The Philippines: Assuming the Role of Leader in Asia

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I suppose that it is natural, in a nation that has been abused by occupiers and her own empowered class, that it would be difficult for some citizens of the Philippines to even grasp what good leadership looks like.

This is a diverse nation, and often an argumentative and highly divided nation. As in most things in a transactional, reactive society, the enduring trend is to whack at trees and not see the forest. To criticize deeds and overlook character.

Today, in 2014, the Philippines has great character. Leadership character. Few seem to recognize it.

It would appear that Senator Santiago and Bayan Muna Representative Colmenares do not recognize Philippine leadership character when they wish to embroil the nation in another congressional sniping contest by hauling the basing agreement with the United States before Congress and the Supreme Court for review.

Enough of this infernal, eternal divisiveness on the front pages of our news.

Let’s get on the same team here.

To do that, we have to have a change in perspective, put on a different set of glasses, peer at things from a different angle, open our minds to the notion that the Philippines has ALREADY assumed a very important leadership role in Asia. Has taken it up, of necessity, and done it in ways that China cannot even comprehend.

By being calm, thoughtful, peaceful and determined.

Given the history of the Philippines in dealing with America, it is natural for the nation to look with wariness on American ships once again docked in Subic and her sailors and marines again carousing the bars of Olongapo and Subic Town. And so there is hesitation.

But let’s step back and not look at the basing agreement as an isolated act. Let’s look at it as a part of the Philippine’s leadership portfolio.

What is in that portfolio?

  • A constitution that bans war and emphasizes the dignity of peace. Does China take that dignified approach? Which approach do you think Singapore would prefer to emulate? Or Viet Nam? Or South Korea? Or every other nation in the arena other than North Korea? Would they follow the path of the Philippines or China?
  • A law-based solution to the conflict over the rights to resources under the seas. What other nation, confronted with the huge might of China, had the courage to make the ITLOS filing? Laws are the foundation of civility. China prefers making her own laws. Which path do you figure other nations in Asia respect most?
  • Building defensive capability without a mad dash to arms. America is only one nation among several with whom the Philippines is building a defense partnership: South Korea, Australia. Japan. Malaysia. Viet Nam. All are initiatives of the Aquino Administration to build its “coalition of integrity”, nations that believe in sovereign rights, laws and peace in Asia, and are willing to help one another to achieve that end. Is China building any coalitions? Does China even have any friends?

You know, China is losing this leadership race.

China had a track to the front of the pack, the leadership of Asia, and perhaps even the world, when she was emerging as a cooperative and peaceful economic giant. But for some strange reason, her government chose the path of hubris – of might and unilateralism – over the path of respect and peace.

China believes it is possible to impose leadership.

Well, economic might is not leadership, nor is military might. Unless you have the strongest military in the world, by far, and choose to deploy it ruthlessly on those you would “lead”.

But China does not have the strongest military. And will not have for many years, if ever.

  • China can control physical space with might, to a point, and for a time.
  • But she cannot truly own that space until others willingly concede it to her.
  • And she cannot control minds, and she most assuredly cannot control hearts.

China opened the door for another nation to step in and lead Asia down a different path. One of respect and partnership and peace.

One that appeals to minds and hearts.

The Philippines walked through that door of opportunity when no other nation would.

Mr. Aquino walked through that door. The nation’s demeanor – calm, thoughtful, peaceful and determined – is a reflection of his demeanor.

  • It seems to me that, with the people’s backing, that leadership will continue.
  • Squander the opportunity by bickering and sharpshooting and undermining the power of the Commander in Chief, and the Philippines will lose its chance to emerge as a highly respected, prominent, nation.

Leadership in Asia would probably default to the United States or Australia. Japan can’t do it. WW II is still too memorable. Nor can South Korea, fighting with Japan over territory. No other nation would appear to have the position and composure of the Philippines, going face to face with China with dignity.

Senator Santiago and Representative Colmenares . . . and others who undermine the opportunity for a leadership role for the Philippines . . . should do a double-check of what kind of sovereign state they prefer.

That of a follower. Or that of a leader.

I would suggest that the Congress respectfully defer to the President on the basing agreement with the United States. It is a very simple matter to say, yes, the basing agreement is executory under the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. It is one act among many alliance-building steps that are within the purview of Executive.

  • No, I don’t mean to say legislators should let constitutional violations pass. But objection should NOT be screamed on the front pages before the content of the basing agreement is even known. And it is better to start with consultation with Executive to understand reasons and alternatives before taking a prominent public stance. 

