Was the “favourable” ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the South China Sea dispute a “victory” for Filipinos? Apologist of the administration of former President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III would like Filipinos to believe so. Of course, the objective there is to chalk this up as another “achievement” of the former administration.
The trouble with Filipinos is their habitually loose definition of what it means to achieve and to win. If the win or achievement being trumpeted is dubious, guess what, Filipinos lower the bar to get it counted. So over a prolonged period, Pinoys accumulated a hopelessly perverted and empty sense of what they and their country have achieved on the basis of self-defined standards plumbing ever lower depths. And this is the point to where we’ve come — the Philippines is basically a country that neither stands for nor has achieved anything of any consequence to the world.
In the case of the South China Sea debacle, there is lots of cheering surrounding a piece of paper issued by The Hague. But subject this supposedly happy occasion to the So What? Test and one would be hard-pressed to come up with a compelling response. Perhaps Filipinos think that they can shove this piece of paper down a cannon and fire it at the Chinese military hardware floating all over the South China Sea. Well, I stand corrected then. I’ve always asserted that Philippine society is severely bankrupt of imagination but, in this case, I’ll need to make an exception!
Fact is, the writing’s been on the wall for some time. China’s probably invested billions in both the construction of those structures all over the South China Sea as well as in sustaining an astoundingly effective military deployment to the area. No fool would invest and commit that much to a venture they would only have to give up later to comply with a toothless ruling from the other side of the planet. In short (and as so many times it’s been asserted), China has no plans on pulling out of the zone any time soon nor erasing those nine dashes from their maps.
It is therefore interesting to observe just how adept Filipinos have become at spinning some semblance of “achievement” coming out of the PCA ruling in their favour. The “skill” comes with years of experience pulling rabbits out of hats when it comes to filling out their scorecard of “wins”.
If you step back to regard the real scheme of things, we will find that the most respected and most powerful countries on the planet earned their places at the top of the planetary food chain on the back of military power. If that confronting fact weren’t true, then we wouldn’t see aspiring global players like India and China spending mega-billions on the latest toys. Even those countries that presume to rule on matters to do with “international law” earned the ascendancy to do so by the sword. Indeed, if, in fact, that right to rule on “international law” was not ruled by a northwestern European kingdom, then we’d all likely been languishing under the shadow of Sharia Law, Nazism, or Stalinism today. Take your pick.
Much of the artefacts emerging from and being shared across the Net over this imagined Philippine “victory” now is propped up by a single conceptual pillar — that the rest of the global community will rally behind the ruling and put diplomatic (and maybe even economic) pressure on China to comply. Again, Filipinos have invested heaps of emotional capital on that flowery assumption. Unfortunately the reality is a bit starker. The fantasy of countries coalescing into a diplomatic bloc that could pressure the Chinese is a pipe dream at best. Economic pressure? Good luck with that. Even the US is held hostage to China’s gargantuan trade surplus with America. Indeed, Chinese economic power was ultimately a creation of Corporate America’s insatiable appetite for revenue and profit growth and the resulting orgy of outsourcing and offshoring that’s left much of the American industrial heartland a bleak rustbelt and its people hopelessly addicted to cheap imports.
Fantasising about a “victory” without any tangible spoils to show for it is an activity of a people that have lost focus on what is important: results. There is, of course, no problem with taking small steps. A poor country, after all, has no choice but to tread in baby-scaled strides. But it is also important that Filipinos learn to keep their eye on a long-term outcome at least to assure themselves that, even while they take those steps, they are pointed in the right direction.
Ultimately it is not about winning nebulous bases for propping up “national pride”. It is about securing access to real resources upon which the only real solution to the Philippines’ problems, economic growth, can be sustained. The Philippines is in no position to secure access to those resource by force, has nothing to bring to the table in any serious negotiation with China, and cannot afford to remain naive about the willingness of its “allies” to antagonise China over “principles” that only look good on paper.
It’s time Filipinos collectively work with their government to do some modern thinking about what to do next now that a mere milestone in the South China Sea drama has uneventfully passed.
Where are the results?
These are really the only two important guiding questions Filipinos need to keep in mind in charting a prosperous future for themselves.
[Photo courtesy Associated Press.]
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