Philippines-China relations

[Newspoint] The three dynasties

Vergel O. Santos

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[Newspoint] The three dynasties

Bongbong Marcos, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Those three dynasties, having much to account for to the nation, have banded together for common protection and shared power

China’s part in the pandemic, as initiator, is not unlike its part in a number of bad turns in Philippine political life. The decided difference is to do with motives. 

While the virus that started the pandemic originated in China, it’s inconceivable that it was deliberately loosed on the world. But the political victimization of the Philippines by China – that could only have gone according to some plot, which could come to fruition through the victory of the Marcos-Duterte-Arroyo axis in the May 2022 elections.

Speaking of the generational planning China is known for, the plot could well have been mounted in the sixties. By then under Mao Zedong’s “paramount” leadership for half a generation, China had begun to expand its geopolitical influence in the region, exporting its variant of communism. It supplanted the Soviet Union’s Marxist sponsorship of the Philippine movement and reoriented it to Maoism.

Proselytizing on the homegrown quality of Maoism and Mao’s revolutionary triumph in China, the local communists made such gains that Ferdinand Marcos used these as his excuse for imposing Martial Law, in 1972, with the backing of the United States, the Philippines’ traditional patron. But, all too soon, they were left in the cold. Taking a cue from the rapprochement between the US and China, Marcos sent his wife, Imelda, on a charm offensive on Mao that led to the establishment of diplomatic relations between their countries the following year, 1975.

After Marcos’ ouster, in 1986, these relations proceeded uneventfully, but for a visit by his democratically elected successor, Cory Aquino, to her forbears’ native village in China’s Fujian province.

In 1991, inspired by a new independence fever, Aquino’s government made the US dismantle its military bases in the Philippines, ending a 99-year accommodation. But a treaty remained in force – it still does – pledging the two nations to come to each other’s defense in case of a foreign invasion. 

The Chinese were in no rush: neither Aquino nor her successor, Fidel Ramos, qualified as the “receptive” host they had in mind. Their opportunity came in the predisposed and abnormally long (2001-2010) presidency of Gloria Arroyo. 

Arroyo stepped up from vice president to serve the three years left of Joseph Estrada’s presidential term after his impeachment and conviction for plunder, and then won her own six-year term – as it happens, by a rigged vote. The Chinese cultivated her – she visited China 10 times in her presidency. But if anything good came out of the relationship, it was overshadowed by a scandal known by the compound initials NBN-ZTE. 

NBN stands for the scandalous project itself: National Broadband Network. That network was to link all Philippine government offices. A Chinese firm formally listed as Zhong Xing Telecommunication Equipment but more known as ZTE was contracted to do it for $329 million (around P16.4 billion). But allegations of bribes amounting to more than a third of the cost ignited a furor, reached the courts, and forced Arroyo to cancel the contract, giving the Supreme Court a reason to dismiss the case.

Arroyo’s successor proved to be another unreceptive president, like his mother. Benigno Aquino III, Cory’s son, was not letting Arroyo or China off so easily. She was sued for plunder and denied bail, as the law provides for anyone indicted for that crime, thus held in detention while on trial. China itself was taken to the International Arbitration Tribunal for a territorial ruling over the West Philippine Sea when it made aggressive proprietary moves in those disputed waters. 

The court upheld the Philippine claim, but when the ruling came, Aquino had just ended his term and been succeeded by Rodrigo Duterte, who puts Arroyo to shame in receptiveness toward the Chinese: he hijacked the ruling and surrendered control over the West Philippine Sea to China in exchange for its patronage. 

But what has the Philippines actually got in the exchange? As a cornered client, loans at onerous rates and supplies of one of the least efficacious yet one of the most expensive vaccines – Sinovac. China, on the other hand, has got a whole sea that is a strategic waterway in itself and all the marine resources and minerals in it, and, for its nationals doing business in the Philippines and working for them, immigration and tax favors, among others. 

Meanwhile, Arroyo has been back in the swim of things. A Supreme Court she had the time to pack during her long reign acquitted her on all charges, although her first grateful words were for Duterte – for “providing the atmosphere” conducive to her acquittal. The Marcoses might well have thanked him for it, too: their murdering, plundering dictator patriarch was given a hero’s burial in the same friendly atmosphere.

Those three dynasties, having much to account for to the nation, have banded together for common protection and shared power. Marcos’ son Ferdinand Jr. is running for president, in tandem with Duterte’s daughter Sara, for vice-president. Limited by the Constitution to a single term as president and possibly also disqualified from running for vice president, because, if elected, he would be first in the line of succession to the presidency, her father is settling for senator. And Gloria Arroyo is running unopposed for her home district’s seat in the House of Representatives. If Duterte and Arroyo win and become the heads of their legislative houses, they will still be second and third, respectively, in the line of presidential succession.

Actually, everyone comes one level down to make way for their paramount leader – Xi Jinping. –

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