By Perry Diaz
After surviving the biggest threat — the Angelo de la Cruz kidnapping — to the stability of her presidency, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) made a bold move by visiting China. Chinese President Hu Jintao rolled out the red carpet for GMA’s state visit.
A total of five bilateral “agreements of cooperation” were signed covering tourism, energy, fisheries, trade and investments. China and the Philippines agreed to conduct a “seismic study” of potential petroleum reserves in the South China Sea which included the Spratly Islands, a small group of islands claimed by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei. Included in the deal were financing of several major infrastructure projects. And, according to Philippine Communications Director Silvestre Afable, Jr., “the two countries agreed to cooperate on defense and security by sharing intelligence and technology.” It was not clear if “sharing intelligence and technology” was covered by an “agreement of cooperation” or, simply, by a good-faith handshake between the two leaders, the mechanism of which would be worked out by their respective resident spies, oops, I mean diplomatic attaches.
What was in GMA’s mind when she thought of paying her giant neighbor a visit? It’s like a kitten entering the tiger’s den and extending her cute little paws as a friendly gesture. Evidently, it worked. GMA left a good impression upon President Jintao and took the bacon home.
Is the Philippines ready to embrace it’s erstwhile ideological adversary by opening its doors to trade, tourism, investments and “sharing intelligence and technology” with China? Let’s look at some historical trivia.
Long before Ferdinand Magellan “discovered” the Philippines in 1521, the inhabitants of the 7,100 islands in the archipelago had been trading with their neighbors: Chinese, Japanese, Malays, and Sumatrans. Actually, for 2,000 years preceding Magellan’s historic “discovery,” the archipelago was already the major crossroad in the East.
During the reign of Emperor Yung Lo of China (1402 to 1424), he claimed the island of Luzon and placed it under his empire. The biggest settlement of Chinese was in Lingayen, now the capital of Pangasinan. Lingayen also became the seat of the Chinese colonial government in Luzon. When Yung Lo died, the Chinese colonial government was dissolved. However, the Chinese settlers in Lingayen remained and prospered. Most of them hispanized their names during the Spanish era. In 1828, Spain decreed that the Chinese in the Philippines may form their own local government. Thus, Lingayen — with its large Chinese community — had two municipal governments: one for the natives, or “indios,” and one for the Chinese, or “sangley.”
According to a recent article in the Manila Times by Restituto Basa, Philippine National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal’s roots came from the sangley community in Lingayen. One of the sangley’s leaders was a lawyer named Don Manuel Facundo de Quitos. He became a “gobernadorcillo” of the sangley. Don Manuel married Regina Ursua from a Southern Tagalog province and they had a daughter Brigida de Quintos. Brigida married Lorenzo Alberto Alonso and they had a daughter Teodora de Quintos Alonso. Teodora Alonso married Francisco Rizal Mercado. These were the parents of Jose Rizal Mercado. Rizal was not only a Pinoy, he was also a Chinoy!
With a long historical link between the Philippines and China, it is no surprise that Chinese influence in the Philippines has remained strong even after the Communist takeover of China and the expulsion of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek and his Kuomintang to Taiwan. The Cold War that ensued had placed the Philippines squarely behind the United States. The Philippines’ foreign policy had always been patterned after the US foreign policy. In the United Nations, the Philippines echoed the US positions. Whenever the US went to war — World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian War, and Iraq War — the Philippines sent a Filipino contingent to fight alongside their American allies. Every Philippine president was considered pro-American. From the turn of the last century — a span of more than 100 years — the Philippines had always stayed within the protective shadow of the United States. By doing so, the United States has considered its relationship with the Philippines as “very special.”
But just like a “Very Special” Napoleon Cognac, a 100-year-old “very special” relationship could turn sour if not handled properly. The Angelo de la Cruz affair had severed the umbilical cord that has kept the Philippines a de facto colony — economically, militarily, and politically — of the United States . The Filipino-American community was divided to its core. However, the Filipino people stood behind GMA during the loneliest period of her presidency — a military coup ready to unseat GMA if Angelo was beheaded by his Iraqi captors. One citizen’s life for the president’s political life. GMA, in her boldest decision, brought Angelo home — alive. The “coalition of the willing” protested the decision of GMA to pull out the Philippine troops in Iraq in exchange for the release of the kidnapped Angelo de la Cruz. The Philippines was no longer part of the “coalition of the willing.” And GMA became a pariah in the free world until… her state visit to China.
Upon her return to the Philippines, she reported that China was willing to help the Philippines with military aid to fight terrorism. For the first time since the communists took over mainland China, there is now a window of opportunity for cooperation between the Philippines and China. The question that lingers in people’s mind is: Can China — with its communist regime — be trusted?
On September 19, President Jintao took over, peacefully, the most powerful position of Chairman of the Central Military Commission from retiring Jiang Zemin. It was the first orderly transfer of power in modern China. How long will the Philippines-China friendship last? How would it affect the Philippines’ “very special” relationship with the United States? What would the United States do?
Like any new relationship, there are more questions than answers. However, if the Chinese and the Philippine governments would respect the sovereignty of each country, then the opportunities for mutual progress is limitless. This could also be the beginning of real peace in the region. And the United States should be happy that its protégé has finally come of age.