Friday, December 28, 2012

Pinoy Top Thinkers Today (2012)

Copyright @ 2012 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved. 

For five consecutive years now, I am happy to say that my intention to document and list down top Filipino living intellectuals has paid off. Lots of secondary, college, and graduate students who surf my blog and read my articles keep on posting positive reviews and comments in my annual Pinoy Top Thinkers Today (PTTT).
For 2012, I must truly say that our country is blessed with so much brilliance of brainpower. This is a country where bright minds converge and where freedom to express your mind is highly scrutinized and talked about; with the twist of social media’s increasing influence to every Pinoy’s daily life which becomes inevitable and unstoppable.  

The successful legal and political battle to oust a former Chief Justice, supposedly, the fourth strongest man in the country, is the trademark of this year. A historic first in the country’s evolving democratic maturity fortified by the rallying support from the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of our government, which brought prisms of intellect and best arguments in a politically-driven and quasi-judicial court of the Senate; televised and viewed publicly by humorous and critical Pinoys from different walks of life and fellow countrymen in many Filipino diasporic communities abroad.   

Nonetheless, this singular event had shown luminaries and brightest lawyers our country has had; a joke that the Philippines produces more lawyers would make our country forever a developing economy because we argue a lot than acting on things concretely, and maybe because most of our bureaucrats in the government are ruled by lawyers. That’s why another theory is proposed that medical doctors should govern our government mainly because they are more ‘methodical’ in prescribing solutions to social issues of our country. I have no doubt that Dr Jose Rizal, the first Filipino genius and foremost great thinker our country had, would certainly agree with me.  

Furthermore, the Philippines is beginning to turn-around economically, regaining to tickle its momentum as it bandwagons to Asian century’s limelight as a centrifugal force to lead the world economy. That’s why technocrats from the business community are always wittingly recognized in my yearly ‘who’s who’ of Filipino top thinkers because of their ability to gain more wealth for the Philippines and exporting Filipino brand of ideas in a very competitive global village.

Closest to my heart are also the academics, scientists, artists, and sportsmen who continuously shine in their chosen fields, giving more prestige to our country’s intellectual culture and traditions.   

Without much ado, here’s my roster of Pinoy Top Thinkers Today with their surnames in alphabetical order!!! 

Ramon Ang (industrialist, visionary) – it is but fitting to list down this great guy as one of Pinoy top thinkers today! He has done enough to sustain economic buoyancy of the country, with his San Miguel Corporation, the largest and most diversified conglomerate in the country! Under his management as the new president of SMC, Ang’s unorthodox and out-of-the-box management style is making a lot of headway within international circles, in particular the ambitious re-fleeting and modernization program of PAL that includes the purchase of 100 new planes. SMC is in every growth sector of our country and still continues to be an investor in major growth projects. An alumnus of Far Eastern University (FEU) with a mechanical engineering degree. From his humble beginnings, he rose from the ranks and later was appointed as president and COO of SMC in 2002. But his business relationship with Eduardo Cojuangco SMC’s top honcho, as the Inquirer has recently cited, goes back as far as his humble beginnings as the proprietor of a small firm that specialized in reconditioning surplus engines. Ang also serves as Chief Executive Officer of Cyber Bay Corporation andPetron Corporation.

Benigno Aquino III (15th president of the Philippines) – a.k.a PNOY or Noynoy, he enjoys popularity and sincerity of his vision to make our country great in the 21st century! Now my third time to cite him in my prestigious annual gallery of top thinkers alive, he placed the Philippines in the map of current deterritorialized world as the new darling for investments and opportunities. His serious policies to curb graft and corruption has made us Pinoy earn the respect of the international community as we stride into higher notch for credit ratings, transparency, and good governance worldwide. With this, our country continues to become confident as a creditor for ailing European economies. A promising young president, whose goodwill has impeached a chief justice, signed a peace deal with the MILF, promoted reproductive health against the conservative church, and is modernizing the country’s armed forces as he sees a new architecture and landscape of security environment in the West Philippine Sea. He relived the words of his great father Benigno Aquino Jr – a national hero – that Filipinos are worth dying for! 

