It may be recalled that the President has suspended for 3 times the abrogation of the VFA. To get some context and understand the significance of this latest development, check out my article “VFA Gets Another Lease on Life” which was published on the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 07 July.
On 07 March, 220 Chinese vessels were reported to be moored in Julian Felipe Reef which is within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea. A diplomatic protest was filed on 21 March and the Department of Foreign Affairs summoned the Chinese Ambassador on 13 April to express displeasure over the continued presence of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef. By 13 April, it was noted that only a handful of Chinese vessels remain in the reef.
In the weeks that followed, Chinese vessels continued to be spotted in maritime areas claimed by our country. Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana have been very vocal in telling the Chinese government to order their ships to vacate the area. The situation out at sea eventually calmed down though the Philippine Coast Guard has stepped up patrols in the disputed areas.
However, a public debate on current government policy on the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea (SCS/WPS) has broken out with the Government’s policy on the SCS/WPS coming under heavy criticism and scrutiny. There is as much an element of domestic politics in this debate as there is concern over the direction of Philippine foreign policy on the SCS/WPS issue.
So what do the Chinese make of these public debates in terms of revealing insights regarding where the Philippines stand vis-a-vis their efforts to seek control over a large swathe of the SCS? Was this the intent behind their incursion in March? China was definitely “testing the waters,” not only to send a message, but also to elicit a reaction, to gauge how far they can push the envelope. However, we need to consider that the actions weren’t only directed at us, but to the Americans as well.
It isn’t a coincidence that this happened a short time after a new US President has been sworn in because it makes perfect sense for Beijing to assess and test the mettle of the new tenant in the White House. What has happened in Julian Felipe Reef is therefore just one piece of a larger puzzle where Beijing is trying to assess Washington’s Indo-Pacific policy and strategy. It was also an opportunity for China to test the commitment of the Americans to its allies in the region.
So yes, the public debates and the ensuing statements coming from the Philippine Government and from those in opposition to current policy may provide the Chinese a better understanding of where they and their SCS policy stands in the Philippines, but if anything, it merely reaffirms what they already know. Nothing new for them in that area. It is likely that the reaction the Chinese are waiting to see from the Philippines is one that involves the fate of the VFA, when the six-month suspension of the abrogation of the VFA that was announced in November expires in May.
Compared to debates and statements on our SCS/WPS policy, what happens to the VFA is a more relevant development the Chinese are more interested in because termination or continued effectivity of the VFA has a more profound impact to their plans and strategy in relation to the SCS/WPS area than mere policy statements that can easily change or be modified.
Terminating the VFA under these circumstances would possibly be perceived by the Chinese Government as a lack of confidence in our long-time ally. This will be seen as an opening to further drive a wedge between the Philippines and the US.
The Chinese know that the fate of the VFA was to be decided soon and stirred trouble at Julian Felipe Reef as a test and to create conditions that the Philippines will be forced to consider in its decision on the VFA.
On 14 June, they got their answer. For the third time, President Duterte suspended the abrogation of the VFA for another 6 months. You can read my take on that particular development in my article published on 07 July on the Philippine Daily Inquirer titled, “VFA gets another lease on life.”
For those interested, Life in 17 Syllables is now available on Amazon Kindle. It would be highly appreciated if you could kindly spread the word to your friends and vast network. My heart is full, obrigadissima!
My latest article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer:
However, is the use of incentives, particularly raffles and lotteries, a good and effective policy for changing the minds of the vaccine-hesitant? Given that vaccination is critical to the lifting of restrictions that have stifled the economy, led to massive job losses, and closed scores of businesses, shouldn’t getting vaccinated be considered the civic duty of citizens?
The viral video of Cristiano Ronaldo’s press conference where he sets aside 2 Coca Cola bottles that was placed on the table has caused quite a stir online. Well, it also caused Coca Cola to lose US$4 billion in market value in less than a day. Yes, that’s right, 4 billion US dollars! Talk about an influencer, and I think he wasn’t doing anything deliberate and was just being himself.
It brings to mind our encounter with him a few years back while we were still assigned in Portugal. It was at the VIP parking lot of Lisbon’s International Airport. I was there to pick up Hubby who was arriving from an official trip to Angola. Ciaran was also there because that was the only way I could get to the airport on time as he is more effective than the GPS.
