Call it providential, but days before the nation celebrated Araw ng Kagitingan yesterday, President Duterte uttered two words that probably the nation wanted to hear from the Chief Executive for some time now — “Back off.”
It was addressed to China whose maritime vessels have been monitored to be massing around Pag-asa, one of a handful of islands occupied by Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea.
For quite some time, the President has set aside the country’s victory in the arbitral tribunal in the name of friendship. He has mostly withheld his early criticism of Beijing’s expansive claims that has raised tension among other claimants over the key waterway.
President Duterte’s independent foreign policy of being friend to everyone and enemy to none has reaped rewards in terms of billions of dollars in benefits that include loans and investments from three countries alone the past two years.
But on Thursday last week, as the Philippine military warned of hundreds of Chinese Coast Guard and fishing vessels swarming around the island, also known as Thitu among the Chinese, Duterte finally spoke: “I will not plead or beg, but I am just telling you to lay off the Pag-asa because I have soldiers there. If you touch it, that’s another story. Then I will tell my soldiers ‘prepare for suicide missions.’”
Brave words those. For one who has time and again reminded critics at home that going to war with China is not an option, it must have taken a lot for Mr. Duterte to issue such a warning. It’s like telling China that “Hey, we are friends but don’t get what belongs to me.”
J.K. Rowling once said, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
It could very well apply to the Philippine situation vis-a-vis its relationship with China.
As the nation celebrated Araw ng Kagitingan yesterday, we are reminded of the bravery and heroism of our soldiers, many of whom gave up their lives in the name of freedom.
Fighting in the Bataan front lines with their American counterparts, they were forced to surrender on 9 April 1942 after 93 days of gallant resistance against the superior Japanese force. They were made to walk some 140 kilometers from Mariveles, Bataan to Capas, Tarlac under the scorching heat of the sun with no food and water for days in what is now known the world over as the infamous “Death March.”
Some 60,000 Filipino and American troops were made prisoners of war by the Japanese.
More than the historical significance of the event, the annual observance aims to revive the principles of kagitingan or bravery, specifically the love of country. It seeks to strengthen the Filipino people’s collective sense of national pride and patriotism as well as to inspire the youth who will eventually take on the mantle of leadership in our land.
Indeed, the purpose of history is to learn from it. A nation ignorant of its past will never truly progress. We live freely, because our heroes fought bravely.
It is on this note that we’d like to commend the President for such show of bravado. He doesn’t need to ride a jetski and plant the Philippine flag on the disputed islands. All he has to do is be true to his role as leader of all freedom-loving Filipinos.
There is no better time to be brave than now.