If Congress chooses to foist its own hubris on the Nation for every Executive act, it assures the Philippines will be a weak follower. Divided, timid, unable to execute. Indeed, showing a face to the outer world that is  contentious and divided on vital defense issues is simply not in the best interest of the Philippines.

Frankly, I have an idea of a better agenda for the Senate. Form an Ethics Committee and mend thine own ways. And for the House, get FOI passed and also clean that house. And work WITH Executive on vital defense matters.

Join the leadership team.

Give the nation an honest and respected Congress. And strive to grasp what “unity” means in matters of defense.


26 Responses to “The Philippines: Assuming the Role of Leader in Asia”
  1. Joseph-Ivo says:

    For most it seems incomprehensible that one could put the wellbeing of the “abstract” nation over the “concrete” wellbeing of his family. Therefore also my standard reflex was: “where is the money?”. High level bribing by the Chinese? Supplying, maintaining the American fleet? Indirectly as political capital to be cashed later on? The rest than is just show, movie and other stars acting.

    In this case it is difficult to find the answer, so maybe the wellbeing of the nation might be the motivation. Indicating a coming of age or a statement as “We Filipinos want to become an adult member of the family of nations.” Beijing keep notice.

    And yes, let’s look at the forest and forget the trees for a moment.

    • Joe America says:

      And yet there are so many (Americans) who send their kids off to war, or who, as soldiers, volunteer for the most dangerous jobs, even husbands and fathers. I have never thought the concept of nation was abstract, although I would agree that, here in the Philippines, it is abstract. Or nebulous.

      “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Other than the Lord’s Prayer, that is the only complete text I still hold in my memory, although I can recite a good many verses of “The Ballad of the Ice Worm Cocktail” by Robert Service. “To Dawson Town came Percy Brown from London on the Thames. A pane of glass was in his eye, and stockings on his stems . . .”

      I like the characterization of the Philippines as an adult member of the family of nations. I rather think the current leadership position was accidental, and is not even realized by many, but ought to be crystallized as intentional. Without getting into the politics of it, or “suasion”, or manipulations to be a leader. More, just to do what is right and be admired for it.

      And, yes, Beijing keep notice.

      • Joseph-Ivo says:

        This feeling of being “American” is unique, maybe it was the same in Europe before WWI. Just after this war nationalistic feelings were not “value-free” anymore. The workers parties wanted to “unite”, churches stressed the universalism of their beliefs, science didn’t have borders… Hilters (and others) rekindling of nationalism and brought us WWII. Since then “nationalism” had a very negative taste. Today it is becoming more fashionable again.

        But what should we be in Europe? Scottish, British or European? Here most feel British. Catalan, Spanish or European? Here most feel Catalan. Flemish, Belgian or European? Here most feel European. Difficult to answer for many. Differs from the situation too, politics, economic, cultural, sports… In the US it is clear, always American first, than Californian or whatever (and for some Confederate or Unionist). In the Philippines, I don’t know. “Asean” is low on the emotional scale. Family/clan very high. Province? Language? Philippines? Of course after a Pacquiao win all are Filipino first, but on an average day?

        • Joe America says:

          Excellent questions. Your treatise makes me think that national clarity and passion is like economics, cyclical. The US is on a down cycle right now, with political ideology rising above nationalism in many minds. “Republicans are the ‘real’ Americans . . .”

          I rather think China is doing the Philippines a favor that has not quite been grasped with Pacquiao patriotism. Our futures are tied together and no bully is going to take our nation from us, I don’t care if you are Catholic or atheist, Mindanaoan or Luzonoan (ahahaha, Luzite?), rich or poor. Rise Philippines!

        • sonny says:

          In current contexts, the Philippine situation Filipinos can draw motivations and decision-making from foreign precedents and models. These are in addition and presupposition to a political will only Filipinos themselves can and must provide. This is well expressed and alluded by Joseph-Ivo.

          The Filipinos are faced with challenge and opportunity for a declaration and decisive action so reminiscent as that faced by Aguinaldo and the nationalists of those fateful months of 1899. We have right objectively on our side, albeit in the “abstract.” This is the nationalistic line being drawn on the sand to fall to right or left of not unlike the decision made by the defenders of the Alamo surrounded by unfavorable odds. The stakes are indeed high for now and the future.

