West Philippine Sea

[OPINION] Ayungin and why PH should respond as one team, one nation

Rommel Jude G. Ong

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[OPINION] Ayungin and why PH should respond as one team, one nation
The government should also quietly exact accountability for the mission’s failure. It cannot be a free pass.

The BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal is the symbol of our commitment to defend our sovereignty and protect our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). On the downside, our approach to it also reflects the lack of coherence in the government’s strategy in the face of Beijing’s coercive tactics at sea. On the upside, it reflects the “do or die” attitude of Filipinos in fighting for what they believe is right – despite the challenges they face. 

June 17, 2024 will serve as the defining moment for Filipinos. The attack of the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) against the Philippine Navy’s Special Operations Group is not simply about the disruption of a resupply mission nor a blatant disregard for basic rules governing state forces. One sailor suffered the loss of one finger, but the nation suffered an injury that runs further deep. 

The response of netizens during the press conference conducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was indicative of the collective outrage of the general public, first against China, and second , against the military as well.

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China’s actions were deliberate.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was prepared to incur major reputational cost before the international community for their act of barbarism during the incident. It seems they have adopted the tactics employed in the ongoing India-China border conflict, which involved the use of blunt and sharp objects as melee weapons. The question, is why take the risk?

The answer can be any or all following: (a) create an incident abroad to distract its citizens from its domestic concerns; (b) test the PH-US military alliance and show that the Americans are an unreliable ally considering that they have not responded to the escalation beyond the usual statement of support; (c) strike fear and enforce discipline among the other ASEAN member states by showing the consequences if their government follows a similar policy to Manila, and; (d) compel the Philippine government to accept its terms in the ongoing conflict in the WPS, which is nothing less than acquiescence to CCP hegemony and the role of a vassal state in Xi Jinping’s middle kingdom.  

But more than this, the June 17 incident was an attack on the Filipino’s will to fight. It was designed to divide the Filipino nation and its institutions. Instead of fighting against Beijing’s coercive actions at sea, the incident is now perceived as between its rank and file and their senior leaders, one agency against the other, one government official against another. 

The public could end up losing the trust and confidence in the military. Fishefolks might be afraid to go to sea for fear of suffering a similar treatment as our sailors. Trolls would have a field day sowing their “anti-war narrative” in the arena of public opinion. Against this backdrop, China remains steadfast in its belief that we have violated their territory, and that the Chinese Coast Guard has been professional in their actions. 

Don’t glorify ‘victimhood’

How do we move forward? At the outset, let us not glorify victimhood in our narrative. There are no second chances in the great game of geopolitics for the proverbial “api.” Giving a medal to the injured sailor and exposing him to the media was a mistake. 

The faux honors do not erase the taint of bitterness over the outcome of the incident, nor appease the outrage for the failure to accomplish the mission. Instead, we honor the special operations team for their steadfastness and discipline, and for complying with the given “rules of engagement” despite the adverse situation they found themselves in. We should also quietly exact accountability for the mission’s failure. It cannot be a free pass; doing so will only divide the rank and file and weaken the state of discipline within the military organization. 

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This crisis should be turned into an opportunity.

We have postponed the replacement of the  BRP Sierra Madre for years, for fear of escalating tension at Ayungin Shoal. Now is the time to either construct a concrete facility or deploy a self-propelled oil platform inside the shoal as a permanent station for our troops; which should be far superior in terms of habitability, self-defense, and supportability. If completed, some of the Navy’s missile boats can be redeployed to secure  the shoal, instead of languishing in Mindanao and conducting anti-smuggling operations. 

But the more important undertaking is breaking the wall that divides the various agencies and its key policymakers involved in the defense and protection of the WPS.

There should be no agency or government official that is more superior or more righteous than the other. With the discord among agencies, we do not expect a coherent and well-laid out, and unifying strategy. If these state of affairs still prevails after the June 17 incident, the Filipinos might lose trust in its institutions, only China wins. A divided nation will not have the will and strength to confront a regional hegemon alone. As the late President Fidel V Ramos would often say as his battle cry, there is only one team, and that is Team Philippines. – Rappler.com

Retired Rear Admiral Rommel Jude Ong was formerly vice commander of the Philippine Navy.

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  1. ET

    We have long been a divided nation, starting from the time of Spanish colonialism, the Philippine-American War, and subsequent American colonialism, up to the present under our very own Republican Government. In this digital age, the influence of Big Tech and the use of disinformation by corrupt politicians have worsened our disunity. It seems we may never be united as one nation. Additionally, President Marcos Jr. will likely be unable to unite all of us, so we must approach the Ayungin Shoal and related issues as a divided nation.

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