SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA — Recently, a friend inquired about my stance on the utilization of the nine designated Philippine bases for U.S. military operations: Camilo Osias Naval Base in Cagayan, Lal-lo Airport in Cagayan, Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Isabela, Fort Magsaysay Airfield in Nueva Ecija, Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, and the Balabac Island Airport in Palawan.
In response, I recounted a childhood memory that holds relevance to the concept of deterrence. I vividly remember a time as a tall and skinny 12-year-old kid walking home after playing basketball in a high school quadrangle. I encountered a bully and his buddies on a street corner who blocked my path, and menacingly pointed a gun in my face. Laughter erupted as fear compelled me to dash away, reminiscent of a sprinting contest.
To cut the story short, I returned to that very corner, accompanied by my 20-year-old brother, a fervent admirer of Bruce Lee. Swiftly and unexpectedly, my brother slapped the bully, demanding an explanation for his gun-brandishing antics. The bewildered juvenile tormentor, shielding his face, repeatedly muttered, “The gun has no bullets…the gun has no bullets.”
Following this incident, I reclaimed my freedom to roam our street without fear, even exchanging greetings with the very individuals who had intimidated me earlier.
My aspiration is that our fishermen can traverse our Exclusive Economic Zone unimpeded, without the recurring intimidation by China’s People’s Liberation Army.
Our archipelago, relatively narrow and vulnerable, possesses a scant military arsenal. Faced with an overwhelmingly vast naval power boasting approximately of 340 warships, we lack the means to safeguard ourselves.
How frequently have Chinese naval vessels rammed into our fishermen’s boats, or drenched our naval resupply vessels? Yet, it is globally acknowledged that we have adhered to a policy of avoiding direct confrontation with China.
Consider this situation.
We endeavored to recalibrate our foreign policy, distancing ourselves from the United States while cultivating closer ties with China. We even harmonized our diplomatic chorus, singing tunes like Love me Tender and “Let me Call you Sweetheart during the 1996 APEC Summit.
In an instance, we withdrew from a contested area through a U.S.-brokered agreement, only to witness China’s continued presence. We left, they stayed.
Furthermore, we pursued the legal avenue. Initiating arbitral proceedings against China, we sought resolution on issues concerning “maritime entitlements” and the legality of Chinese activities in the South China Sea under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLoS).
On 12 July 2016, the Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea Arbitration (The Republic of the Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China) delivered a unanimous ruling in favor of the Philippines.
And what did our measured and lawful approach yield in managing tensions with China? Regrettably, very little.
China, a member of the international community, and a signatory to agreements, dismissively disregarded the Tribunal’s decision, refusing to acknowledge it.
At present, Chinese efforts persist in the reclamation and fortification of their strategic “Great Wall of Sand” across the Indo-Pacific.
Is it then astonishing that our dalliance with China has led us back to alliance with the US? Is it any wonder that we are reengaging with “Big Brother” to deter further intimidation?
While my friend maintains a differing viewpoint, I hold steadfast in my earnest aspiration that the arbitral award serves as a stepping-stone towards a peaceful resolution to our disputes with China.
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