      • sonny says:

        I would like to suggest this for reading. Overseas Filipinos are not so far from the activities going on at the Scarborough Shoal epicenter. I find the presence of this Fil-American comforting if only for the historical intersection or full-circle occurrence in Philippine-American relations.

        (Historical note: The navigational charts of Philippine waters are for the most part still the charts drawn by the US Geodetic surveys conducted in the 1900s)

        • Joe America says:

          That goes into the “must read” slot . . .

          • sonny says:

            Joe, Cmdr Albea is from today. 4th Year Midshipman Katie Whitcombe will be joining the US Marine Corps after her Rhodes scholarship. Her financially strapped parents are going back to the Philippines.


            • Joe America says:

              I hope the young officer has a great career and that her family soon realizes a very substantial return on their investment in her. I wonder how many other genius kids do not find their way “out”. Many, I suspect. Such a waste of potential. The more I think about it, the more the conniving thieves really disgust me.

            • parengtony says:

              Joe and Sonny, how is it that that parents are able to raise super kids like Katie Whitcombe but unable to get themselves out of poverty in The Land of Opportunity?

              • Joe America says:

                Possibly no high school degree so they only qualify for minimum wage work. Maybe they have other kids to take care of and no one to baby sit (no ate, or auntie, or cousin), so only one parent can work Expenses in America are high and a minimum wage job doesn’t go far, perhaps sending money home to the Philippines. Housing expense is hing in the US. Paying for their daughter’s education used up all their money. Many reasons possible. These days MANY American families have both the mother and father working to stay ahead of prices and to buy the latest goodies iPad and $40,000 car. They don’t have maids or a drop-out daughter to take care of the kids, either. To take advantage of the opportunities in the US, one is wise to get good grades early in school and keep that discipline all life long. There aren’t many job-gifts in America from uncles or classmates, so achievement has to be earned.

        • parengtony says:

          Sonny, thanks so much for the really nice read on Cmdr. Albea…so, so positive

  2. sonny says:

    I have always marvelled at the way American society closes ranks constitutionally and socially whenever American lives are in harm’s way or in danger of such situation. This she does not by coercion but by reasoned adherence to a common good.

    • Joe America says:

      Exactly, Sonny. And regarding foreign affairs and defense, politics is usually set aside. In today’s partisan arena, that is becoming less true, but I like the principle. When President Obama is visiting other nations, mouths go shut so as not to undermine the Commander in Chief. That is what I’d like to see in the Philippines. On matters of dealing with China, mouths go shut, or speak in complete alignment. Mouths can argue behind the scenes, but China must understand that she is pushing against a united Nation. That’s the point that Senator Santiago seems not to grasp. I really don’t expect Bayan Muna to adhere to it, as they WANT the government to fall. So I put their voices into the category of irrelevant, and wish others would, too.

  3. The political multi-parties are not doing the citizenry any favor. There is something good to be said about diversity but Philippines took it to the extreme. Too much choices. Lots of distractions. No focus. No resolution to pressing issues. Slow processes. Too many interfering loudmouths with agenda. Too many crabs, so little time for crab boil.

    Seems like the Executive branch is doing well but not getting the credit it deserves. The Legislative branch and Judicial branch are not making the grade but the citizenry do not give them as much flak as they do the President and his cabinet members. Why, Philippines?

  4. edgar lores says:

    1. I read the Rappler article on Senator’s Santiago reaction to the new military deal, and she has not adopted her usual vociferous or provocative stance – her metallic self.
    1.1. Her tone is quite rational and I think she is exercising due diligence in her role as the chairperson of the senate foreign relations committee.
    1.2. Whether the new deal is a treaty that requires senate ratification or not, I leave to the constitutional experts.
    1.3. I will note that the new agreement seems to be an ironing out of the wrinkles brought out by incidents that were not fully covered by the previous agreement, as well as an expansion of US military role, and this is all to the good in cementing good relations.

    2. On the other hand, I find Representative Colemenares’ reaction vociferous and not provocative but downright embarrassing.
    2.1. The Constitution does not endow the Lower House with the function of ratifying treaties, only the Senate. However, as a representative, he is within rights to voice his opinion.
    2.2. I note two of his concerns:
    2.2.1. Money. He states that the new agreement is a treaty “without rent, and without limits.”
    2.2.2. Cringe. He states that the “US government is the one calling the shots and not the Aquino administration.

    2.4. Without doubt his concerns are ludicrous.
    2.4.1. It is the Philippine government who requested the talks for the new agreement, and we all know for what purpose. If you invite someone into your house as a guest, it is not proper to ask for rent.
    2.4.2. Again, if you invite someone, a security guard, into your house to protect your property, you do not think, much less intimate, that you are not the master of your own house. What a wimp.

