The problem with loyalty oaths

Caroline Hau
Has anyone imagined the logistical nightmare of translating a call for action of Filipino-Chinese communities into actual policy?

 National Artist F. Sionil Jose and Inquirer columnist Jose Ma. Montelibano want Chinese Filipinos to publicly declare their loyalty to their home country, the Philippines.

Writes Jose: “What I ask of our ethnic Chinese who are Filipino citizens is simplicity itself: In a war with China, will you be on our side? The unequivocal answer is either yes or no. Any evasive answer is, of course, a rationalization of disloyalty. If you say you are with us, how wonderful! How reassuring! Then go shout it from the rooftops…Otherwise, leave this country which has made you comfortable, and go to China which you so love, and stay there.”

Montelibano concurs: “It might be a good move if Filipino-Chinese communities and organizations make overt public expressions of their loyalty. That way, if and when we have to deal with Filipino traitors, we will not be distracted.”

“Simplicity itself”? It may all sound very reasonable to the war-mongering ilk among the chattering classes and Internet-surfing armchair commandos. But they obviously haven’t given much thought to the logistical problems of translating such call for action into actual policy.

The following are just some of the logistical challenges:

1. How does one go about shouting from the rooftops? Should our Chinese-Filipino students be required to recite the Panatang Makabayan (“War with China” version 2.0, “Scarborough Shoal”) during the flag-raising ceremony in school every day? Maybe employees of companies can take the pledge in front of their bosses, but what about the self-employed? Or does one have to take out an expensive paid advertisement in the newspapers, just like when applying for Philippine citizenship? If the Can’t-Afford opt for the cheapest path of literally shouting from the rooftops, the problem is: who is listening and who is keeping track?

2. Swearing or signing loyalty oaths won’t solve the problem of loyalty. In fact, it only raises a more ominous set of doubts: are these public expressions of loyalty “really sincere” or they just the ruse of cynical opportunists? Are these Filipinos-Who-Are-Not-Filipinos-Because-They-are-Chinese declaring their loyalty to save themselves and their families, protect their livelihood or business, and remain in the Philippines? The same suspicion of intention or motives used to dog the Chinese whenever they married Filipinos or applied for Philippine citizenship.

3. Unlike Jose, who confines himself to questioning the loyalty of the ethnic Chinese, Montelibano at least shows token concern with going after the “Filipino traitors” in our midst. But securing loyalty oaths from the entire Philippine population through their “communities and organizations” (which still leaves out the majority of individuals without any institutional affiliation) will be a logistical nightmare, and it won’t solve problem no. 2. I’d very much like to see Montelibano demand this oath of allegiance from the Bangsamoro.

4. Ferreting out the secrets of the heart and treasonous behavior would necessitate the establishment of an institution with extraordinary powers to monitor, regulate, and punish the actions of not just the “ethnic Chinese,” but the entire Filipino population. Something like a Secret Police, or what in Nazi Germany was called the Gestapo. Can the Philippine state set up a properly functioning Secret Police when it cannot even collect taxes efficiently?

5. What if people still refuse to cooperate? Would the Philippine Gestapo (“SiP-SiP” for short) be granted the license to compel allegiance and extract “confessions” to treason under psychological and physical torture?

6. Jose thinks it’s a simple issue of the “disloyal Chinese” going back to China, but even this costs money. Would the Philippine government care to handle the cost of mass deportation? And what if the mainland Chinese state – which might entertain similar paranoid suspicions of the Chinese Filipinos as “disloyal Chinese” spying for the Philippine government – refuses to accept these “Chinese”, especially those who carry Philippine passports?

7. Running prison camps to incarcerate “disloyal” Chinese and Filipinos along the lines of the American Department of Justice and Army internment camps for Japanese-, German-, and Italian-Americans, or Nazi Germany’s concentration camps costs money, too.  Where will the Philippine state obtain the budget for this?

8. Would Jose and Montelibano like to volunteer themselves to head this putative Philippine Secret Police, or at least its Concentration Camps Inspectorate division? Questions of qualification (of which they have none for this sort of job) aside, these two appointed officials must render themselves accountable for any abuse of office or power that results in innocent people being persecuted on the basis of insufficient evidence, unfounded suspicion, and outright racial prejudice.

I wonder whether these two wordsmiths have given any serious thought to what they have been saying in print and to the consequences of their words. –

Carol Hau is professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University. She wrote ‘The Chinese Question: Ethnicity, Nation and Region in and beyond the Philippines’ and is co-editor of ‘Querida: An Anthology.’