Déjà vu

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I HAD a sense of déjà vu during the recent hearing of the House of Representatives on the West Philippine Sea, particularly the stance of the Philippine government over China’s aggressive posture and increasing effort to militarize the area.

Cayetano assured the lawmakers that the Duterte administration is protecting the country’s national interest and sovereignty but doing it quietly through diplomacy in contrast with the approach taken by the previous administration.

But what struck me was the admission that the Department of Foreign Affairs has no formal China desk and that it relies on three  or four people to craft the delicate diplomatic strategy in dealing with Beijing with respect to the WPS issue.

This led to a suggestion to ask Congress for money to create a think tank, called West Philippine Sea Policy Institute, wherein the country’s best and brightest, the experts in their respective fields, can map out a feasible strategy to protect our country’s interests in the WPS.

It’s a very sensible suggestion, but it had been raised almost three decades ago. As early as the late 90s, then Senator Blas Ople had been warning about China getting bolder in its claim over the area where one-third of the world’s shipping passes through, ferrying an estimated $3 billion worth of goods annually.

In his regular Friday press conferences with his partner Sen. Ernesto Herrera — a tandem that became known in the Senate as Batman and Robin — Ka Blas would invariably have among his prepared press statements something about the WPS or South China Sea.

He had raised the concern that the WPS could be the next flashpoint between the US and China, leaving the Philippines in harm’s way in the battle of two giants as China was beginning to flex its military might.

He warned of China’s on-going effort to create a “blue water” navy that could project its military might and power over the entire South China Sea. In 1997 China struck a deal with Russia to buy a Kilo-class submarine that triggered a “submarine race” in Asia.

At that time, Ople had been calling for the creation of a think tank of experts to prepare our strategic responses to China’s growing aggressiveness that poses a threat not only to our territorial claim in the resource-rich WPS but ultimately to our national security.

Unfortunately nobody seemed to have listened.  And while we may have won against China in the legal battle over WPS territories, there is no system in place to enforce such ruling. In realpolitik, might is right and so the Duterte administration is trying hard to get the best of the situation.

Had we acted appropriately on the foresight of Ka Blas, we might be better off today.

p/jhd

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