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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The huge crowd at recent CNN Philippines debates could not hide its resentment toward Chinese intrusions and show of force---and the feeling that Duterte administration is selling PH to China. The President should mollify this widespread fear and resentment with concrete steps.

A rally in Batangas follows the appearance of a Chinese dredging ship.


In the CNN-sponsored debates held at the cavernous UST Quadricentennial Hall last week, one thing that became quite obvious to many people there was the increasingly strong anti-Chinese sentiment among our people. I noted this in the way the vast audience would applaud loudly as some candidates would express strong feelings against recent developments between our two peoples. In fact, the candidates who got the rowdiest cheers were those who articulated nationalistic sentiments vs. the Chinese.

This is lamentable, as our two peoples have been dealing with each other over many centuries and have mutually benefited from the relationship, e.g., trade in goods and services, people-to-people exchange, inter-marriages among our two peoples, etc.

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In fact, many Filipinos, including some of the most prominent business families here, have descended from Chinese ancestors and while the local Chinese have generally been affluent, due to hard work and ingenuity, they have also integrated well into our national life.

Among the prominent Chinese-descended political clans are the OsmeƱas and the Gatchalians. In the business community, there are the Sys (reported to be the richest clan in the country), Ramon Ang, John Gokongwei, Lucio Tan, Lucio Co, etc. Nobody has ever doubted that these taipans have their hearts anchored to this country and its future and welfare.

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But recent developments seem to begin to bear out the alienation of many Pinoys from dealings with the Chinese in recent months, and President Duterte would be well-advised to take note of this development seriously. In reference to the President's pivot to China in the past two years, there's a prevailing sense that this is being overdone, to the point of compromising even national welfare and security.  Some even deplore that he is selling out our country to the Chinese. 

It might have begun with Mr. Duterte's decision to ignore the hard-fought victory of the Philippines in the International Arbitration Court in The Hague in July 2016, which declared the West Philippine Sea our unquestionable domain. Because this decision was ignored by this administration, the harassing of Filipino fishermen in those waters by Chinese elements became bolder, so that Chinese ships would menacingly surround our small fishermen.

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Then came what seems to Filipinos the massive "invasion" of our country by Chinese nationals who enter as tourists. Because of the laxity of our immigration officials, they end up working here without working permits and visas---thus depriving the more than 5 million jobless or under-employed Filipinos of work opportunities.

It doesn't help assuage this concern when President Xi Jinping told President Duterte in their recent "Belt and Road Initiative" meeting in China that Filipino labor would be allowed in the construction of railways around China. But the question that immediately comes to many minds: what would be the counter-cost to us? 

Assuming that a few hundred Filipinos do get to work in China indeed, thus opening up another OFW program which is, by itself, already producing such terrible side-effects on families, as studies have proven. In return, however, it's totally foreseeable that thousands upon thousands of Chinese could come to this country to put up businesses, mainly on-line gambling which is not good for our people. 

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With the current overstaying Chinese nationals in Metro Manila, most notably in on-line gambling, the proliferation of drugs appears to have been accelerated. The raid two months ago of a house rented by Chinese nationals in a very high-end subdivision that yielded an enormous quantity of drugs, appears to epitomize this problem.

A recent photo showing restaurants sporting only Chinese characters in Boracay may be more than symbolic. All along Macapagal Avenue in Pasay City, Chinese enterprises have sprung up, including a ot of on-line gambling, while any taxi-driver will tell you how a number of residential subdivisions in Metro Manila have now become virtually exclusive to Chinese residents.

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To the huge audience at the UST debates sponsored by CNN Philippines, mostly students as well as the TV audience across the nation, it would seem that the antagonism toward the Chinese would be more of fear of all sorts. 

Fear that Chinese nationals are taking jobs away from the 2/2 million unemployed Filipinos and around 5 million under-employed is quite valid. So is the fear that drugs have a very direct connection with the avalanche of Chinese.

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There is also a lot of valid fears about the way the President seems to be contracting enormous loans from the very willing Chinese leaders to fund his "Build, build, build" mega-projects. Should something happen to Mr. Duterte, God forbid, his successor would be so saddled with tremendous loans our country may not be able to pay back. 

In his recent visit to Manila, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad warned us to be wary of such loans, while the fate of small nations in Africa that have suffered from over-dependence on Chinese loans is well-known.  

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Thus, there is worry that patrimonial assets, such as an oil-rich island in Mindanao, could be seized as pay-back for our mega-loans from China, should we default.  Fear and outrage caused by the recent carting away of our giant clam species from their protected sanctuary is valid. 

Then there was the brazen attempt to dredge  the Verde Strait between Batangas and Mindoro, also a sanctuary of aquatic life, of its sand and ship it to Hongkong, to create a 4th airport runway.  That move so angered the townspeople of Loboc in Batangas that the dredging ship was forced to sail away empty-handed. 

All these developments are too recent to forget. No wonder that the resentment toward China of the boisterous student crowd at the CNN-sponsored debates at UST was so palpable. Let's pray that the President re-thinks the China connection very well before he makes firm commitments that could bring unfortunate results. 







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