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Words and feelings

Our islands are our islands, and we have the international community that recognizes our claim to exclusivity of these features.

Aldrin Cardona

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There’s a time when an expletive has to come out of one’s mouth.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. did just that on Monday when pissed at China’s sending of its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to the West Philippine Sea, telling them to “GET THE F**K OUT” of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

We extend our kudos to Locsin for standing up for the Filipinos through a strong positive action, just what the people badly needed now as we stand helpless in the face of the coronavirus and a looming food shortage.

Some may say Locsin was curt, but it’s what these Chinese militia deserve as they have lingered in Philippine waters for long. They have been there since December, scattering only when they saw and felt the presence of the powerful United States battleships that briefly stayed in Philippine waters to fulfill their part in the 36th Balikatan Exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

As soon as the US ships left, the Chinese militia boats were back. They’re a few at present, but that’s how they started amassing within Philippine territory in December until they numbered to about 220 boats, their biggest ones forming a wall — hull-to-hull — to discourage any Philippine boat from fishing in the very rich seas where they trawled.

Imagine the frustration of those Filipino fishermen who were denied their right to fish at their own trawling grounds!

Locsin’s was the biggest voice heard yet by the Chinese government. Locsin’s agency, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), has also been sending diplomatic notes and protests to China as it consistently demanded the PLA ships to leave Philippine waters.

They have not done so, not completely since December.

Despite Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s assurance that his soldiers will defend the country’s territory — as it’s their job — Malacañang has taken the soft approach in dealing with China.

“China, my friend, how politely can I put it? Let me see… O… GET THE F**K OUT. What are you doing to our friendship? You. Not us. We’re trying. You. You’re like an ugly oaf forcing your attentions on a handsome guy who wants to be a friend; not to father a Chinese province.” That was Locsin. Big words, eh?

On Monday night, President Rodrigo Duterte put a scupper on Locsin’s side to drain the value of that statement.

“I, never, never in my campaign as President, promised the people that I would retake the West Philippine Sea. I did not promise that I would pressure China,” Duterte said.

“I never mentioned China and the Philippines in my campaign because that is a very serious matter,” he added.

It was far from his statement during the 2016 campaign season when, asked about the presidential candidates’ stand on the West Philippine Sea issue, he said: “I will ask the Navy to bring me to the nearest point in the South China Sea that is tolerable to them and I will ride a jet ski. I will carry a flag and when I reach Spratlys, I will erect the Filipino flag. I will tell them (Chinese), suntukan o barilan (fistfight or gunfight)?” Again, big words, eh?

Only 421 days are left in Duterte’s term, and while he enjoys high numbers in popularity, it does not quickly transform votes to his chosen ones in the next national elections in 2022.

The success of the next polls’ candidates will hinge much on the WPS issue and the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Failure in one would be telling for Duterte’s team, but success in both would mean a cemented legacy for the President.

Locsin has also apologized for his outburst, but what was said was said. He had sent the message of the people’s frustration over the matter.

While Duterte stares inwards and China’s ships keep amassing within the WPS, the rest of the South China Sea (SCS) is percolating with movements of more foreign ships challenging China’s nine-dash claim.

Their presence means much of the SCS will stay as parts of the international waters where they have the freedom to navigate, negating China’s claim of much of the sea lanes which are vital to their and the world’s economy.

The US Navy has assigned two fleets — described by USS Carl Vinson commanding officer Capt. Douglas Verissimo as an “entire floating city” — to operate in the Asia-Pacific. The US has recently shifted its priorities away from the Middle East to potential flashpoints in the Asia Pacific. Flashpoint, isn’t it a big word, too?

This “floating city” has ships that operate in the Western Pacific for months at stretch, fulfilling part of a policy that the US Navy dubbed as “3rd Fleet Forward,” originally created in 1943 and participated in decisive naval battles in World War II’s Pacific theater. These battles included the 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf, under the command of Adm. William F. Halsey.

From 1945 to 1973, it served as a reserve unit, providing training and backup, but from 2015, the 3rd Fleet was assigned to operate west of the international date line under its own command, from San Diego, instead of under the 7th Fleet’s command in Japan, allowing it more options and flexibility.

It is placed there in the event of a conflict in Korea, and could be deployed to handle other contingencies, from humanitarian disasters to security situations in the SCS, including the Philippines — if needed.

The Australian frigate Parramatta was also there, accompanying the American naval ships.

A Royal Canadian Navy warship sailed near the sea in January with a passage through the Taiwan Strait on its way to join exercises nearby with Australian, Japanese and US navies.

The United Kingdom, bound by its 1971 Five Power Defense Arrangements to help defend former protectorate Malaysia, has sent its largest contingent of warships to waters thousands of miles away from its own since the Falklands War of 1982.

It’s to be led by UK’s brand-new aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy’s largest and most powerful warship ever built.

In March, the United States, Australia, Japan and India have reformed an alliance they dubbed as Quad 2.0. They promised to help Japan in protecting its interests in the region.

The Philippines does not need an enemy, there’s no doubt about that. Friendship, however, should not come at a cost. Our islands are our islands, and we have the international community that recognizes our claim to exclusivity of these features.

China can insist on its side of the story about the SCS, but it needs to convince the international community of its version. As we do.

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