Jaime Augusto & Fernando Zobel de Ayala (high-end retailer kings, multi-awarded industrialists) – Jaime serves as Chairman and CEO while Fernando works as President and COO of Ayala Corporation. For many generations, they were one of the very few pioneering families who put the Philippines in the world map of business. High brand Ayala is very much known for luxury, sophistication, and quality of services, products, and designs. They are the masters of growth, innovation and diversity. A famous avenue in the country’s financial district is named after them. They own  one of the country’s largest banks - Bank of the Philippine Islands. They own one of the country’s top telecommunication networks - Globe Telecom. They own one of the country’s leading real estate developer - Ayala Land. Other businesses of the Ayalas include water distribution business Manila Water Company, information technology business Integrated Microelectronics, Inc., business process outsourcing company Integreon, and so on. Jaime’s Honors include World Economic Forum Global Leader for Tomorrow in 1995, Emerging Markets CEO of the year in 1998 (sponsored by ING), Philippine TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men) Award in 1999 and Management Association of the Philippines Management Man of the Year Award in 2006. Most recently, Mr. Zobel was awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit on March 11, 2009. Lately, the brothers Jaime and Fernando share their business secrets to Business Week and Go Negosyo on the success of the Ayalas, to wit: Passion for the enterprise is the formula for growth. Blood relations running the enterprise isn’t a guarantee for growth, at best, it’s coincidental, not essential. It is one thing to accept change, but it is more entrepreneurial to be the source of change. And  lastly, entrepreneurship is key to nation building. 

Diosdado Banatao (philanthropist, engineer) – a.k.a the Bill Gates of the Philippines! From his very humble beginnings from Iguig Cagayan Valley and going big time to Silicon Valley in the US, he never forgot his roots! He pursued his secondary education in a Jesuit run school, Ateneo de Tuguegarao. After finishing high school, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and graduated cum laude. He later completed an MS Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Stanford University in 1972 in order to enhance his craft as design engineer for Boeing in the United States. According to, he is the founder and has been Managing Partner of Tallwood Venture Capital (Tallwood) since July 2000. From April 2008 to June 2009, he served as Interim Chief Executive Officer of SiRF Technology Holdings, Inc. (SiRF), a publicly-traded company that was acquired by CSR plc in June 2009 (SiRF). From October 2006 to August 2007, he served as Interim President and Chief Executive Officer of Inphi Corporation. Prior to forming Tallwood, he was a venture partner at the Mayfield Fund, a venture capital firm, from January 1998 to May 2000. Among his achievements, he co-founded three technology startups: S3 Graphics Ltd in 1989, Chips & Technologies, Inc. in 1985 and Mostron, Inc. in 1984. In his comeback to the Philippines, he continues to offer scholarships to bright students in Cagayan Valley and is willing to donate millions of dollars to resurrect his defunct alma mater Ateneo de Tuguegarao. 

Jejomar Binay (15th vice president of the Philippines) - highly educated, a seasoned politician, human rights lawyer, family man, and currently the most trusted government official in the country based from survey results. But will he become the Philippines’ president in 2016? Only time and destiny will tell. But the Binay fever is everywhere! The current sitting vice-president who aspires to become the next president has announced early on his bid for the presidential post; forming aggressively a coalition opposition party with former president Joseph Estrada. However, political analysts see this coalition as “opposition but not opposition” party because of the very high popularity of PNOY. Thus, in retracing Binay’s political roots, his baptism of fire as a politician was realized when he became the mayor of Makati city through the support of former president Corazon Aquino, the late mother of the sitting president. But what I admire him most, is how cultured he came to be. He’s standing tall as a proud Ibanag, representing an ethnic group up north of Luzon with a very rich culture and tradition, and founded a heritage foundation aimed at preserving the Ibanag culture. Being its chairman, the Ibanag language is now included in the Department of Education’s Mother-Tongue Based Multi-Lingual Education (MTB-MLE) program that will revive the dying Ibanag language. Thus, more cultural exchanges, researches on tangible and intangible culture of the Ibanags, and programs will soon be fostered and implemented by the heritage foundation he started that will inspire other ethnic groups in the Philippines to do the same endeavor of strengthening the richness of their own and distinct culture.

Romulo Davide (Ramon Magsaysay awardee, agricultural scientist) – the Philippines remains to be a pivotal agricultural country in Southeast Asia in spite of its increasing service industries. And you bet, farmers can be scientists, too. He’s one of the pioneering agricultural scientists; and the rock star scientist among his circle of agriculturalists. In his citation as one of 2012’s Ramon Magsaysay awardee, the award-giving body recognized "his steadfast passion in placing the power and discipline of science in the hands of Filipino farmers, who have consequently multiplied their yields, created productive farming communities and rediscovered the dignity of their labor." He also invented the first Philippine pesticide that can be used against roundworms or nematodes infesting crops. BIOCON is also considered as a “practical substitute for highly toxic and expensive nematicides.” Thus, the success of BIOCON, which first came out in 1992, went beyond the Philippines as it is now being sold worldwide. 

