The Chinese military general and philosopher Sun Tzu once said, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Indeed war brings out casualties from both sides of the divide and one may argue that in warfare, there is no real victor. But if one was to overcome his adversaries without firing a single salvo or before striking the first shot, that requires what Sun Tzu calls, “supreme excellence”.
Sun Tzu’s philosophy is inscribed in “The Art of War”, a book which has molded the military policies of China and several other Asian countries. To put this into context, it is exactly what might eventually lead to the Philippines’ defeat in its’ territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea.
When the top diplomat is ineffective, the head of state unable to fortify his nation’s interests and a senator seemingly wanting to enforce his own beliefs that contradicts foreign policy you realize that you are divided. This is exactly the case in the ongoing dispute in the Scarborough Shoal between the Philippines and China; Juan Ponce Enrile, the nation’s third highest official and the head of the Senate, exposed his colleague Antonio Trillanes’ role as a backchannel negotiator in the talks between the Chinese and the Philippine governments.
In a meeting with then Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady, Trillanes revealed the full extent of his dealings with the Communist government. Reading Brady’s notes, Enrile disclosed that Trillanes told the Chinese government that the “Filipino people are not interested in the Panatag Shoal (or Scarborough Shoal) anymore” and that the “United States have pulled out of their alliance with the Philippines” on the matter. The young senator, who is infamous for leading several failed coup attempts against the government of Gloria Arroyo, presented a more peaceful stance to the Chinese government which although diplomatic, is a contrast to the stand of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Almost instantly, the term “traitor” comes into mind and this was vehemently used by the Senate President in referring to Trillanes. Before we start pointing fingers and jumping into the bandwagon, let us first ask: why, among all the top brass in the Philippine executive branch, was Trillanes the one carrying out backchannel talks? The answer transforms the situation into an even more confusing scenario.
Senator Trillanes was acting under orders from the President himself, the same person who claims to be behind DFA secretary del Rosario. If Trillanes held a fragile stand on the Philippines’ claim on Scarborough and Albert del Rosario held a firm stance on the issue, which side is the President really on? If President Aquino still has faith on Secretary del Rosario as he says he does why would he appoint another negotiator to backchannel? A backchannel negotiator is a privilege given to a selected few, but whoever may be given this task should work for the best interests of his country. It does not seem to be what Senator Trillanes is doing however.
The young senator is justifying himself by stating that an armed confrontation in the West Philippine Sea would have occurred if he had not stepped in. While his actions may be commendable for diffusing the tensions, it projects the country as a pushover and one that cannot protect its’ own territory. Not to mention, why would he disclose the country’s political frailties to the enemy? Diplomacy is similar to poker, you cannot reveal your weak points to the enemy. Senator Trillanes on the other hand, is effectively showing his cards to the whole table. Following the tirade at the Senate and the revelations made by Senator Enrile, fears came about of a possible espionage operation by the Chinese on the Philippines. Why would China need spies when government officials themselves declassify information?
In the course of a war, unity can be one of the most important weapons one should have. That word is seemingly forgotten in the Philippine vocabulary, unfortunately. In a country where people are divided even as to which sport should be king, the chances we have of putting a united front against an enemy that thrived on solidarity are comical. How will the United Nations believe we deserve to control the Scarborough Shoal or even the Spratly Islands we claim when we can barely administer the territory we already have sovereignty to? If diplomatic wars were like team sports, the senators we have are bad team players.
Once again the Philippines becomes the laughing stock of the international community, the only country where the people tasked to secure its’ people’s interests put their own interests first. The scandal does not make our claims any easier, and senators calling each other ‘traitors’ and ‘cowards’ are not good for our country’s image at all. At a time when a foreign power is claiming what is ours, we need to stand united as a people behind the government who should fulfill their roles as leaders in order to have a fighting chance at least.
It is no secret our leaders need to get their acts straight, for this whole episode is turning more-like a cheap comedy rather than a never-ending drama. And no one is laughing louder than China, and perhaps Sun Tzu himself from the grave.