2016 Resolution: Before you spend, think about the Spratlys
I spent some holiday time with the people I call the 2nd generation Filipinos. They are the ones who arrived in the mid-‘90s after long waits in the Philippines for the call up to the bigs. To America.
Now nearly 20 years here, they are bigger, fatter citizens of the United States of Cholesterol.
That’s what happens when you go from home-cooked bitter melon to fast food. The kids were beefier and hip-hoppier.
The parents were happier, much more prosperous than they would have been in the RP. Still, they were headed back “home” for a balikbayan visit next month.
“Of course,” my manang said. She said the fares were higher, but she wasn’t about to take a low-fare offered by some Chinese airline, she wasn’t sure about.
“Better to keep those dollars in the Philippines,” she said. “Remember the Spratlys.”
This week, a number of Filipino protesters made a pilgrimage to Pag-asa Island, also known as Thitu, with the hopes that Filipinos, and everyone else around the world, don’t forget the Spratlys.
Here in the U.S. it’s too easy to do that. The news of China creep, the slow, gradual development of China on the islands the Philippines calls its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), has been reported sporadically in American mainstream media.
But it’s happening.
The dispute is simple. China says it owns all of the South China Sea. Why not? The area has huge deposits of oil and gas, and there’s an estimated $5 trillion in ship trade year round.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. They’re all usually treated like flies bothering the big cow of the sea, China.
But this week, the visit by the students got the Chinese Foreign Ministry to swing its tail in an effort to shoo-off any impact from the protest.
“We once again urge the Philippines to withdraw all its personnel and facilities from the islands that it is illegally occupying, refrain from actions that are detrimental to regional peace and stability and not conducive to Sino-Philippines relations,” spokesman Lu Kang said.
The protesters, however, called their pilgrimage a “patriotic voyage” and set out to camp for three days in an act of defiance.
The Philippines had tried to quiet such public displays preferring the silence of its sense of diplomacy. But it’s often not clear how strong the Philippines really is.
At times, diplomacy looks just a few shades light of capitulation.
So every now and then, these spontaneous shows of pride are a good thing. People pride. Both the Chinese and the Philippine governments need to see that.
People care about those dots on the map.
The Spratlys have to mean something to us all, if officials with power are to act in the most effective way.
I used to avoid thinking about the Spratlys, being here in the U.S.
But these days, with the complicated relationships between the U.S. and China, the U.S. and the Philippines, and the Philippines and China, there’s no way to avoid it.
If the Philippines loses on this issue, it loses a lot more than the Spratlys.
So what can you do?
You may not think your voice matters, but your dollars can talk for you.
It’s even different from buying a Chinese made product in the U.S. One can argue the product’s markup is really benefitting all the middlemen in the U.S. and not impacting China that much.
Something like an airline flight is a direct infusion of cash to the Chinese. When my cousin took PAL over the Chinese airline, that was her way of staying true, punishing China and showing support for her ancestral home.
She’s not one to get to Pag-asa for a week of protests. Few of us can even make it to the Chinese Embassy in San Francisco to hold a sign and shout through a bullhorn.
But we can think of Pag-asa, and the other Philippine claims in the Spratlys, any time we take out our wallet or buy a ticket to Asia.
When I heard my relative my Manang Baby mention the Spratlys, it made perfect sense.
It’s not a revolution, but for 2016, it could be your resolution.
Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator. Contact him: www.amok.com
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