involves more than 6,000 troops, is also engaged in civic and humanitarian programs. This resulted in the construction of five school buildings and the provision of medical and dental care to more than 22,000 people in selected locations of the island. On the other hand, the Chinese military exercise summoned a total of 25 vessels comprised by 18 of its own submarines, destroyers, escort frigates, hospital ships, four warships, and three supply ships from Russia to take part in honing sensitive technologies and capabilities on simulated anti-aircraft defense, anti-submarine tactics, electronic countermeasures, and search-and-rescue operations. The two military drills are not a coincidence. They are deliberate and intentional. How did we get into this?   It’s a long story. Basically, what we have here is an issue of geopolitical magnitude that involves big boys on the world’s playground seeking to protect their interests and checking each other’s influence. This is a story that I believe is best left for global experts and military strategists to wrestle with. For me, my concern is very personal. So, here is the short story of it.  China has been behaving badly towards us. Lately, its antagonistic action against us at the Scarborough Shoal (also called Panatag Shoal) typifies a bully who tries to pick a fight to drive us from our own playground. I know it is not a fair fight, or more so, even a fight that we can win. China seems to be too cocksure about this. As a new kid on the economic block with lots of money, a new look, and a new attitude, he now displays his bullying tactics by using actual force or threatening to use it against anyone he doesn’t want to be around in the neighborhood. In fact, as a bully he uses physical, psychological, and cyber bullying techniques to try to dominate us. To date, he deployed his own ships to block our lone cutter, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar from arresting poachers and illegal fishermen. He threatened us in the past with the use of force to protect his alleged territorial claim. Just recently, he allegedly hacked three websites maintained by President Benigno Aquino III, and a website of a government-run university to assert its country's claim over South China Sea. Personally, I am really trying my best not to be intimidated and to remain calm and composed about this provocation, not only because what this oversized bully does is overreaching, but it is also cruel. Consider this. Here we are, a people with very little in life and this bully is taking away from us the safety of our abode, and perhaps the very few joys left in our lives. We have tried to settle this matter with him diplomatically and legally by utilizing the proper fora, but he is not interested or simply refuses to participate. What are we supposed to do? He is trying to deprive us of something very important which can no longer be retrieved once it is lost. And yet, we have to think about this and how it has changed our lives and what it means if the bully is held accountable for his actions. Many may not like what I will say, but I think it’s time for us to change our attitude towards the U.S. naval force in our country. I know the Philippine Senate kicked them out 21 years ago and I don’t wish to rehash the issue of surge in national pride and the people involved in it.  I just hope they don’t get re-elected or their ilk elected in the coming elections. But it’s water under the bridge for me.   Right now, we are standing at the precipice of a new global arrangement confronting us with a challenge that requires the daunting presence of the U.S. naval force in our country. Here’s my suggestion. What about designating a sector of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), or developing a growth center and strategic maritime city in the Philippines where we can provide a competitive cost of maintenance and repair for the U.S. 7th Fleet?  In other words, let's have them near our backyard. My solution may be simple and naïve, but all I know is that the presence of the U.S. 7th Fleet with its 50 to 60 ships, 350 aircraft and 60,000 Navy and Marine Corps personnel is necessary for our territorial integrity as well as our economic development. What we have here may be a middle–ground opportunity that can address the pestering and self-constraining imagination of nationalistic emotion, while at the same time, providing immediate jobs for our people. I project that in the first year alone, this economic engine can easily generate thousand of jobs from direct employment, indirect employment, and induced employment, in short, from the benefits of employment multiplier effect.   How bout dem boys?
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