Juan Ponce Enrile (senate president, statesman) – his recently launched and a book-seller 754-page memoir is a must read! He played a pivotal role during Marcos’s martial law as his protégé, being appointed the secretary of justice and defense minister. He’s a controversial statesman from Cagayan who served the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of the Philippine government spanning from six administrations/presidents. Manong Johnny, as he was fondly called, has lived a very colorful life from rags to riches story. Highly educated here and abroad; his persona is bigger than life, based from the recently shown documentary by a leading television station and a biography written about his life. Despised by many of his colleagues because of his exceptional wit, intellect, diskarte, and memory of laws – his credibility as one of the finest lawyers our country has had was cemented during the trial of the first ousted Chief of Justice only this year. His own narrative about his life and his contributions to Philippine politics and society can be captured as footnotes in our history. Rarely do we have an elderly stateman in the Philippines, loved and despised, and who lived a protagonist/antagonist image; shaping and influencing (whether good or bad) landscapes of our contemporary politics, business, history, and society. I can attest to his sharpness of mind, when I finally witnessed his fondness of indigenous food found only in Cagayan, which I myself never saw and tasted in my childhood also growing in the same province where he came from, during our meeting with him and VP Binay, the Ibanag council of elders, and board of trustees of the Ibanag Heritage Foundation, Incorporated at Coconut Palace.  

Lance Gokongwei (technocrat, global achiever, heir) - he’s the heir of the Gokongwei’s empire, serving as president and COO, while his father John Gokongwei, still serves as Chairman Emeritus. A western-bred businessman and graduated with double summa cum laude honors from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Applied Science; and the Wharton School of Business in Finance in a span of only three and a half years. A young intellectual, technocrat, and global achiever – he received distinctions such as the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005, Ten Outstanding Young Men in 2000, and Class of Global Leader for Tomorrow in 1999. Based from JG Summit Holdings, Inc website, he’s the President and Chief Operating Officer of JGSHI. He had been Executive Vice President of JGSHI and was elected President and Chief Operating Officer effective January 1, 2002. He is also President and Chief Operating Officer of URC, and JGSPC. He is the Vice-Chairman and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of RLC and LMI. He is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Cebu Air, Inc. and DIGITEL, Chairman of Robinsons Savings Bank (RSB), President of Digital Information Technology Services, Inc. (DITSI), Vice Chairman of JGSCMC, and a director of OPMC, UIC and Singland. He is a trustee, secretary and treasurer of GBFI. 

Serafin Cuevas (prime defense counsel, legal luminary) – despite his defeat as the lead defense counsel in the recently concluded highly-politicized and highly-publicized trial of an impeached chief justice Renato Corona, he has shown brightly inside the august hall of the senate his wit and fortitude; considered as one of the highly-respected legal luminaries in the country. Having the right attitude, this prominent member of the well-organized religious group of the Iglesia Ni Cristo, graduated law from the University of the Philippines. A former Associate Justice, judge, top legal practitioner, and professorial lecturer of law himself. When asked by senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding judge of the impeached chief justice, the latter having known by heart the Rules of Court would respond immediately and sharply. The result of constant study.  He has the stature of not being bamboozled by anyone, according to his fellow defense counsels.  Recently, he bagged the “Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award” by the UP Alumni Association.

