BY ANTONIO CONTRERAS
“THE China Syndrome” is a 1979 movie which starred Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas. The title refers to a fictional nuclear plant meltdown, where radioactive materials melted through their compartments deep into the earth hitting the groundwater and seriously contaminating the surrounding area, with intensity that was exaggerated to have the potential to “reach all the way to China.”
The story was centered on a TV journalist, her camera man and the plant shift supervisor who battled against the nuclear plant management and the TV network bosses in their quest to expose the nuclear meltdown. The movie was about the right of the public to be informed about serious threats to their welfare, and the risks faced by those who endeavor to expose these.
We are having our own “China syndrome” now, except that we are dealing not with a nuclear meltdown, but with a more direct threat that emanates from China itself. And here, even as the public is entitled to be informed of the risks that our apparent obsequiousness to China brings, those who endeavor to do so are in peril of being labeled as “unpatriotic” by presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo. The tamer word being used is “alarmist,” or simply naïve about the realities of international politics. Panelo did not even hesitate to admit our helplessness in the face of Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, and that China is already in control of the area.
Chinese territorial aggressiveness is confirmed by the Western Command of the Philippine Army. It is reported that around 600 vessels bearing the Chinese flag have set anchor around Pag-asa island which is within our national territory.
In another part of the West Philippine Sea, at the Panatag Shoal, incidents of our fishers being harassed by Chinese coast guards continue to be reported. In November last year, the TV crew of GMA News led by Jun Veneracion was harassed by the Chinese and they were prevented from conducting interviews and from filming. And while the government registered a protest, the social media noise from some pro-Duterte bloggers even blamed Jun Veneracion for what was painted as an act of provocation. Others even taunted the news crew as if they deserved the treatment and accused them of having an agenda, considering that the incident happened right before the state visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Apparently, what was lost in the minds of these bashers was that Jun and his crew were only doing their jobs, and Panatag is, at best, a common ground where the Philippines and Filipinos have as much right to engage in activities without interference or asking permission from China.
But apparently, like what the news team in the movie “The China Syndrome” faced, there are things that make it difficult, even dangerous, for those who would like to inform the Filipino public about what is going on there. Jun Veneracion was publicly defamed, in the same manner that Neri Colmenares was recently attacked in social media for reporting about the harassment of our fishers. Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who is at the forefront of exposing the violations of our rights by China, is being painted as a troublemaker, and his legal erudition is being diminished and ridiculed.
What is tragic about this are the Filipinos who would rather insult and demean other Filipinos who are critical of China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea. It is saddening how people who support the President would rather give China their trust, and accord it the benefit of the doubt, while they slam and shame their fellow Filipinos, even those who are just asking for caution in our relationship with China.
When Justice Carpio exposed the onerous conditions attached to the Chinese loans for the Chico River project, otherwise rational Duterte supporters turned into China apologists and accused him of peddling fake news. But when it was proven that indeed those provisions exist, they attacked Carpio’s definition of what patrimonial assets are, thereby making it appear that the Justice is ignorant. And when it appeared that Carpio knew what he was talking about, they cited the case of one loan agreement with France that appeared to contain the same onerous provisions waiving our immunity over our patrimonial assets, thereby claiming that it is actually a standard practice. They forgot that for a practice to become standard, it has to be the rule and not an exception. Two cases out of dozens of loan agreements do not make a practice standard. They also conveniently forgot that France doesn’t have a record of actually seizing territorial or natural resources of a defaulting debtor country, while China has Sri Lanka as evidence.
This is characteristic of the “China-loving” behavior that is pervasive among many pro-Duterte bloggers and influencers, even as they have only unkind words for those who oppose China’s aggression and who appeal for caution in the face of the risks that come with its debt diplomacy.
But the unkindest cut of all is when our very own government feeds these narratives of hate, such as when Panelo labeled Justice Carpio as unpatriotic. It is equally disturbing when officials from government affirm and submit to China’s might either by acknowledging that it has control over the area like the way Panelo phrased it, or by asking us to just give way, like when BFAR National Director Eduardo Gongona advised our fishers to just forego their livelihood and avoid going to Panatag Shoal.
These are things that paint a meltdown that is worse than a nuclear one. It is a meltdown of our national pride. In exchange for loan monies, we humiliate ourselves as a nation and its shameful legacy we inflict on future generations. Our very own “China syndrome” could not be more tragic because it is real, and not just a movie.