I will be in Manila Polo Club tomorrow to attend an international forum on the West Philippine Sea sponsored by the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation and the Singapore-based Institute of South East Asian Studies. There will be 23 notable former officials and authorities from academe speaking from ASEAN countries, China, Australia, India , North America, and Europe.
Tensions between claimants to the potentially oil-rich waters and land features of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), where also a quarter of the world’s shipping passes, has risen to potentially dangerous levels with incidents involving China, the Philippines and Vietnam in recent months. All claimants agree that the disputes should be resolved through peaceful means, including dialogue, although progress has been slow.
The international forum intends to provide an avenue for Track II discussions, in which non-officials (scholars, retired civil and military officials, public figures, and civil society) can engage in dialogue, discussing ideas and solutions that might not be possible in formal negotiations presently, but that could, over time, inﬂuence official thinking and, ultimately, policy. The international forum will help more clearly define the South China Sea issue in its totality, with all concerned participating and with the goal of identifying common interests. The hope is that this will help governments in conducting their official dialogues with one another.
On October 16, there will be a closed-door session labeled “Informal Session: Scene Setting”. “Chatham House Rules” will apply: participants are free to use the information received but neither the identity nor affiliation of the speaker, nor that of any other participant, may be revealed. The chairman of this session will be former Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro.
The forum chairman on October 17 will be former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Domingo L. Siazon, Jr. Opening speakers will be Chen Shiqui, Frank Wisner, and a third speaker who has been invited but not yet confirmed. Chen is Professor at China Foreign Affairs University and at Xi’an Jiaotong University. He was a former Director-General of Treaties and Law at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a former Ambassador to Indonesia and to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Vienna. Wisner is currently international affairs advisor of Patton Boggs LLP, a former American ambassador to the Philippines, India and Egypt, and a former undersecretary of defense and undersecretary of state. In the private sector he was previously a vice-chairman of AIG.
During the October 17 Forum (by invitation only) , there will be three sessions. Session One will be “Issues” chaired by former ASEAN Secretary General Rodolfo Severino and currently Head of the ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS. Session Two will be “Claims and Interests” chaired by former Philippine Ambassador to China Romualdo Ong. Session Three will be “Towards Peace and Prosperity in the South China Sea: Pathways for Regional Cooperation”. The session chair will be Dato Timothy Ong of Brunei Darussalam, who is Chairman of Asia Inc. Forum and former Acting Chair of the Brunei Economic Development Board.
I often visit the Philippines since I moved to China to be with my beloved better half who is a Mainlander. And whenever I am here on my hometown, I cannot help but notice and be appalled with the great inequality in Philippine society. My better half who have learned to love my country have confided to me her observation.
My better half felt depressed to see the face of poverty and huge gap between the haves and the have-nots in the capital city. Street children and elders knocking on car windows begging for “limos”, food, and money while articulate and English-speaking Filipino youngsters are partying hard in Eastwood; commuters in Ortigas doing a “sabit” in colorful jeepneys while some folks are comfortably sitting inside their air-conditioned SUVs; and people living in flashy bungalows and mansions in Forbes Park and the folks living in “barong-barongs” along PNR tracks and Pasig River. For her, the wide gap between the haves and the have-nots is so evident and poverty is rife in a country blessed with natural resources and talented people. I absolutely concur with her.
It is a sad sight to see and an embarrassing one at that. Nasaan na ang galing at pakikipagkapwa-tao ng mga Pilipino? Hanggang yabang sa salita at dunong at porma lang ba talaga tayo? Whatever happened to our ability to build communities, in nation-building? Shall we wait before the have-nots in our society rise-up and step-up in (violent) ways we have not yet seen? We all have seen the anarchy in the so-called EDSA 3 and we have all seen what an angry and frustrated mob can do. In modern history, we have also learned how tyrants and dictators can easily manipulate such kind of populace.
I’ve been to major cities and have been deep to the rural communities in my better half’s country, but to tell you honestly, I’ve never seen a poor poorer than my countrymen. Yes, there are poor people in China but I’ve never seen bare-footed and malnourished homeless kids and hapless elderly folks. Yes, there are poor families there but they can somehow manage to have a very humble home and eke out a decent living. There is hope, there is striving, there’s the will to go on with life. Such a sharp contrast with the families I have visited and helped in Baseco, Tondo and in provinces in Luzon.
As I become older, acquaintances, friends, and relatives who welcome back me home are not anymore concerned about “pasalubong” and chocolates. They want to know if I know someone, somewhere who can give them jobs and make use of their education, talent, and sheer physical strength. “Kahit anong trabaho basta marangal at disente at may kaunting kita”. I know how it feels. I’ve been there before.
Bottom line is my people needs education, peace and order, and most importantly jobs that will give them dignity and a chance, an opportunity to prove to themselves and to their families that they are not just good-for-nothing “tambays” and soldiers of fortune.
Robert H. Frank in his book, Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class, wrote “When societies become more and more unequal, they become less healthy, less happy, less productive, less capable of producing innovation, more volatile, more prone to crime, and so on.” Does this observation rings true in our country? I bet you’ll agree.
My central African and central Asian friends would tell me that the situation in their respective countries are more alarming and depressing than that of the Philippines.Well, it’s a good consolation but I would never, never be satisfied with the current state of affairs in the Philippines. There’s so much that this country can reach and achieve if we only look above and beyond our current challenges and problems. Only fools would say that there’s no joy and no hope in these God blessed beautiful 7,000 tropical islands! Only cowards can turn its back from our great countrymen who have sacrificed their very lives for our one and only country!
Call it obsession, but I am obsessed with the same obsession that had engulfed legendary Asian leaders like Mutsuhito Meiji, Deng Xioping, Lee Kwan Yew, Mahathir Muhammad, Chiang Ching Kuo, and Park Chung-hee into seeing their respective nations move from backward and weak countries into strong and progressive nation-states.
I may not even be elected as a “barangay kagawad” but as for me, I’ve made up my mind, I would continue on with my humble yet consistent contribution in nation-building, I would continue on believing and working until the day of this nation’s redemption. My faith rests in the capacity of the Filipinos to build a great, prosperous, and progressive nation. A blessed nation that my children can proudly call their own.
Image credit: AFP