Disturbing signs of the times



These are the times that try men’s souls…but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman — Thomas Paine

Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

While the nation is grappling with enormous challenges – the COVID-19 epidemic, recovering from the Taal Volcano disaster, and the many issues that divide us – media freedom and ABS-CBN franchise, unabated wave of corruption, and threat of Chinese presence in the country (flow of dirty cash, POGO sex trade. etc.), the poor farmers are barely surviving due to the effects of the rice tariff law.  March is Women’s Month but our women today, despite high ranking in global surveys on gender equality, find today’s environment a “dangerous time for women. According to the Center of Women’s Resources, government had escalated its actions against them. This “heightened impunity through misogynistic remarks may have encouraged rape and other forms of violence against women,” it noted.

All these concerns require a more united and courageous public, and a media system that would process threats and violations into policies and other forms of response.

Let me, however, focus on immediate concerns that could have more deleterious impact on the social, cultural, and political life of the country, specifically its sovereignty.

The first is the VFA or the Visiting Forces agreement which was recently terminated by the President.  Its long-term effect has been analyzed in terms of security from foreign aggression, a threat which is imminent.  Thus, this exchange on the independence of the Senate earlier this week is critical in terms of understanding how we can prevent the onslaught of authoritarianism and unilateral decision-making in government.

How do you define “independence”?  Oxford dictionary defines it as “freedom from outside control” and provides synonyms such as “self-determination,” “self-rule, autonomy,” “sovereignty,” “non-alignment.”

There was a “showdown” between the newly elected members with the old guard when they voted on a resolution seeking the Supreme Court’s opinion on whether the chamber’s approval was needed before an international treaty could be revoked by the President.  The resolution was sponsored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III  together with Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators PanfiloLacson and Richard Gordon who said this was not intended to challenge President Duterte’s decision, but “merely to ask the Supreme Court to define our constitutional boundaries (Drilon); to show that “while loyalty is a virtue, blind loyalty is blind” (Lacson); and that “being in the majority does not mean that you can win all the time” (Sotto). Senate Resolution 337 was adopted with a vote of 12-0, with7 abstentions from Duterte’s allies. We are still fortunate to have a Senate which puts politics aside to demonstrate the need to uphold principles of balance of power, and collective rather than unilateral decision-making.

When faced with similar dilemma in the future, we trust that our authorities may trust “common sense” as lawyer Michael Yusingco noted -- that withdrawing from a treaty is as weighty a decision as the decision to enter into one…and that therefore, withdrawing from a treaty is a decision to be made only after undergoing a thorough analysis and public deliberations…that we cannot allow the President to make such a huge decision on a mere whim.”

We realize the heavy costs of an independent foreign policy.  Which is why in our present global system, multilateralism presents the only viable path to survival. Which makes it imperative to enter into alliance with other powers to protect our country from aggression.

From recent statements of the executive, we infer that he is taking the country towards a dangerous territory. “Which is to become a province of China,” former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio said. “The other choice was to become a US republic which is no choice as the latter had earlier rejected statehood under the 1916 Jones law…This is a supreme insult to Philippine sovereignty and to Filipinos by a sitting President.”

Almost immediately after termination of the VFA treaty, some 136 vessels suspected to be militias or a paramilitary force of the Chinese government were spotted near the Spratlys. The Department of National Defense believes this could be an “asymmetric warfare strategy in the West Philippine Sea that wields China’s control over Philippine waters.”

Add this development to what is ongoing -- thousands of Chinese workers coming into the country, many buying or renting real estate property, increase in the number of POGOs, flow of Chinese cash through illegal means, and onerous contracts, all of which have been happening over the past two years. If what is needed is the show of larger and committed participation of public opinion indiscussions and action on these concerns that divide the nation, there is not enough of it.  Many of us have become indifferent. Again, it is time to quote Dante Alighieri who said, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”

My e-mail, florangel.braid@gmail.com