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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, July 18, 2016
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Dash to Deadline
with Eli Tajanlangit

Is he with us?

It's been almost a week now since the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague handed down its decision proclaiming that the West Philippine Sea is indeed, the Philippines'. Curiously, however, our President Rodrigo Duterte has not said a word about the decision that has proven our country right in the face of bullying from another more economically stronger nation.

“Curiouser” even was the immediate reaction of Duterte's Foreign Affairs Secretary, Perfecto Yasay, who cautioned the nation about acting with restraint and sobriety when the decision was handed down.

Change indeed has come to the country. In other times, and under another leader, the decision would have been received with national jubilation and here you have a President who does not seem to share his countryman's joy in the decision.

More shocking was, aside from the fact that he did not react like the rest of us, the foreign affairs secretary had to tell us not to overreact, to exercise caution and restraint.

What's this silence and caution all about?

A President who doesn't give a wee bit about cussing the Pope himself, could not say anything about the victory of his country in The Hague? A President who could find time to face a suspected drug lord to tell him off could not find the words to rally the people in the face of such a historical and momentous decision?

Is he with us, or against us?

Indeed, the nation is still waiting for the President to say something, and even to declare the directions the country will take after The Hague decision. His announcement that former president Fidel Ramos is the best person to head the team that will negotiate with China is a weak one, something that does sustain our momentum in our fight for the West Philippine Sea.

After fighting in The Hague, where the cynics said we would have a difficult time, and winning that round, sitting in the negotiating table with the bullies just doesn't sound right. It especially gives off the wrong signals, especially since the other party is insisting it will talk, but not from the perspective of The Hague decision. So why talk in the first place, when we have been proven right in the international court, and the world has aligned with us?

Until today, Duterte's body language – because we have not heard anything from him, let's read his body – speaks of a reluctance to meet China head on, hiding behind the argument that we can never win a war against that economic superpower. By recognizing that we cannot fight them in a war, we have already handed the negotiations to them.

Which is funny, if it wasn't so tragic: Duterte who has convinced the nation of his uncommon courage now tip-toes before China, and on such an important issue as sovereignty. The man who had vowed he will jet ski to Panatag shoal and plant a Philippine flag there to claim what is ours has all but clammed up. Why, we cannot quite fathom: the man who could take on drug lords and supposed narco-generals, who could play brinkmanship when it came to fighting the drug problem in the country could not quite lead us in defending the integrity of the Republic.

Which, again, is really of the same significance. The war on drugs is about snatching our young from the menace of abuse, to put together what is essentially the future of our country.

The ‘war' for West Philippine Sea is a war for the country's future, too, to keep together what is really ours, for our children and grandchildren.

In both, we need a fighting President.*


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