We have been surprised, like the rest of the world, when our government decided to hit China by putting up its nine-dash sea border up for “international arbitration”, meaning that it petitioned the UN to rule if China’s claimed sea border is lawful or not, under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
We thought we could not do better than whine at the Chinese from our makeshift Navy boats.
So, the Foreign Office, with prodding from the President, has 1) followed Vietnam’s lead in providing a separate visa sheet for holders of that new Chinese passport, 2) bought “new” old ships from the United States, 3) held talks with the Japanese regarding, among other things, Filipino support for Japanese rearmament, and 4) done this. I had friends cheering the initiative on Facebook. For me also, it is a pleasant surprise. And I was gratified when the Strait’s Times’ William Choong picked up the story and gave his commentary on it.
Aside from the usual tirades regarding China, Filipino-Chinese (now we’re trying to be a bad copy of pre-Suharto Indonesia and bumiputral Malaysia), and the magnates Henry Sy and Lucio Tan, very little is in the public discourse on Chinese-Philippine relations. It is convenient to forget that Overseas Chinese, or Huaqiao, in general do not support the Communist government’s ideology. Being pragmatic observers, however, they still do business with China, their homeland, because it is their homeland, no matter if this home is painted red or blue. This is what the Filipino “nationalists” have been howling over.
It is also convenient to forget that the Filipino-Chinese played a great role in Philippine history. These immigrants who came to the Philippines were not rich people. They became rich because they took the opportunity to become rich. The Filipino “nationalists” are quick to pounce on their success because – and this is also convenient to forget – they see these upstarts as rivals, challenging their domination of the archipelago.
It is not hidden from us that those who are powerful in this country are descendants of the principalia, the old ruling classes, with possibly some Spanish blend, and some pure-Spaniard families. That much is still okay – but can we please stop being hypocrites and refrain from casting the situation as “Chinese v. Filipino” when it is actually “rich Chinese v. principalia”? Some of the “nationalists” are in fact scions of the principalia.
I am pointing this out; because, where it really matters – where the middle-class, the working-class and the poor live and work – the people do not care about Chinese “domination” of the market and the economic infrastructure. Jollibee stores (of Tony Tan Caktiong’s group) are, to give one shining example, a popular rallying factor with Filipinos abroad. The Limketkai chain of malls in the South is seen as definitely Mindanaoan. Even the Chinese New Year hongbao tradition has been applied with much success by McDonalds in the Philippines.
The Chekwa have captured the imagination and the admiration of the Filipino people, which is the main reason why Kim Chiu and others like her have been very much in demand. They blend in with us, and we with them – except for the rich Chinese in Manila, who maintain a strict anti-miscegenation code and as little involvement with the corrupt Philippine government as possible – the last, we understand why.
The point I’m trying to make is this: any consideration of Chinese-Philippine relations must include the valuable contribution of the Chinese to (whatever is still left of) Philippine culture, and the fact that the Chinese in the Philippines are deeply ingrained in the Philippine consciousness and culture. We are dealing with a belligerent People’s Republic of China, but we have as unofficial allies 1) Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, 2) our Filipino-Chinese compatriots, and 3) the rest of the Chinese in the free world, eager to open their own motherland to democracy, freedom, and unification.
Let us not turn this into an ethnic war, shall we?