Regina Paz Lopez (environmentalist, river warrior, broadcast heiress) – a.k.a Gina Lopez is a celebrity in her own right! Credit her in her majestic vision of leading and transforming informal settlers to become river warriors as they clean up the esteros of Metro Manila in her usual all white fashionable outfits. She debunks dominant theories that it’s normal to have increasing slums and poverty porn in cities as it progresses, rather, she deems that cities should remain clean and beautiful, the more it progresses. Although, a broadcast heiress herself, her surname rings a bell when environment is discussed in high-level conferences. With her family’s diversified communications and broadcast industry, she can command her talents to mount a run for Pasig River, which is usually a blockbuster among advocates of the environment, in her effort to clean up Metro Manila’s state of the nation – the Pasig River. With this, Gina has been recently appointed as chair of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) after taking her oath, along with 35 other appointees to various government agencies and offices before President Benigno Aquino III in Malacañang . Also this year, Save Palawan Movement convenor Regina Paz Lopez debated with one of the country’s prime industrialist and communications mover Philex Mining chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP), caught on video that went viral on YouTube in their frank exchange of views that animated the crowd of mining industry stakeholders at one conference in the country’s financial district. She’s also the Executive Director of the ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc. espousing key campaigns and programs such as Bantay Bata (Child Watch), Educational Television (ETV), Bantay Kalikasan (Environment Watch), Kapit Bisig Para sa Ilog Pasig (Holding Together for Pasig River), Sagip Kapamilya (Saving Members of the Family), Bayan Foundation (Community Foundation), and Bayan ni Juan (Country of Juan). 

Conchita Carpio-Morales (ombudsman) – she ruled my gallery of Pinay top thinkers last year because of her accomplishments as then associate justice and the first female magistrate to administer the oath of office of the Philippine President. This year, she magnified again power and positive change as the newly-appointed ombudsman of the country. As opinion-maker Conrado de Quiros wrote, her appointment is, “a sea of change from the days of Merceditas Gutierrez where the ombudsman existed to make sure that no venal, corrupt or piratical public official would ever be brought to justice. Or threatened by it.” In an article she herself wrote on ‘Corruption linked to culture of expectations’ – she lamented in writing that, “the incidence of corruption may also be partly attributed to a culture of societal expectations that condition or pressure the minds of professionals like lawyers, doctors, engineers as well as government officials to exhibit a high level of status just to prove or satisfy the societal expectation or depiction of a successful professional or leader.” Instead she elevates public service as a public trust, a duty to society, and she calls for unified and comprehensive reform agenda that can hit the mark in ridding this country of the corrosive element of corruption and rebuilding the foundation of good governance.

Al Haj Murad (moro leader, bearer of peace) – from a hardliner to voice of moderation, according to Maria Ressa’s He was a feared military commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who steered a once ragtag secessionist band of rebels under the shadow of the more ideological and scholarly Hashim Salamat, from whom he inherited the chairmanship of the country’s largest Moro rebel group. Murad was one semester short of finishing his civil engineering course from the Notre Dame of University in Cotabato City when he joined the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1972. According to stories, it is the violence in his Moro homeland that brought Murad into the movement that for years had pushed for separation from the state. Today he seeks to end that violence, giving up his group's call for independence, and playing a key role in ensuring peace to last. On 15 October 2012, he and President Aquino signed a preliminary agreement after 32 formal meetings between the MILF and the government spanning over more than a decade of peace negotiations and the terms of three presidents. Thank you for bringing peace to Mindanao and to our Filipino Muslim brothers!

Alfredo Pascual (university president, banker, educator) – he’s the 20th president of the University of the Philippines – armed with his BS Chemistry cum laude, MBA from UP Diliman, and honoris causa in Doctor of Pedagogy by the Angeles University Foundation in Angeles City. He taught in ivy league institutions such as UP, Ateneo de Manila, and Asian Institute of Management (AIM) before pursuing a career for 19 years as an official at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the biggest financial institution in Asia. With his corporate management and financial banking experiences, under his helm being a seasoned advisor on public-private partnerships in infrastructure, the national university, i.e., UP will soon see major transformations in its landscape with a monorail now being build up;  and changes in its system as a new campus will soon rise at The Fort Global City in Taguig through a signed a memorandum of agreement, with BCDA donating to UP a 4,300-square meter lot, for the UP professional schools which will initially include the College of Law, College of Business Administration, College of Engineering, School of Statistics and the UP Open University. But his real challenge is to revive UP and make it one of Asia's top and best universities as it used to be!

Albert del Rosario (top diplomat) – being the highest paid cabinet member of the Aquino administration, his philanthropic spirit to give away his salary last year did not reap him enough success on how to contain China’s growing clout in the West Philippine Sea. But diplomatically speaking, as the year moved forward he did pretty well  in his job as the top diplomat of the country. He has gone to several battles and stayed buoyant being a successful manager and entrepreneur at the peak of his career in the business community, arming himself with his BS degree in Economics from New York University. Then later, he became the Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary of the Republic of the Philippines to the United States of America. But now as secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, his real challenge is how to solve our issue/s with China and secure our territorial integrity. He is expected to perform conscientiously in his job especially on how he influences the ASEAN countries to bandwagon in our cause, how to safeguard our overseas workers, and discipline his senior and junior diplomats acting like kings and queens, and vacationers or tourists, when they are deployed abroad – spending government’s money for personal pleasures and idiosyncrasy. Most Filipino Foreign service officers and diplomats are so elitists in dealing with OFWs abroad who are working so hard to pump prime our domestic economy! Please discipline your employees!       

