Testing the Waters

©Moira Garcia Gallaga

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.  

Photo via Wikipedia

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.”

11 July 2021

“VFA gets another lease on life”

©Moira G. Gallaga

Here is my take on the third suspension of the abrogation of the Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement. It was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 07 July 2021.

Long Distance Relationship with our Son: Mother’s Day

©Moira Garcia Gallaga

It’s Mother’s Day and first off, I would just like to greet my fellow mothers out there on this special day a very happy Mother’s Day! On this occasion where motherhood is celebrated and given due recognition, I can’t help but dwell on my experience and feeling of what it is like being a Mom.

Just as each individual person is unique, so are mothers. We may have a common experience of bringing a person to life, but we mothers come in all shape, character, temperament, style, etc. So I figured I would share with you my thoughts and experience as a mother.

I am blessed with one son and as a Mom, one nagging worry always at the back of my head is if I had been a good Mom. Did I do right by him, did I raise him up properly? When he was born, I was still working at the Palace, and given the fast-paced, high pressure working environment, it was challenging to balance the demands of work and being a mother. My work involved a lot of overseas travel too, so I did my best to find time for family and my baby boy. When I did have the time, I would make the most of it. That would be the pattern even during our foreign posting in Los Angeles and Washington DC, where from time to time I would be detailed to Summits and Presidential visits.

He was quite a handful growing up. He was a bundle of energy, forever restless and loved to test our limits. As someone with quite a temper, he would take me to the brink on more than one occasion and I had to make an effort to not step over the line. I didn’t realize it then that in my efforts to instill some discipline in him, he was also helping me gain mastery over my temper.

One of the songs in the Mother’s Day playlist he sent yesterday. I like this one and it made me bawl. We raised a compassionate, independent and responsible kid. May I add, a so cool son who is not scared of anything … moved out at 18 and a half years old, living alone overseas at 19 and flying from one country to another just to surf, play futebol. A voracious reader and has experienced life with failures and success. As he said about how he lives his life: failing without a net to catch him; without my parents who can always make things happen; got goals in life, but without a map.

At least I wasn’t alone in the effort. My husband was just as involved, and we worked as a team. Only thing is we sometimes weren’t sure if what we were doing was correct. There are many books, articles and material about parenting, but everyone admits there is no magic formula, no guaranteed method or technique other than just make the best effort you can to prepare your child for life and at a certain point, the rest is up to them and you just have to hope for the best.

After our US posting I resigned from government service and had more time to spend and bond with my son, who was now becoming a teenager. A different set of challenges now. Before it was all about making sure he didn’t get into trouble, or harm himself and others, and teaching him values and how to conduct himself in the world around him. Now this was all about preparing him for the challenges of life, steeling him for the harsh realities of a grownup’s world and building for himself traits and an attitude that would help him achieve stability and security for his future. Well, it appears he had other things in mind and his stubborn streak didn’t make things easier. No surprise there as he got that from both parents. Karma? Hahaha. Yet, there was quite a lot of upsides too, as we got to do things and travel together now that I had more time to spend with him. It was a great opportunity as well to learn more about each other.

He is 20 now and is based far away. Any fears I had that he was going to struggle being by himself and dealing with adulthood in general have been assuaged. From a rambunctious and mischievous little kid, he’s turned out to be a kind, loving and responsible young man. After my most recent visit to him, I could see that he was going to be okay. I’m so proud of him, and I guess that should assure me that I did alright by him as a Mom.

I think that is what it is like being a Mom, looking constantly for signs and assurances that you are on the right track and seeking affirmation that your child loves you and thinks the world of you. Thing is, it is hard and rare to find that assurance and affirmation as they are growing up. It is hard to spot at times in the constant to and fro of the daily interaction. In my experience, it is only once you have let him go and allow them to find themselves on their own that you will finally get that assurance you did good. Then when you see that bright spark in his eyes and the joy he projects when he meets you after a prolonged absence, that’s your affirmation right there.

09 May 2021