I parked beside this Mercedes Benz sedan. Hubby arrives and starts loading his luggage in the trunk. Almost at the same time, a guy comes out of the VIP Lounge and starts loading luggage in the car beside us. A few seconds later, Cristiano Ronaldo comes out and heads towards the Benz. With my Malacanang training where we’re so used to seeing Heads of State/Government, Royalty, etc. I don’t go agog when I see celebrities. In my 16 years, I never asked for a photo with any of the VVIPs. So Ciaran and I just said hi to Cristiano and while his luggage was being loaded, we had a chance to have a brief chat:
“Me: Olá, sinto saudades de vê-lo jogar com a camisa branca, mas lhe desejamos boa sorte na Juventus.
(Hello, I miss seeing you play wearing the White shirt, but we wish you luck in Juventus.)
Cristiano: Madridista? Ou os jogadores
(Madridista? Or the players?) And he smiled.
Me: Madridista para sempre, mas também seguimos os nossos jogadores favoritos e tivemos que nos inscrever na Eleven Sports para podermos vê-lo na Série A.
(Madridista para sempre, but we also follow our favorite players and we had to subscribe to Eleven Sports so we can watch you in Serie A.)
Ciaran: Como você está? (How are you doing) and he replied “tudo bem.” I got lost when the two of them started talking really fast, he asked Ciaran if he plays futebol and Ciaran said since our posting here he trained in Escola Benfica (Benfica Futebol Academy). He complimented Ciaran’s Portuguese saying he speaks like he was born here in Lisbon. But he also teased Ciaran that he’s on the wrong team (Cristiano started his career with Sporting, rivals of Benfica).
He thanked me for my best wishes and asked how long I’ve been in Portugal.
Me: Quase 5 anos. Obrigado e boa sorte e já agora, Madeira (a sua cidade natal) é o local de férias preferido da nossa família.
(Almost 5 years. Thank you and good luck and by the way, Madeira (his hometown) is our family’s favourite getaway place.)
Cristiano: Prazer em conhecer vocês dois.
(Nice meeting you both.)
He then kindly asks us if we could move our car forward so his brother can enter the driver’s side as they need to be on their way. He was pretty down to earth and had a nice aura about him.
I tell Hubby we need to move out already because Ronaldo’s brother can’t get inside their car because I parked too closely. I let Hubby drive so Ronaldo and his brother will think it’s Hubby who has the deficient parking skills (Hahaha!). After we get going, Hubby asks who’s Ronaldo? Ciaran and I bursted out laughing and told him, “who else, the one and only CR7?” Hubby’s reaction was priceless, to think that we’ve seen Ronaldo several times playing live both in Madrid and Lisbon, and close up during a parade when they were the Euro Champions and the bus passed by near the Embassy. He wasn’t pleased that we just let him go on load his luggage and then drive off without bothering to tell him we were parked beside the Cristiano Ronaldo.
Actually, we didn’t do that on purpose. It just seemed like any ordinary polite encounter with a regular person. It didn’t even cross our minds to ask for a photo with him. We are cool like that. I think it’s better it turned out that way, a regular encounter between people rather than a fan meeting a superstar.
In the car as Hubby was still harping on our not letting him know, Ciaran says that maybe it was all for the best, especially as he noticed Ronaldo looked at our car’s diplomatic plate because if we told him, he might have ended up embarrassing us to Cristiano (Hahaha!). Hubby would not be asking for photo or anything, but what he’ll most likely do is give Cristiano his two cents worth on his playing, the team’s morale, football tactics, etc. To his credit, Hubby agreed with that thought and said nothing more.
On Saturday, 12 June, I came across this opinion piece on the Philippine Daily Inquirer calling for the Freedom of Information bill to be passed. It caught my attention because about a decade ago I was writing on the same subject myself and calling for its passage into law. I think it is time once more to start clamoring for its passage. The issues and the relevance of this bill remain the same.
My article on the subject dated 29 September 2011 titled: “Diplo-pinion: Breaking the Cycle of Corruption in the Philippines (Freedom of Information)”