UP Law Debate Team (future lawyers and jurists) - this is my first time to give citation to a group of young achievers and intellectuals. A group of six law students from the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law reached the semi-final round of the 2012 Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition held in the United States. In the international rounds, the squad from UP defeated law students from Boston College, Kenya, Japan, Argentina, and Greece before yielding to Moscow State University, which eventually emerged as champions after beating Columbia Law School of New York in the finals. The young intellectuals also had colorful personal backgrounds; some of them are sons of overseas Filipino workers while studying in the premier university in the country. They are considered as the future great thinkers of the legal community that the Philippines expect them to be.  

Wesley So (chess grand master) – he’s the youngest Filipino chess grandmaster, budding to become a super GM. Wesley achieved the GM title at the age of 14 years, 1 month and 28 days, making him the 8th youngest person to achieve the Grandmaster title in the history of chess!  A true epitome of a young genius sportsman. His winning moves in the chess Olympiad are well studied by neophyte chess players like me. According to, his first foray into the international arena was at the 12th International Open held in Nice in 2005, when he scored a creditable 5/7, placing =8th (9th on tiebreak) and adding 35 points to his rating. He finished 2005 at the Singapore International Masters Open, winning the award for the best U12 in the competition and gaining another 37 rating points. In April 2006, he earned his first International Master norm at the powerful 8th Dubai Open. However, news came out recently that there’s a possibility that Wesley might migrate to Canada and the Philippines could lose a potential world champion? 

Henry Sy Jr (retail prince, real estate czar) – he’s the second in command of the Philippines’ richest family. According to, as a management degree holder from De La Salle University, Henry Sy Jr  is responsible for the real estate acquisitions and development activities of SM Land, Inc. and SM Development Corporation which include the identification, evaluation and negotiation for potential sites as well as the input of design ideas. He likewise serves as Vice Chairman of SM Investments Corporation, Vice Chairman and President of SM Land, Inc. and Highlands Prime, Inc., Director of SM Prime Holdings, Inc., BDO Unibank, Inc. and SM Residences Corporation. He is also the President of the National Grid Corporation and Chairman of Pico De Loro Beach and Country Club, Inc. And being the eldest son of the great Henry Sy, he holds various executive positions in other affiliates and subsidiaries. In his portfolio as a business strategist, in 2010 his One Taipan Holding Corp., a privately-held holding company controlled by Sy family, bought out the 30 percent share of Monte Oro Resources controlled by billionaire Enrique Razon, for USD350 million. Along with their ethnic Chinese identity, their prized SMC is also aggressive in retail and property investments in China, the world’s second largest economy and soon to be an economic superpower. 

Luis Antonio Tagle (cardinal) – will he become the first Pinoy pope of the entire powerful Catholic church on earth in the future? Only God knows for sure. But this newly appointed cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI has been educated by the Jesuits and the San Carlos Seminary with a Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D) from the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.  In one of online accounts, he was described as a then bishop known for his humility and simplicity. He’s also known serving the communities going around riding his cheap bike. Being an eligible papal contender, he was also quoted by someone as "a rising star in the Asian Church." Some prophesied him to be as quoted "a striking number of people who know Tagle believe that this is a guy who, one day, could be pope." Thus, in one of his sermons, he summoned his flock by saying that, “having a faith means having a sustained relationship with God and that this faith should transform Catholics’ relationship with other people.”

Janine Tugonon (miss universe 1st runner-up) – well this is showbiz and entertainment at its best for this gallery of thinkers! But mind you, if you’re a judge in a prestigious pageant by means of sheer intellect and poise, or beauty and brains – Janine Tugonon actually nailed it! This licensed pharmacist from UST had the best substantial answer among the contestants, but thanks to a serious and well-thought of question asked, compared to an ordinary query thrown to the winner with her honest and simplistic answer.  But hey, raise the roof to her famed “cobra walk!” I never knew that such cat-walk exists and gracefully executed by a Filipina beau. Another brainy beauty queen, famed for her “tsunami walk”, the UP architecture and board top-notcher Shamcey Supsup became a runner-up in last year’s competition. But all in all, Janine exudes a modern Pinay’s grace under pressure. She’s smart, hip and young, sexy yet confident, plus her smile can captivate a great audience. And that’s beauty and brains! 

