On China, the Senate is a sorry failure.
So many questions confront us now about the exact nature of our newly cozy relationship with China that we all need to be thoroughly informed and educated by all branches of government on what the relationship means and where it is taking us.
But many senators have chosen silence, muting their habitual manias for grandstanding and lip service.
It is as if they prefer lending their voluble voices on harmless issues instead of on the one crucial issue which risks depriving our children of a certain future of freedom and ease.
A deafening, maddening silence which should alarm us all.
Have our senators abrogated their constitutional duty to act as conscientious watchdogs of foreign policies forged by the Executive? Seems so.
A harsh judgment, this allegation of dereliction of duty by many of our senators. But the fact is there has not been any one serious inquiry about China’s militarization of the South China Sea, the foremost irritant about our relations with China.
News reports say although some alarmed senators have filed seven resolutions calling for an official Senate inquiry on the West Philippine Sea issue, only one filed resolution has been heard.
And it was on the Benham Rise issue, conducted by the Senate Science and Technology committee. Benham Rise, even if similarly threatened, is so far away from the West Philippine Sea that I don’t know what to make of the development: Was it a sick joke?
It is a woebegone conclusion that after 2016 when we won a landmark international case against China, our giant neighbor completely overturned our victory.
But the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. Loren Legarda and the body supposed to be at the forefront of the South China Sea issue, is nowhere to be heard.
Legarda has been far too reticent on the issue, and far too long incognito many wonder if she still exists.
Nonetheless, we can forget Legarda, who won’t be a senator next year and she is likely playing it safe as she may have concluded any official inquiry over the issue risks embarrassing Mr. Duterte.
What we mustn’t forgo, however, is the fact that other senators need to confront the issue, in spite of Mr. Duterte. As former Sen. Rene Saguisag puts it: even if one is a staunch ally of the current administration, this does not mean senators forget one prevailing consideration, the “country always came first.”
Similarly, sitting Sen. Panfilo Lacson urging his colleagues to do inquiries over the issue “as part of our patriotic duty” to serve the people is a sad commentary of his fellow senators: it says many of our senators are only part-time patriots.
Clearly, many senators fail the statesmanship test.
Excusing the overall silence of the upper chamber, Senate President Vicente Sotto was quoted by reporters as saying, “baka may librong mabuksan eh. May mga kilos na mabuksan na ‘di dapat malaman ng iba muna. (It might open books and moves that others should not know yet).”
It is a lame excuse. So pathetic and lame even a staunch Duterte ally, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, insisted that even if there are national security issues involved, this did not prevent the Senate from holding closed-door confidential briefings from officials of the Departments of Foreign Affairs and National Defense and find out what is going on.
The South China Sea is not the only irritant with China. Another irritant, and as troubling, is China’s presumed bankrolling of the administration’s ambitious golden age of infrastructure.
Embarking on a golden age of infrastructure is well and good. But ushering it in the administration needs lots of money and needs someone lending the money. The lender is turning out to be China.
The one explosive issue about Chinese loans is that many of us don’t know exactly what the costs are. Speculations abound like how much really the interest rates of these loans are; or if these loans are so large that the country ends up unable to pay these back, risking a debilitating debt bondage relationship with China.
Legitimate fears government further exacerbated by keeping details to themselves. The Duterte administration has not been exactly forthright about the details of these already contracted loans or of the details of the negotiations on loans we are signing up for.
All these aside from questions that if we did get these loans and get the projects going, are there terms where we contract only Chinese companies, use only Chinese-made materials instead of local materials and use Chinese labor?
Not only loan agreements but also all other agreements we enter with China cannot be hidden in the dark.
For instance, the recent forging of a joint exploration agreement of the South China Sea with China cannot be deceptively hidden, in any way. Doing so, says a legal expert, is “unconstitutional as any agreement must acknowledge our rights as ruled in The Hague arbitration award.”
While most of us are at a loss understanding all the complex economic and diplomatic details, this complex work is cut out for our senators as they have enough powers to compel people to talk.
But again we only get silence.
Our senators and congressmen must pressure this administration to shed light on these issues and bring out every nut and bolt for examination in sensible and informed debates.
We in turn must also pressure our senators to do their jobs. We are still responsible citizens of a functioning democracy; unless we aren’t anymore.