Standing our Ground (or How we Deal with Bullies)

IT WAS A relief to hear that the DFA is filing a diplomatic protest against Canada over the 103 containers of trash sent here since 2013. This is the reaction I expected at the onset, but I won’t fuss over its delay as long as the matter will be pressed from now on.

Also heartening is the dogged pursuit by the Philippine legal team of our valid claim of the territories usurped by China. Our calm assertion of rights based on the UNCLOS and historic title will, I am certain, decisively establish our sovereignty in due time.

They must have thought the Philippines a flunkey. They probably imagined we would kowtow, mutter “please kick us harder,” and accede to their immoral – and yes, illegal! – acts committed in our domain. They were wrong.

We are a hospitable people, eager to accommodate, staunchly optimistic, ever ready with a smile. It is easy to mistake our adaptability for pliancy and our pleasantness for sycophancy, especially by those beset with hubris and illusions of empire. To do so is a serious miscalculation.

We may have a long fuse but once it is lit, it inflames. To the Pinoy,  there is no tinder as volatile as a provocation to our sovereignty. We may choose to forget it, but the fact of foreign domination is indelibly embossed on our collective memory. It rises in stark relief, like a bump in the road we are still trying to tamp. We have accepted it, smoothened it as best we can, and moved on. But when we are reminded, crudely and rudely, of that tortured past, we will resist and categorically insist that what we have is ours, and ours alone to steward and rule.

Equally inflammatory is the challenge to our dignity. When we have spent over three decades raising the global status of the Filipino from a position of servitude to professional respectability and even competitiveness, any attempt to treat us as second-rate world citizens is, forgive the pun, incendiary.

We Pinoys will have our say about the West Philippine Sea and the Canadian trash, and any future offense to our nation. No doubt we are poorer and smaller and in various ways disadvantaged by comparison. That is true. So is this – though we are up against giants, we can wield a slingshot.

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But, a caveat: we may ourselves weaken our swing – by our indifference to the issues, the lethargy that discourages action, our own self-doubt. An Inquirer editorial posits that we undermine ourselves when we do not educate ourselves nor assert what is rightfully ours. I agree. In the defense of our patrimony, we are all called to active duty.

When we don’t join our voices with those in the front lines; when we fail to support the activists at the gate; when we relegate to others what we should be doing ourselves, we cripple our cause.

I have often complained about the frequently bantay-salakay tanods of the tuwid na daan, but I will not withhold commendation when it is due. I appreciate the careful, intelligent efforts made by our legal team in the West Philippine Sea arbitration process; I am equally glad of the steps taken by the DFA, at the urging of the DENR and the BOC (though late!), to demand action from the Canadian government. We require and must demand more of this kind of leadership and political will in 2016. Again, I maintain that those of us who do must seek divine guidance in prayer, for there are bound to be more challenges of this tenor in the future.

The government must lead but we in the private sector should bolster it. I am awash with admiration for businessman Mel Velarde, who purchased and has committed to donate to the National Museum the 1734 Murillo Velarde map that proves our claim over the disputed area. I am likewise grateful to all those who have made a noise about this, the trash and other similar issues. It is their tenacity that makes giants listen and fall.

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The Philippines is our turf and we are responsible for it; not merely our government and our armed forces – all of us. At the very least, we should apprise ourselves of the issues, form an opinion, take a stand. Whatever the outcome, it will happen on our watch.

I am hopeful. There is one image that emerged from the 2013 Zamboanga siege that I cannot forget. It is of a bullet-riddled building, pockmarked and nearly fallen, valiantly crested by a defiant Philippine flag.

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That, to me, is the Filipino spirit. Indomitable, resilient, independent, and unquenchable.

Sa manlulupig, di ka pasisiil.

 

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