Jose Ramon Villarin (university president, theologian, physicist) – a.k.a Fr. Jett among the Society of Jesus (S.J.) congregation and to his students at ADMU. A scientist himself who graduated with BS Physics magna cum laude and as a class valedictorian. Subsequently, he entered the SJ and attended the Loyola School of Theology, where he received a BA degree in Phi in Philosophy and received his Bachelor of Sacred Theology  degree, summa cum laude, in 1985. He then did graduate work in the US, receiving a MS in Physics from Marquette University in 1987, and a Ph.D in Atmospheric Physics from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1997. I met him together with ADMU's former president Fr Bienvenido Nebres, SJ, as hosts in the conference on Culture and Leadership at Rockwell Ateneo. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000 and the Outstanding Book Award for "Disturbing Climate" in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations' Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others. However, he recently made news in headlines of leading newspapers; suffered the ire of academics, columnists and civil society, when he misread a memo to his university community on the vexing issue of the Reproductive Health bill, to wit: Together with our leaders in the Catholic Church, the Ateneo de Manila University does not support the passage of House Bill 4244 (The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Bill).

Thursday, December 20, 2012

There's the Rub: Crisis


Of course we’ve every right to be regally pissed off at China and register our outrage in the most vociferous ways. To say that China’s recent moves have been belligerent is to say that Israel’s threats against Iran, and vice versa, have been belligerent. In recent weeks, those have included, in quick succession, issuing passports that trot out a Chinese map claiming the disputed islands, and threatening to board foreign vessels sailing through the area. In the emotionally charged atmosphere between China and Asean today, that’s as open a provocation as you can get.

The government deserves praise for taking a strong role in rallying Asean into taking China head on, if only diplomatically, which may be the only weapon we have but is a weapon nonetheless. The Philippines and Vietnam have already declared categorically that they will not stamp the passports that carry the modern-day reinvention of the Middle Kingdom. And while the other Asean countries haven’t said anything, they sympathize with it. Except for Cambodia, of course.

Just as well, the Philippines and Vietnam have also declared that they would not be cowed into desisting from sailing in the disputed sea but would stand their ground, or water, amid threats of boarding. While neither country, or both, can confront China militarily, they do not lack for other weapons to make China think twice. This is the age of YouTube and instant communication, neither of which China seems to have discovered, and can make acts of iniquity, as much of heroism, viral within minutes. As China will have rammed home to it if it tries clambering onto what it perceives to be offending vessels.

We have every right to be regally pissed off at China, but we also have every reason to be regally careful in our responses.

One is getting the United States embroiled in the fray. That requires a nuanced approach. Do we need to internationalize China’s belligerence? Yes. Do we need to bring the issue to the attention of the United Nations and the international courts? Yes. Do we need to get the American government to issue statements warning China against its encroachments? Yes. Do we need to remind our neighbors we see ourselves as an American protectorate? No.

The first three are a necessity, the last is an embarrassment. It’s not just Cambodia that has the reputation of being the stooge of a foreign power, it’s us, too. Thus far, we’ve done well standing firm with Asean in insisting on multilateral rather than bilateral talks with China. Thus far, we’ve done well taking a prominent, if not lead, role in pushing an agenda of vital importance to Asean. The point is not just to win the battle, it is to win the war. The point is not just to keep our territory, it is to gain the respect of the neighborhood. Let’s not mess that up.

Two is saber-rattling. No one, of course, has seriously suggested that we confront China militarily. The Defense College itself is clear on it, with Chester Cabalza, one of its professors, saying: “We cannot contain the maritime strength of China because we lack the capability. [Lodging] a diplomatic protest is the most we can do.” But some people have suggested that we need to spend more to improve our defense capabilities. That’s just a variation of the “budget Huks,” which was the practice of using the insurgency to jack up the AFP budget.

