West Philippine Sea

[Rappler’s Best] No hell below us

Glenda M. Gloria

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[Rappler’s Best] No hell below us

Nico Villarete/Rappler

‘When powers collide but hide under the cloak of national security, what’s left for citizens to do? Perhaps take it upon themselves to reimagine the world and turn that into reality through collective action?’

Baguio, the summer capital blessed with more pleasant weather than the rest of our boiling cities, felt some sting of heat last Saturday, May 18, from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The President, who’s also the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, addressed 278 cadets at their graduation from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in Fort del Pilar, where he spoke about destabilizers from within and outside the country.

He blasted the Duterte regime without naming it, telling the young lieutenants and their families that the Marcos administration was going through “birth pains – sadly, of opportunism, blatant attempts of destabilization, and last-ditch [efforts] to cling to the rapidly disappearing past.” 

He denounced China, without naming it, for its “blatant disregard of internationally accepted principles and deployment of weapons of mass distraction…[and] who seek to drive a wedge between a united citizenry.”

In his commencement address that lasted a little less than 10 minutes, the President seemed to be saying that the agenda of destabilizers – whether associated with Duterte or China – converged “to divert our attention, dissipate our energy.” 

“But we must be resolute. We must hold on. We cannot turn back,” he told PMA Class 2024 (the “pandemic babies”), whose valedictorian is Jeneth Elumba, the seventh woman to become PMA class valedictorian since the institution started accepting women three decades ago. 

Where is all this coming from?

  • The Marcos government has been spooked by China in its inability to give a coherent response to Chinese officials’ claims that a Navy admiral had entered into a modus vivendi with them over the Ayungin Shoal – with the supposed knowledge of National Security Adviser Eduardo Año and Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro. The hemming and hawing of Philippine officialdom did not help to clarify the extent of truthfulness – or falsehood – of such claims. As Rappler’s security and foreign affairs reporter wrote in this Judgment Call newsletter, the Marcos administration, which has been pushing for its own “transparency initiative,” needs to practice what it preaches.
  • It doesn’t help that the President’s allies have also been spreading chatter about supposed destabilization plots against him yet qualifying that it’s the cops – who have never mounted coups in their lives – that are restive, not the soldiers. 
  • Prior to the President’s PMA speech, Teodoro said that Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, who took a “personal leave” following China’s claims, had been booted out as commanding general of the AFP Western Command, which has jurisdiction over Ayungin Shoal and the West Philippine Sea. Why else would Carlos be removed if not in reaction to China’s “disinformation”?
  • How Cabinet officials addressed what Marcos has described as “weapons of mass distraction” has been disappointing, to say the least. They’ve been put to a test and did not pass the mark that required transparency and accountability.
  • As Rappler’s editorial on May 13 put it, the worst enemy is the enemy within.

When powers collide but hide under the cloak of national security, what’s left for citizens to do? Perhaps take it upon themselves to reimagine the world and turn that into reality through collective action?

  • Watch how Filipinos who have been living in Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea continue to stand their ground despite harassment from Chinese vessels. Senate President Miguel Zubiri and a few other senators paid them a visit on May 16.
  • A civilian mission to Panatag Shoal led by the Atin Ito coalition sailed on May 14 as a fleet of Chinese ships awaited them. 
  • They managed to deliver food and fuel to Filipino fishermen in the area despite being shadowed by at least 46 Chinese vessels
  • It was a “major victory,” the civilian convoy said.

Rappler senior editor Isagani de Castro Jr. makes a case for sea citizenship in his inspiring and thought-provoking piece, John Lennon, the West Philippine Sea, and Atin Ito. He said it is active citizenship, as shown by the Atin Ito coalition, that should help reorganize a new world order in the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea. It can help us begin to imagine a world, where, in John Lennon’s immortal words, there’s no heaven, no hell below us, no countries, and no religion, too. Please find time to read and reflect on it. And let us know your thoughts in the security and global affairs channel on the Rappler app. – Rappler.com

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Glenda M. Gloria

Glenda Gloria co-founded Rappler in July 2011 and is currently its executive editor.