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Duterte’s doctrine of diplomacy

(Francis Malasig/Pool Photo via AP)

There is a time for diplomacy. There is a time for courage. And the wisest of all individuals is the one who can wield diplomacy and courage simultaneously.

The last several months saw Pres. Rodrigo Duterte spewing some of the most unacceptable statements in the world of high-stakes diplomacy.

As we have been told by various news sources here and abroad, China had begun a massive building project all across the disputed areas, erecting nearly 50 to a hundred civilian structures (but one which can be used militarily) in the course of a few months.

This opened the door for the arrival of nuclear-capable Chinese H6K aircraft which, the Independent said, “simulated strikes against sea targets” before finally landing on the airstrips.

Even prior to this, Duterte, with the help of his spin doctors, had already changed the tone of his initial statements: leaping from his promise of protecting our islands from China to handing each one on a silver platter.

His consistent use of the idea that standing firm on our claims is no different from an act of war has raised questions if the Philippines, in point of fact, is already a province of the People’s Republic. This has triggered the ire of numerous Filipinos whose lives seem to have been unequivocally put at risk.

On closer examination, Duterte’s false dichotomy seem to form the nut and bolt of his doctrine of diplomacy: when faced with a nation that boasts of superior firepower, it is best to lick its boots.

Now, some may find this hilarious on several points as I do (licking boots and diplomacy were never, at any time, synonymous). However, if we look at this from the perspective of one who puts a high premium on being pragmatic, then maybe Duterte’s right.

Duterte’s pragmatism argues that it’s pointless—and rather stupid—to fight a superior power if the end result would be the obliteration of our country. Losing a battle against China implies the death of us all, what with China’s ability to simply push the nuclear launch buttons to order our complete annihilation.

There is, however, a glitch to Duterte’s argument. His supposition that Filipinos want to go to war with China on account of the illegal incursion is flawed at best. No one wants to fight China. There has been no open declaration on the part of Filipinos to go to war with any nation. That has been clear from the start.

For the President to stand firmly on the Hague decision: that’s all Filipinos ever wanted. And by that we mean to assert our rights over our territorial waters and economic zones through legal and diplomatic routes. War is an option we can do without.

But should our situation escalate, if push comes to shove, even in the face of superior firepower Filipinos will not stand idly by as the “cowards” the world thinks we are at the moment. No. Between honor and slavery, history has attested that we have always chosen the former.

The Philippines has a revolutionary history unlike any other, all because we’ve fought enemies that were consistently bigger and more powerful than us. On numerous occasions, we lost battles, but had gained the honor and respect rightfully conveyed to a brave people.

Dr. José Rizal, alone and shivering under a European winter, at loggerheads with some of his compatriots, wrote two novels which exposed the barbarity of the Spanish colonial mind. He was executed for his words.

Andres Bonifacio, Supremo of the Katipunan, sparked a revolution that was to echo the French uprising against a cruel monarchy. He was sentenced to death, together with his brother, by Filipinos.

Gen. Antonio Luna, in a bid to push the barriers of revolution and crush American colonial forces, even as he faced the ire of Filipinos who saw America as a business venture, was murdered by the hands of his countrymen.

What about the bravest of our women? Wives, mothers, and grandmothers who took the reins of war right into the enemy’s camps? Gabriela Silang, Nieves Fernandez, Agueda Esteban, Marina Dizon, Marcela Marcelo, and a host of others? Were they wrong in their choice to go against a superior power?

If history has taught us anything, it is this: that the risks involved in facing a superior force are nothing compared to facing the whims of traitors. This was our heroes’ greatest dilemma. We must realize that it is not in the nature of traitors to possess honor and courage. Traitors, when faced with their own shadows, would betray their own mothers.

A very thin line separates diplomacy from cowardice, if we were to go by Duterte’s idea of the former. By legal definition, diplomacy itself promotes good practice among peoples and nations.

Diplomacy is defined as the peaceful representation between nations. Never has diplomacy in any definition hinted of or required a timid or pusillanimous foreign policy.

I hate to say this, but after having monitored closely most of the President’s statements regarding China’s incursion, I believe it’s safe to conclude that his doctrine of diplomacy borders on betrayal.

I have learned early in life that people follow courage. Should this axiom prove true in our current situation, then Duterte’s purported 16 million diehard followers would in no time crumble to a few dozen paid hacks.

Think about it: there’s no real point in giving one’s loyalty to the faint-of-heart. Any move to surrender a whole nation and its territories without a fight, much less a show of grievance, is not diplomacy. It’s either greed or cowardice. Or both. G

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