That’s crazy. At the very least, it’s so because resources being scarce, and even scarcer in poor countries like ours, if we have to spend more it should be on education and not on defense. Nothing secures a country better than an educated and informed populace. Nothing defends a country better than a people who have a stake in it and are willing to die, “ang mamatay ng dahil sa ’yo,” for it.

At the very most, that’s so because our problem has never been national security, it has always been foreign policy. Our problem has never been defense, it has always been diplomacy. It has never been brawn, it has always been brains. We’ve not lacked for the first, the military has always been pampered lest it throw a tantrum, or mount a coup attempt, which has succeeded only in producing national insecurity. We’ve always lacked for a foreign policy and the diplomatic skills to push it through. In lieu of saber-rattling, we can do with sober thinking.

And lastly, fanning anti-Chinese sentiments. I’ve been looking at the reactions to the stories about China’s belligerent actions, and some of them can make you cringe. They rekindle latent animosity against the Chinese, foreign or local. Arguably not as bad as in other Asean countries—Suharto’s downfall was presaged by anti-Chinese rioting and looting—but deeply disquieting nonetheless. “Dugong Intsik kasi,” says one of them, which is not unlike the sangre de Moro of yore, or the not so very yore.

“Komunistang Intsik,” says another, putting together two groups that have had a history of massacre or pogrom mounted against them. “Lahi ni Limahong,” says still another, conjuring the Chinese’s unsavory piratical past with this country.

You cannot always rein in people’s enthusiasms or wrath, but you have to try where they go overboard. Indeed, where they pose not just physical harm to people but also psychological harm to the nation. There’s a difference between being resolute and being rabid, being passionate and being bigoted, being united and being a lynch mob.

In the end, it’s not the threat itself but how we respond to it that will be the test of our character. How we respond to it can make us fall or rise. How we respond to it can make us shame ourselves or surpass ourselves. How we respond to it can kill us or make us stronger.

Take it from the Chinese: A crisis is also an opportunity. How we respond to it makes it the one or the other.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Row with China a ‘reawakening’ for PH defense


MANILA, Philippines—The escalating conflict in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) has brought some good learning opportunities for the Philippines—from revisiting the country’s defense policies to introducing the public to a weighty concept called “national security,” security experts said.
“Our reawakening always starts with a conflict. We have to thank China because its recent movements and strategies in the West Philippine Sea have made us look at our defense policies anew, said Chester Cabalza, a National Defense College of the Philippines professor.
The Philippines has long been confronted with the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea but has had limited capabilities to address this security issue, Cabalza said.
Moreover, the country has been focusing on an internal armed conflict for decades that external defense, such as the tug-of-war over territories in these waters, has been a secondary preoccupation for the government, he said.
China’s new border patrol policy that would allow its police to board and search ships that “illegally enter” what it considers its territory in the South China Sea “greatly impacts” on the Philippines, Cabalza said.
Relying on words
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has said the Philippines should protest China’s plan while Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, chair of the House committee on national defense, urged President Aquino to convene the National Security Council as “China’s move will definitely escalate tensions in the area.”
The Philippines’ strategy has been to use international legal instruments because “that’s the most we can do,” Cabalza, a fellow at China’s National Defense University, said in a phone interview.
“We cannot contain the maritime strength of China because we lack the capability… We are in a stage of denial, that’s why we are heavy on words. A diplomatic protest is the most we can do,” he added.
As for the United States helping, Cabalza said that while the US has always been the Philippines’ “shield,” the country cannot rely much on the US on this particular issue.
“We can’t get their commitment as our knight in shining armor in this conflict because the US also does not want to risk their economic interest with China,” he said.
Wake-up call
China’s most recent muscle flexing to lay claim to the disputed territories in the South China Sea is, therefore, a “wake-up call” for the Philippines, Cabalza said.
“If there is a crisis, it is high time [we] amend some policies,” he said.
For Dr. Gloria Jumamil-Mercado, dean of the graduate school of the Development Academy of the Philippines who has a doctorate in China Studies, the public should be made aware of the West Philippine Sea territorial dispute in the context of national security.
Mercado, a former senior adviser to the National Security Adviser, said Filipinos understandably focus on more fundamental issues like poverty.
“Who really cares among the country’s 90 million people about what’s happening in the West Philippine Sea? If a person is hungry, he would not care about China,” she said in a phone interview.
“But people have to understand that [the territorial dispute] is a national security issue because it impacts on our territorial integrity and because the economic issues in that area would ultimately impact on the welfare of the people,” Mercado said.