Told you so!

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

Nobody likes a gloater. I definitely don’t, either. But there are always exceptions, right? And this is one of the few times I’m allowing myself that. The reason being is that our inability to see through China somehow disturbingly betrays perhaps a certain frailty in the national character that needs to be improved -- that money isn’t everything and a display of weakness will always lead to further abuse.

The reason why I write this has nothing to do with the three Filipino criminals that were executed by China. In that regard, China’s steadfast adherence to its own laws is to be commended and is a welcome lesson for Filipinos in learning the price of having an orderly society. This instead has to do with the Philippines standing up for its interests, as well as its (alleged) democratic and human rights values. As stated by the Wall Street Journal over the last weekend: "Appeasing a rising hegemon carries a risk that one’s national interest will disappear down its maw. This is a lesson the Philippines is only now beginning to learn."

This point has gained relevance as the Philippines seems to be increasingly servile when it comes to China. When China went hysterical over a harmless Sept. 24, 2010, joint statement between ASEAN and the US reaffirming "the importance of regional peace and stability," the Philippines was less than its normally loquacious self in defending the joint statement. The Philippines afterward famously failed to send a representative to the Nobel Peace Prize when China called for a boycott of the same. Then the Philippines decided to anger Taiwan by extraditing 14 Taiwanese citizens to China. Finally, when China aggressively violated our waters last March 2, 2011, our government obsequiously sent a representative to Beijing to discuss (explain?) the incident, rather than making China justify her actions. This was, by the way, after China pointedly snubbed our diplomatic protest.

Of course, the question is, are we actually learning that lesson? As the WSJ correctly pointed out, compared to our Asian neighbors (which "have been busy bolstering military capabilities and, more importantly, re-building diplomatic bridges with the U.S."), "Manila has been slower on the uptake." The WSJ, however, was being kind indeed to the Philippines when it noted recent "assertiveness" on the part of the Philippines. But this assertiveness must be credited instead to our military, which bravely shooed away Chinese intrusion over the Spratly islands.

And the WSJ was indeed being kind when it excused our not being the sharpest tool in the shed to the fact that we don’t share land borders with China, as well as a "post-colonial chip on the shoulder of some Filipinos that makes it more difficult for their leaders to forge closer ties with America." While that may be true, nevertheless, money plays a large part in the calculus as well. Our inability to appreciate long-term and national gain over short-term individual benefits definitely plays a part. To this must be added our peculiar insecurity when faced with other cultures, as well as our uncertainty with regard to the correctness of our values and beliefs.

In any event, all this would be beside the point if only people can overcome our seeming revulsion to admitting mistakes and correcting ourselves. In this case, whether the Philippines can sufficiently create a more stable and trusting relationship with the US. Say what you will, the reality is still there and it’s something that this writer has been positing for years and for which the WSJ recently emphasized: "the geopolitical reality of the day -- America is the only country that can preserve the status quo in Asia."

In the meantime, the best way to deal with China in a manner protective of our national interests is by simply implementing our laws. Firstly, it would be good to really clamp down on smuggling. Not the so-called "technical smuggling," which in any event at least involves goods for which tariffs are paid (albeit in smaller amounts), but on smuggling itself. Items and agricultural products that illegally enter the country, harming our farmers and at the same time posing potential hazards to health, should be stopped. This is all the more significant when one considers that our economic growth is now already showing signs of slowing down.

Another would be stricter application of our immigration rules. Reports of foreigners surreptitiously entering our country should be investigated and prosecuted vigorously. Considering the rising unemployment in our country, to stop the entry of illegal aliens should be a priority.

Finally, our foreign and trade relations should be done not only with the view to financial gain but also to advancing human rights, labor standards, environmental protection, and democratic values. Why? Because we say we believe in them! It would be quite hypocritical of us to loudly pontificate on such only to forget them the moment some vulgarian dangles money in front of us.