Management by default and delusion
Let’s start by stating that China is the new bully in the block and Uncle Sam carries the big stick around, but should we really delude ourselves into believing that the US values its relations with the Philippines more then its economic ties with China?
The answer is clear and we have the quote of US President Barack Obama to back up the point: “Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China.” Thee US Pressident said this during a joint press conference with President Benigno Aquino III after their meeting in Malacañang. Diplomatic doublespeak, yes, but even without the quote, the answer is evident—we don’t have the economic clout that China has to manipulate its way around and gets what it wants.
When it comes to US foreign policy everyone gets served, some more than the others and depending where one is seated on the dinner table. Diplomacy is a game of guises and disguises, and when the big boys play around, the puny boys can only remain on the sidelines, handclapping as cheering squad members or as pawns in a game of catch-and-run.
We are one of the pawns in the region, sad to say, but that doesn’t mean that we have to run around like errand boys to please or serve the bullies in the class. We are grateful for assistance in times of tragedies like Typhoon Haiyan, but gratefulness doesn’t mean circumventing our own laws, or backtracking on our long journey to nationhood. Otherwise we debase the meaning of this journey to the level of banal gift-giving and reciprocity.
What the current administration delivered is the cherry on the cake- the timely Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), crafted following the latest attempt by the US to strengthen its military presence in the region and serve its own interests. Not surprisingly, the EDCA has re-awakened the ire of nationalists groups like the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) since it widens the scope of its precursor, the 1998 US-RP Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Unfortunately for the more progressive Filipinos, the Aquino government prefers to resolve a lingering dispute by default management, or the easiest way out and one that will only amount to another Band-Aid solution. Yes, we don’t have the guns and the fighter jets but by leaning on the promises of a former colonial master only confirms the suspicion that we have not fully learned from our mistakes.
For one, opening our door to Uncle Sam will not win the respect from the other bully. In Filipino we have an apt term for this, sumbongero—the wimp who runs to his mother’s skirts for solace and assurance. True, our modern lives are now located in a globalised village; thus, it is also equally true that military-based solutions are the least effective solutions where a gunshot stops the body but not the collective spirit.
Perhaps, instead of default management or stop-gap solutions, we can learn from China itself whose proud and clever leaders often go back to its willful people for manifest answers in times of crisis. Nothing can best serve the worries of elected leaders and administrations than by putting in the forefront the true interests of their own people—not by default management, and certainly not prompted by delusions.
Joel Vega is an editor and medical writer living in Nijmegen, The Netherlands.