MANY concerned Filipinos are horrified seeing China’s leaders and diplomats running circles around our one-year-old President and his three-month-old sidekick of a Foreign Secretary.
The diplomatic duo looks on helplessly as some of our outlying islets are being occupied, enlarged and armed with weapons disguised as navigational aids – with the artificial islands to be claimed at the right time as part of China.
Probably not wanting to betray his own fears, President Duterte plays down the occupation (a preliminary step toward physical possession), saying that his new friend China President Xi Jinping has assured him that Beijing would not do such an ugly thing.
We heard the same lullaby when China grabbed Panatag (Scarborough) shoal off Zambales in 2012. We hear the same refrain as the Chinese linger on Sandy Cay, a sandbar within the 12-nautical mile Philippine territorial sea off Pagasa island that is home to a Filipino barangay in the Spratlys.
“China assured me that they will not build anything there,” the President told reporters in Malacañang Park Monday night. “They called me up, the ambassador, we assure you that we are not building anywhere there.” (He was referring to Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.)
Wonder of wonders, President Duterte believed their bona fides! So did Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano, who sometimes doubles as China’s spokesman when Mr. Duterte is not available.
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Until last night, however, Malacañang has not shown a binding document affirming the supposed assurance of the honorable intentions of Chinese lurking in the sandbar just 2.5 nautical miles from Pagasa island.
This is one of those times when we wish our President, aside from being brave, were shrewd – cunning to a fault – in dealing with Chinese bearing promises of $24-billlion in investments, loans and aid that some analysts warn could lead to a debt trap.
While a fat finder’s fee for the $9-billion loans may be collected during the Duterte regime, succeeding administrations will carry the burden of paying the gargantuan borrowings.
Asked why the Chinese were hanging around in the sandbar so close to barangay Pagasa, the President said: “Nagpa-patrol, kasi magkaibigan man kami.”
That confirmed the Coast Guard disclosure that the Commander-in-Chief has ordered them to work out with their Chinese counterparts the joint patrolling of Philippine waters – oblivious of the fact that the two neighbors are locked in a territorial dispute.
The patrol plan is like allowing a suspected burglar to sleep on the porch and freely reconnoiter in the yard, checking doors, windows and only god knows what else. Pretty soon he would decide to stay and start telling neighbors he owned one wing of the house.