Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in consular cities all over the world attended the June 12 Philippine Independence Day festivities hosted by their local Philippine embassies and consulates. Like them, I too joined in celebrating the founding of our republic 115 years ago. I proudly wore my Barong Tagalog, watched the performance of native dances and songs and listened to speeches praising the determination of our heroes to forge a free and independent republic, the first in all of Asia.
As part of the global celebration, Philippine consuls conveyed the message of President Benigno S. Aquino III who called on his compatriots abroad to “keep the flame of patriotism alive in your hearts as you build and fortify the foundation upon which the nation lies”.
“Overseas celebrations of our independence”, the president’s message read, “demonstrate the unwavering spirit of bayanihan [cooperation] that binds our people. We join you in commemorating the sacrifices of our heroes who fought for the liberties we now enjoy – granting every Filipino the right to pursue what is good and right for himself, his loved ones, and his country.”
The global Independence Day activities included a street parade in Manhattan, trade and tourism promotion fairs in Europe and the Middle East, food festivals in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Denmark, and Apl.de.Ap of The Black Eyed Peas in San Francisco.
The day was so significant that even the Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, issued the following statement: “Today, Canadians of Filipino origin celebrate an important date in the history of their community. It was 115 years ago today that Filipino forces under Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed independence from more than three centuries of Spanish colonial rule, and officially unfurled the Philippine flag for the first time.”
Minister Kenney continued: “This date is marked by Filipinos around the world as the country’s National Day, a celebration of the independent and creative spirit of a great nation. It is a day to commemorate the sacrifices of the national heroes of the Philippines, such as José Rizal and Andrés Bonifacio.”
In all the joyous Independence Day festivities all over the world, Filipinos sang the Philippine National Anthem with all the patriotic fervor they could muster and pledged to resist all invaders who dared to trample our sacred shores (“sa manlulupig, di ka pasisil!”).
The Independence Day celebrations would have been the perfect time to rally the global Filipino community to denounce China’s creeping invasion of the Philippines after seizing Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) and Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) and now setting its sights on acquiring the Ayungin Reef which is part of the Kalayaan Municipality of Palawan.
Unfortunately, the focus of all the consular activities was on what happened 115 years ago in the fight for independence from Spain. Every Filipino can support Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio because they are all safely in the past. No sacrifice is needed. No challenge is required. That would not be the case if Filipinos abroad were asked to support the brave Philippine marines defending the Ayungin Reef from the vastly superior Chinese Navy.
President Benigno Aquino III should have used the opportunity to rally the global Filipino community to support the Philippines In his speech at the official government celebration of Independence Day held at the Liwasang Bonifacio (formerly Plaza Lawton) in Manila, Pres. Aquino braised the China threat when he vowed not to back down from any challenge to Philippine sovereignty and territory in the country’s dispute with China.
He said that the Philippines has not claimed territory that clearly belongs to another country but only asks that “our territory, rights and dignity be respected…Aggression does not run in our veins, but neither will we back down from any challenge,” Aquino said.
At the Philippine Independence Day reception at the Philippine Consulate in New York, Loida Nicolas Lewis, chair of the US Pinoys for Good Governance, informed the press of her group’s plans to protest China’s invasion of the Ayungin Reef at the United Nations in New York on July 24. A protest rally in front of the China Embassy in Makati will also be held on the same date and in cities all over the world.
The protest rally is set for July 24, 2013, Lewis explained, because it is the first anniversary of China’s establishment of the Sansha City garrison state in Woody Island which Beijing vested with military jurisdiction over the 2 million square kilometers of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) including all the territory in the Kalayaan Island Group which is within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines according to the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which China and the Philippines are signatories.
Beijing announced that effective January 1, 2013, Chinese naval ships operating from Sansha will board and seize any vessel found trespassing in its jurisdiction.
It was only a matter of time when those Sansha-based ships would find their way to the Ayungin Reef which is the gateway to the oil and mineral rich Recto Bank which contains 2.5 billion barrels of oil and 25.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the US Energy Information Agency (EIA).
Sure enough, on May 8, 2013, three Chinese naval ships were spotted by Philippine maritime surveillance vessels surrounding Ayungin Reef which is guarded by a Philippine marine detachment on board the BRP Sierra Madre ship that is permanently moored in the Ayungin Reef to protect it.
In the past, China would go to great lengths to deny its aggressive actions in the region. When it took possession of the Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) in 1994, China explained that it was only building temporary shelters for its fishermen. It was the same excuse given in 2012 when China occupied Panatag Shoal ( Scarborough Shoal). But no excuses are offered for seizing Ayungin Reef.
In a TV interview in Beijing, Major Gen. Zhang Zhaozhong of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) announced the PLA strategy to set up a blockade to prevent the Philippine marines stationed at Ayungin Reef from receiving fresh supplies. “Only a few troopers are able to station there,” he said, “but there is no food or even drinking water there. If we carry out the ‘cabbage’ strategy, they will not be able to send food and drinking water onto the islands. Without the supply for one or two weeks, the troopers stationed there will leave the islands on their own. Once they have left, they will never be able to come back.”
According to Navy Rear Adml. (ret.) Vicente Agdamag, Deputy Director General of the National Security Council Secretariat, there are at least 18 Chinese maritime surveillance ships operating within Philippine territorial waters. Agdamag reported that last March, China conducted eight-day military drills in the Kalayaan Islands Group (KIGs), involving one destroyer, two frigates, an amphibious ship, a hover craft shipboard helicopters, amphibious tanks and land-based fighters.
China believes that its show of massive military force will dissuade the Philippine government from engaging in any conflict that may involve loss of life. They point to what China did in 1988 when it massacred 88 Vietnamese Navy sailors who sought to defend a Vietnamese reef claimed by China. It is China’s calculation that the Philippines will back down and leave the Ayungin Reef to China which is already set to rope it and build structures on it.
But Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has already announced that the Philippines will not leave Ayungin and will defend it to the “last soldier standing”. A military conflict with China may happen when a Philippine Navy ship seeking to bring men and supplies to the Sierra Madre marine base off Ayungin is prevented from doing so by a Chinese naval blockade.
In the meantime, five US senators filed Resolution 167 on June 10 to condemn Chinese incursions in the Asia-Pacific waters and seeks the US Senate’s condemnation of “the use of coercion, threats, or force… to assert disputed maritime or territorial claims or alter the status quo” and “strongly urges that all parties… to exercise self-restraint” in undertaking their respective activities within the waters.”
The US Pinoys for Good Governance is calling on Filipinos all over the Philippines, all over the United States, and all over the world to actively participate in condemning China’s creeping invasion of the Philippines. Boycott goods made in China. Join the rallies and town hall meetings scheduled in your country or city. If there isn’t any activity scheduled yet, take the initiative and organize one. Log on to USPGG.org.
The heroes of yesterday are calling on you to be the heroes of today. When you sing the Philippine national anthem, you are making a pledge to defend the Philippines from all invaders (mga manlulupig). Please fulfill your pledge to your country.
(Send comments to Rodel50@gmail.com or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).