    2.5. As to the issue of nuclear weapons, the Constitution provides that the country “consistent with the national interest, adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its territory.”
    2.5.1. I find this phrasing as ambiguous as the phrase “the life of the unborn from conception”. Note that the Constitution does not prohibit outright the presence of nuclear weapons. And it qualifies the policy with the phrase “consistent with the national interest.”
    2.5.2. It begs the question, “What is the national interest?” And if the national interest is in such straits – such as when the Chinese military has not only occupied the disputed sea territories but also Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao – does not the unthinkable become thinkable?
    2.5.3. Again, if you invite someone, a security guard, into your house to protect your property, do you say, “You can bring in guns and grenades, but you cannot bring your atomic blasters?”

    (2.6. Actually, I am a pacifist; I just want to test the limits of thinking in “thought experiments.”)

    • Joe America says:

      1. If it is in the headlines of all the newspapers, it is not the right approach, in my view.

      2. Yes, Colemenares is clearly anti-Philippines in his challenge. 2.2.1 How much is independence worth? Who the hell cares about rent when Chinese warships are in Philippine territory? Why does he not complain about the rental rates that China is paying? Can I insert the “idiot” word here, or is that against Society policy?

      Nukes to me seem to be more a matter of political sensitivity, not utility. The U.S. can deliver nukes to a target anywhere in the world, any time. The U.S. can concede to the Philippine nuclear weapon ban easily, insofar as the delivery vehicle of conventional weapons (a sub or aircraft carrier) are not themselves considered weapons. The U.S. just needs a service and hospital base for its ships, and resting spot for troops and equipment near the battlefield, if fighting starts . . . and a close strategic and tactical working relationship with her partner.

      2.5.3 Yes, the person served sets the terms, under advice from the security agency. The security agency complies. Or the customer goes elsewhere for a guard.

      2.6 Do pacifists allow robbers open entry into their homes, I’m wondering? Do you lock your door at night? Have a security system? I presume you own no weapons. Would you call the police if an intruder were in the home?

      • edgar lores says:

        2.5.3. Interesting response. I guess it depends on the knowledgeability of the owner. If it were me, I would say, “I don’t care how you do it. Just do it.”

        2.6. We don’t have weapons but we have an early warning system: two excitable and loud chihuahuas.

        • Joe America says:

          2.53 is allegorical.

          2.6 We had a huge (expensive) German Sheppard dog. He was very intimidating until he tried to dine on a baby cobra, and that was that, and then we got two freebie mutts who would strike fear in the hearts of your chihuahuas, but, alas, no one else.

  5. Lil says:

    Bah. I don’t care much for these nationalists or leftists drama these days. Lumang tugtugin na yan. We’ve seen these time and time again, with the most comical events happening during the run-up to US bases’ renewal debate in the early 90s.
    the most memorable of them being Sen. Leticia Shahani, also an ardent opponent of the renewal. 😉 all i’m saying is as soon as Stars & Stripes came down, she started bawling and singing God bless America 😀 leaving her Kano compatriots 😯

  6. Idiotic article….. obviously doesn’t know what he is writing about.

    • Joe America says:

      Let me see here. I am developing a rating scale on comments such as this, and am pleased to let you know you are the first to be awarded a perfect “10”. Congratulations. I’ll publish the rating scale soon so check back often to see what you won.

  7. Asmartrock says:

    A nation divided in the Southern part of the Philippines that can’t even arrest a known fugitive, coordinate with the Armed Forces, while having the oldest communist insurgency on earth.

    Most of its elected leaders are currently in jail for corruption while connivance between civilian go-between and politicians have been discovered. A domestic leadership that can’t even receive his dead officers because he’s busy opening a Japanese manufacturing plant while allowing a suspended police officer to take the lead on the disastrous mission.

    Philippine education is not the dominant beacon it used to be and Philippine healthcare is unknown in a field it used to lord over in the region.

    Absent from international forums to mediate peace process with other countries, or even make a dent in international initiatives while catering to the one-sided whims of US military while hiding under her skirt.

    Meanwhile, China has built a 100% facility INSIDE the territorial waters of the Philippines.

    Honestly, Joe America, I don’t know what the fuck leadership in Asia you’re talking about when all you want to do is borrow the place so you can pass off your boats to monitor and fuck our gays.

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