Why  was the president  so assertive in getting the Balangiga bells back but such a weakling in asserting the Philippines’ claim in the West Philippine Sea? Which is more important?  Islands or bells? In this article, contributor Phillip Pino shares some ideas on what the president can and should be doing instead.

When Pres. Rodrigo Duterte first spoke about the Balangiga bells he was steaming, appearing exceedingly resolute than a national leader who’d not personally witnessed a major century-old crime can be. I received a text from a friend that day who asked if I had heard of the news, inquiring about the bells (What bells!), and the hundreds dead during the infraction. Yes, I’ve heard about it, I replied through SMS. Just cut the melodrama. It happened more than a hundred years ago. You’re only twenty-one. The president’s mother wasn’t even impregnated then.

The United States Government, borne into power by the mightiest military force in the whole world, was no match to the Philippine president, who closely re-acquainted the people about the bloodbath in Samar, evincing utter anger, teeth-grinding, vengeful. You would’ve thought he’s one of those survivors of that war who barely made it out, now re-telling every valuable detail of that horrible experience to induce justice for the fallen heroes that must, and now have, the respect they deserve.

It was admirable for a while until he has to deal with current issues like the crisis in the South China Sea. In dealing with the pressing sovereignty issue, a continual abrasion that is now a bigger wound, President Duterte lets it bleed. He treads ever so lightly, commenting soft adorations, as if the matter were a foregone conclusion, of centuries ago.

Where he was unafraid in speaking against the Americans, he is disturbingly coy against the world’s number 2 power on a present, ever-pressing matter.

It is like watching two different leaders govern. When asked about confronting China’s territorial abuses, he mentions about the atrocities of going into war, a multitude more than what we had suffered in Samar. He is cautious and resigned. We will lose roundly, for sure, utterly defeated versus the Chinese. We are all going to die, he’d say. The extent of his thoughts would go beyond and touch on how helpful China has been to us, although they’ve never been in the top 3 list of contributors of government aid ever.

But who’s talking about going into war? We are not in the Dark Ages anymore, of destroying settlements, and war cries. We do not resort to war in every legal battle we face, no, we supposedly took care of that outlook. We now have trade sanctions.

The Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Indonesia, affected by South China Sea crisis, are all trade partners of China. We can all unite and GRADUALLY sanction our trades with the high and mighty Chinese government. Not a single bullet has to be fired at all, but we must work in a way that they will feel the concerted effort in the long run through commerce.

Let’s not even talk about historical maps and evidences, because we already have the decision of the International Court of Justice in our favor. It might be a painful process, but with the U.S., Germany, France, and Japan feeling the impact of the crisis in international navigation, we can strengthen our approach to ultimately corner the bully. Not at once, of course, do not be naïve, but smartly, in gradation, as allies.

We must urge nations to stand up against China’s refusal to accept international rulings, let allies boycott/limit trades and redirect this need elsewhere. This will of course create a void that we ourselves can fill in and profit from with our labor force and cooperation among nations.

Am I wrong in this long-term, non-violent approach? Granting that I am, doesn’t it give us a better chance at winning than readily laying down our claims to bow solicitously and bootlick? All I’m saying is that there ought to be a better way of asserting our claims, if only to say, “No. I respect you, but these islands are ours” unless if you’re narrow-minded, unintelligent, uncreative.

If I am wrong in proving that war is not the only solution to this problem, why do we not confer to share our ideas? Let us hark at the best minds of our race and invite them to a formal, serious dialogue about the issue.

I forgot. We are mentally pre-conditioned, scared of being instantly called stupid, idiots, or worse, told, “I will kill you!” for sharing an honest-to-goodness dissenting opinion. Weren’t we trained to actively participate in class growing up? This is absolutely counter-intuitive to that. Besides, what kind of person would think he is always right, so the rest are better censored, verbally abused?

And there’s the sweeping “Americans will not die for us Pilipinos” favorite Duterte statement. Duh. Are we Filipinos willing to die for the Americans? Of course not!

But are the Americans willing to die for the trillions of dollars worth of international maritime trade seajacked by the militarization of the South China Sea? You betcha! Along with the Germans, French, Australians, Japanese, etc. In fact, these countries have continually tested and challenged China’s claims by sending warships and aircrafts to assert their freedom of navigation- a freedom that is being violated by China with us as accomplices.

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