By Raïssa Robles
July is usually a month when Congress reporters hardly have anything to write about because our honorable legislators are on recess (read – vacationing abroad).
Some lawmakers use this lull to try to grab media attention. As an example, look at Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos.
His spin doctors are no doubt telling him that this year, he should project himself on the national stage, with an eye on next year’s presidential election.
Nearly every week, Marcos has been popping up and mouthing off on one topic after the other. The problem is, he seems to think that mere mouthing is enough, that it’s OK getting news attention even if he’s spouting nonsense.
Take his recent statements on the South China Sea conflict with China on the very eve that the Philippine government was poised to argue its case against China’s occupation of some islands claimed by the Philippines before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
The Chinese ambassador had suddenly said Beijing was open to holding bilateral talks, now and “forever”.
The government of President Benigno Aquino III rejected the talks. Because according to Communications Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma, the Philippines would rather stick to a multilateral approach.
“The Philippine position is clear: the principle of ASEAN centrality should be recognized in accordance with the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).”
Disregarding this, Marcos piped up and said:
“China opened the door and we shut it. The Chinese said let’s talk and we snubbed them. It’s like the Philippine government itself is encouraging China to take and maintain an unbending stance on the issue,”
“We should not be snobbish. I can’t see any reason at all why we are not talking to China. On the contrary, there are more than enough obvious reasons why we should talk to superpower China.”
At face value, Senator Bongbong Marcos’ statement appears correct and reasonable.
But then, Marcos admonished the government to think of the “national interest” and in a press release, he lectured the executive department on the three ways to resolve the dispute:
“Marcos pointed out that there are three ways to resolve the dispute: by war, adjudication, or multilateral/bilateral agreements.
“We do not want war. Arbitration is not one that is going to be recognized by the Chinese. So it has to be negotiations,” Marcos said.”
You can read his entire press release here.
When I was a reporter covering the Senate and whenever I realized that a senator was pulling my leg or telling me a half-truth, I would ask the senator in question to explain what he meant by his statement and on top of that, I would get a contrary opinion to the senator’s opinion.
In this case, Senator Marcos is being less than honest when he lumped the “multilateral/bilateral” together.
I assume Marcos says this misleading statement in the full knowledge that China will only talk bilaterally with the Philippines provided Manila meets certain conditions:
● First, Manila has to recognize China’s “indisputable sovereignty” over Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea;
● Second, Manila must drop the multilateral approach, which includes persuading the ASEAN to push for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and getting as many nations as possible on its side on the issue;
● Third, the Philippines must drop the arbitration case before the ITLOS.
Yet rather than call Marcos out on his misleading statement, reporters seem to be doing nothing more than just reprinting his press releases. How I wish my fellow reporters would be more aggressive in asking senators and other power-players to explain in detail what they really mean. In short, to grill them and ask them to flesh out their general, unsubstantiated statements.
In Marcos’ case, they could ask him: Should he ever become president, would he swallow Beijing’s conditionalities and acknowledge China’s “indisputable sovereignty” before negotiating bilaterally? Would he agree to drop the Code of Conduct and the multilateral approach involving as many nations in the world?
A few people I’ve met who know the Marcoses have always considered Sen. Bongbong to be a bit dim, and definitely less whip smart than his sister Imee. Is he too lazy to do research? Too cheap to pay for a decent researcher? But what about all that money his father and mother looted, according to the Swiss Federal Supreme Court? (Yes, there is a Swiss Federal Supreme Court ruling on this matter. You can read all about it by clicking here. )