WHAT’s the talk to begin with?
That the Philippines is not just government. It is also people. As a matter of fact, the Philippines is less government than people.
With the above as guidepost, it behooves China that in rendering assistance to the Philippines, it must make sure such assistance redounds to the benefit of the Filipino people.
There is no debate, for instance, as to who benefits from the additional two bridges across the Pasig River — the one connecting Binondo and Intramuros and the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge in Pasig. The intention here is to lighten the torturous traffic Metro Manilans suffer daily.
But that is in the ultimate sense, as people’s benefits in this regard would be realizable only after five years of construction work.
The same reckoning applies to all the rest of the infrastructure development assistance that China has concluded with the Philippines since the beginning of the tenure of President Rodrigo Duterte. There is, for example, the Chico River Irrigation Project, inaugurated by past Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua sometime before his replacement by Ambassador Huang Xilian, to benefit farmers of La Union, Pangasinan and the Cagayan Valley. Another is the Manila-Matnog railway intended to service the transport needs of Southern Luzon folk. The latest example is the Kaliwa Dam project, the construction of which took off just recently with the passage of the 2019 General Appropriations Act.
But talk of actual, realized benefits, does it apply to people in the immediate sense? No, not at all. All the cited examples will bring usefulness to the people only after their construction is done, which is a minimum of five years. Considering the strong potential of delays, completion of these infrastructure works could take longer than their original timetables.
Meantime, what? Metro Manilans endlessly suffering from tormenting traffic woes, the ever increasing price of rice and high rates of water that many a time isn’t even there at all.
As we say in Filipino, “Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo (Of what use is the grass if the horse is already dead)?”
In the immediate sense, it is sad to say that benefits from China’s aid to the Filipino people must be found wanting.
This matter must be deemed urgent, all the more so if viewed in light of the simmering conflict between China and the United States over the South China Sea. On the propaganda plane, the US is clearly winning, what with the sustained effort in this regard by such known US instrumentalities as Rappler, the Albert del Rosario Foundation and the Yellow press exemplified by the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Philippine Star.
San Andres, Catanduanes Mayor Peter Cua hands out relief package to an indigent victim of Typhoon ‘Tisoy’ (international name: ‘Phafone’) during relief operations sponsored by the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. in cooperation with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, shown in portrait in background. Assisting the mayor is Kagawad Ernie del Rosario of Barangay Esperanza (to the mayor’s right) and the author (in cap and dark jacket) at whose home in San Andres the event was held on Dec. 22, 2019.
In other words, the US has been winning over China in the battle for Filipino hearts and minds. The latest testimony to this is the 74-percent distrust rating earned by China from Filipinos in the June survey of Pulse Asia. My worst fear from this development is that in the event the US succeeds in goading the Philippine military into taking a determined anti-China stand, particularly in the US-China conflict over the South China Sea, the Filipino people will take no time agreeing.
China must address this matter promptly. The Philippines was made to fight America’s war once before, against Japan in World War 2, and suffered immense destruction. Filipinos must not be made to do it one more time.
The Philippine government is a democracy, so are all its instrumentalities, its military included. Only when Filipinos say “yes” to war with China will the Philippine government and its military act accordingly.
In other words, make the Filipinos reject any war designs against China, and the Philippines won’t embark on such a sorry misadventure.
And what would make Filipinos do such a rejection but a realization that China is a friend, not foe.
Ongoing as of this writing is a relief operation at my birthplace in San Andres, Catanduanes, for victims of Typhoon “Tisoy,” which blasted the town in the beginning of December. Going around the seaside municipality, surveying the damage done by the howler, I was approached by people for aid, conscious that the family, mainly through the initiative of my sister Ellen, has been giving away little Christmas gifts to the poor sector of the town’s populace.
Certainly, to the people’s plea I am not rich enough to say “yes.” But China definitely is. I quickly thought of a scheme. I passed on the plea for succor to the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII), whose president Dr. Henry Lim Bon Liong promptly committed bags upon bags of Noche Buena food for 500 families.
Because of the volume of goodies involved, my siblings, who all went to the good ole hometown for the event, suggested that the relief operation be held at the municipal hall. I rejected the idea, saying the event is a people-to-people undertaking by Chinese friends, not by the government. I made sure, however, that San Andres Mayor Peter Cua did the honor of handing out the Noche Buena packs to the 500 recipient families.
That by way of saying, the San Andres government is the San Andres people.
Playing continuously to the delight of the gift recipients is a video coverage of the Chinese Embassy Christmas party for media held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Bonifacio Global City on Dec. 16, 2019.
A large tarpaulin containing the names of the associations that contributed to the relief given to the San Andres folk served as backdrop while Mayor Cua distributed the relief goods, assisted by the town’s 2019 muse, Miss Geraldyn Tolentino, who also made a vibrant emceeing of the event together with the comic duo of Tatad Padayao and Ernie del Rosario, the town’s sort of Dolphy and Panchito. The donors were: FFCCCII Foundation, Inc., Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc., Federation of Filipino-Chinese Associations of the Philippines, World News Daily, Filipino-Chinese Amity Club, Overseas Chinese Alumni Association of the Philippines, Filipino-Chinese Shin Lian Association Inc., Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., Overseas Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines Inc., Philippine Soong Chin Ling Foundation, Philippine Jin Jiang Shen Fu Zhen Association Inc. and World Fu Jian Youth Association and Business Club Inc.
Another large tarpaulin showed a portrait of the new Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian, backdropped by a Christmas tree and captioned in big, bold golden letters: “Bringing Christmas cheer to victims of Typhoon Tisoy, San Andres, Catanduanes, Dec. 22, 2019.”
Superimposed on the ambassador’s portrait is a quote from his speech at the Grand Hyatt affair: “Seek common ground while reserving differences.”
What more common ground is there for everyone than greeting one another “Merry Christmas”? As to having a “Prosperous New Year,” I am reminded of the title of my upcoming book, China the Way, the Truth and the Life, an anthology of my articles on China that have seen print in this column since 2015. Surely the more discerning readers will recognize the words as a paraphrase of John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me.” The last sentence of the verse is also included in a similar paraphrase in my book, Nobody Comes to World Prosperity But by China.
On the second day after the relief operation — Christmas eve — I made the rounds of some of those who received the giveaways. I came upon a woman, one Maria Cea, who had prepared the spaghetti she got from the affair, complete with all the ingredients that went with the noodles, corned beef, sauce, cheese and all.
“Just in time, Direk. Today is my birthday. Thank you,” said the septuagenarian.
“Don’t thank me,” I said. “Thank China.”
Maria took a mouthful of the stuff and then proclaimed, “Thank you, China.”