MANILA, MARCH 17, 2008
(STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - Over dinner last Thursday, Gen. Joe Almonte related the story of how the BBC once sought his reaction as FVR’s national security adviser over reports that China was building structures in the South China Sea rock protrusions we are also claiming as part of our territory. Well, the general said he told BBC, we have to defend our claim.

The BBC announcer asked him, do you have an air force to do that?

No, we don’t, the general answered.

Do you have a navy?

No, we don’t, and we don’t have the army either.

So the incredulous announcer asked: How do you plan to defend your claim?

That’s not what I am worried about, the general replied. According to the general, he remarked that his bigger problem is what to do if we go to war and actually defeat China.

The baffled announcer informed the general that he was on the air and it was no time for jokes.

But the general was not joking. We had the audacity of laying claim to those islands with no air force, navy or army to back up our claim and have done nothing much more than issue declarations ever since. Yet, China is taking us seriously by putting up those structures in reaction to our move... and subsequently entering into a commercial agreement with us to study the possibility of potential petroleum deposits.

I thought about Gen. Almonte’s anecdote as I listened to the late newscast that evening and the latest headlines about the Spratlys spat. The general is right. Knowing fully well that we had nothing more lethal than press releases brimming with braggadocio, the Chinese took our claim seriously.

In fact, it seems the Chinese took our claim a lot more seriously than our own officials did. Outside of stranding a decrepit Navy vessel in one of the islands, our officials did nothing more. In fact, our officials even failed to pass the legislation defining our territory to back up our claim... up to now.

The lawyers present in that little dinner Gen. Almonte had with a group of economists last week made it clear that we should have populated those islands to strengthen our claim. We should have also built structures to have physical evidence of possession.

We are all daldal, so it seems, all talk but no work. Even today, everyone is bristling with patriotism accusing each other of treason over a claim we have done little to pursue.

It is a pity that China is being demonized these days, something that is not too difficult to do, given our people’s latent anti-Chinese feelings. But China must not feel bad over all the bad publicity it is getting. All that can be traced to Ate Glue’s loss of credibility. China is merely suffering collateral damage. There is little that Ate Glue can do these days that will not be suspect.

Unfortunately for China, they have done a lot of things with Ate Glue and mostly under cover of executive privilege and executive agreements. As a result, China has become a party to Ate Glue’s suspected acts of corruption and yes, even treason. China must find a way to decouple itself from Ate Glue because long after she is gone from the scene, the friendship between our people must endure.

Our attitudes towards China, towards that pragmatic way of dealing with the Spratlys in the light of conflicting claims, also betrays a superpower complex afflicting many of our officials and even media opinion leaders. Today when countries are becoming more interdependent with each other, we have fairly influential people in government, media and in the so called nationalist sector who firmly believes we do not need foreign capital or help to accelerate our economic development.

The earlier we all snap out of the illusion that we are a superpower the rest of the world must pay special attention to, the earlier we can start thinking and acting more pragmatically to advance our economy and thus, improve the lives of our people. It seems outside of the “yabang” expressed in press releases, Gen. Almonte observed “our leaders, Gen. Almonte observed, can’t even raise the political will to stop our country’s drift toward East Asia’s backwaters.”. Yet, we have the temerity to think and act as if we are a superpower and the world revolves around us and must listen to our wisdom.

Just to wake up our delusional leaders in and out of government, here is the stark reality as described by the general.

“Socially, the Filipino nation faces both nutritional and educational disasters. Six out of 10 children are malnourished to some degree. Proportionate to population, we have the highest percentage of poor people among comparable East Asian countries. SWS surveys note that, currently, some 2.6 million Filipinos report themselves as suffering episodes of involuntary hunger.

“What is worse is that Filipino poverty perpetuates itself through generations-the main reason for this being our extremely high dropout rate. Out of every 10 pupils who enter Grade 1, only six will complete the elementary grade; only four will finish high school, and only two will enter college. Hence they are unable to fill the jobs generated by the modern economy — and, as a consequence, pass down poverty to their inheritors.

“Right now, roughly one in every five Filipino families lives in absolute poverty — which in practical terms means malnutrition-poor housing — lack of access to education — shortened life spans — and poverty passed down from generation to generation.

“That in the three years between 2004 and 2006 some 700,000 families (3.5 million people) were added to the ranks of the Filipino poor — and at a time GDP has been expanding respectably — tells us how separate and unequal our dual economy has become.”

And what should we do to even get started down the right path? Here are some of the general’s prescriptions.

“The first thing we must do is to stop blaming our problems on forces and influences from the outside world. We must give up our economic principle of protectionism, which seems to have become the characteristic expression of our inward-looking nationalism. And, to check corruption in office, we must limit state interventionism; we must focus government on its basic functions.

“The state in the poor country typically flits from one preoccupation to another. It never really completes any task; but in the process it wastes a great deal of energy, time, and money. In reality, government’s basic role is simple. It is to provide the political stability, the sound macroeconomic policies, and the physical and human infrastructure that private enterprise cannot provide for itself, but which it needs if it is to flourish. Political reform must focus government on these basic functions.”

The general said a lot more things which will be subjects of future columns. For now, he left me the impression that we as a nation tend to get distracted by a lot of details that probably are not that important in the big picture. We need to focus on the things that matter. We need a kind of patriotism that puts national interest over personal. We need a pragmatic approach to our development and forget the lawyers amongst us who always have the tendency to quibble about everything.

As for the Spratlys, should we really be exhausting our passions and our energies about more territory when we can’t even manage the one we already have? Assuming we should for whatever reason, shouldn’t we do more than talk about it? As the general told BBC, we have no air force, no navy, no army that can credibly defend our claim but the wonder of it all, we are being taken seriously.

Let us make sure we don’t slam the door on the opportunities coming our way in spite of ourselves.


Here’s a classic forwarded by Romana Borromeo.

On their honeymoon, the blonde bride slipped into a sexy nightie and, with great anticipation, crawled into bed, only to find that her new Catholic husband had settled down on the couch. When she asked him why he was apparently not going to make love to her, he replied, “It’s Lent.”

In tears, she sobbed, “Well, that is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard!? Who did you lend it to, and for how long?”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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