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China policy in the 2022 elections

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Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M
Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M
Michael Henry Yusingco is Senior Research Fellow of the Ateneo Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government. He lives in Macleod, Victoria.

Just a few months ago, Filipinos watched in terror as more than 200 Chinese maritime militia vessels moored in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. 

This is another example of the Chinese government’s utter lack of respect for the Philippines’ territorial integrity. Indeed, just part of their overall provocative approach makes a majority of Filipinos distrustful of China’s ambitions in the region.

Thus, it is incumbent upon every Filipino to remember this passage written by Apolinario Mabini in The True Decalogue:

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“Strive for the independence of your country, because you alone can have a real interest in her aggrandizement and ennoblement, since here independence will mean your own freedom, her aggrandizement your own perfection, and her ennoblement your own glory and immortality.”

A Filipino’s Response

The government registered the standard rejoinder to China’s display of naval domination in the WPS. Experts and scholars can debate about the effectiveness of our official response, but ultimately we must realize this problem cannot be addressed by any administration alone. Each and every Filipino must bear the responsibility of protecting the national sovereignty. 

Indeed, can we just sit idly by while our national territory is constantly threatened by a foreign superpower? Should we just simply suppress our fury and rage while another nation actively destroys a vital food source for future generations of Filipinos?

Or should we heed the words of Mabini and vigorously defend our sovereignty? Should we be more engaged and expressive in protecting our interests in the WPS? Should we be more vocal and enthusiastic in repelling foreign interference in our electoral process?

Just like Katipuneros of yore, a point of reckoning now confronts Filipino voters. The possibility of mustering a collective response to the foreign threat must now be thoroughly discussed during this election cycle. Citizens must demand all candidates for public office to proclaim a clear and firm stance in this matter. And voting should depend on the declarations and explanations offered by these politicians.

Responsibility to Study the China Issue

But making the need for a national China policy an election issue means voters must study this subject very well. Filipinos must put serious effort in separating fact from propaganda. This is not an easy task given the proliferation of disinformation in social media on this very topic.

Rock Solid Vitug

As an introductory text, Filipinos can read the book, Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case against China. Here is an interesting excerpt about the intermingling of politics and policy behind the scenes:

“These events show that major decisions such as establishing a Philippine presence in contested islands could not be sustained by the advocacy of one member of the Cabinet. Thus, while Estrada took one step forward with Ayungin, he also took one step backward in the case of Scarborough.

Siazon, Estrada’s Foreign Secretary, led the opposition to running the ship aground in Scarborough. Mercado recalled that Siazon’s dream of replacing Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the UN may have been a factor in his taking such a position. “This was known in the Cabinet as some of his colleagues gently ribbed him about it,” Mercado mused, and Siazon may not have wanted to displease China whose support he may have needed in his potential UN bid.” [p.18]

Citizens arming themselves with knowledge and insight is a complete rebuff of the view that the Philippines is inutile against Chinese interference and aggression. Going to war with a predatorial nation is not inevitable as this administration would like to believe. But preparing the population for the possibility of war is not a bad idea either. Harkening to Mabini’s call to strive for national independence, this is arguably the duty of every Filipino.

In sum, during this election cycle, we must exert considerable effort to fully comprehend the complexity of the WPS issue. Then as voters, challenge political elites to offer a coherent and credible policy response to this pressing national problem.

Filipinos deserve a government that respects their demand to assert without any equivocation of the nation’s territorial rights in the WPS. But the reality is this can only happen if we elect leaders who share our convictions and who can demonstrate the willingness to fight in the trenches with us.

Bionote: The author is Senior Research Fellow of the Ateneo Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government. He lives in Macleod, Victoria.


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Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M
Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M
Michael Henry Yusingco is Senior Research Fellow of the Ateneo Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government. He lives in Macleod, Victoria.

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