It seems like the Pearl of the Orient has a tough time dealing with her neighbors.
Just a few weeks ago, the authorities gave us a warning about the possibility of danger from a falling debris from a North Korean rocket. As a precaution, the authorities have issued a no-fly and no-fishing zones at the concerned areas. They also warned the people to stay indoors on the possible time of the rocket launch and nnot to touch any suspected debris from the rocket.
Some analysts and critics said that North Korea chose us to be the rocket’s debris’ falling area because we don’t have the capacity to shoot down that rocket if anything goes wrong. And the rocket cannot fly over the air space of Japan and South Korea – the two countries which are not in good terms with North Korea.
And it looks like the bullying (if you may permit) against the Pearl of the Orient is not yet over.
Last April 8, a Philippine Navy surveillance plane caught eight Chinese fishing boats anchored at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which, according to the DFA, is part of the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, a territory of the Philippines. To protect the country’s marine environment and resources and to assert our sovereignty, the Philippine Navy deployed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), the Philippine Navy’s largest ship, from Palawan to Northern Luzon to conduct maritime patrol over the Shoal.
The PF-15 confirmed thee presence of eight Chinese vessels and in accordance to the established rules of engagement, dispatched a team to inspect the vessels and collect photos of the evidence of their catch. The team reported large amount of illegally collected corals, giant clams, and live sharks. And to add insult to the injury, the PF-15 reported that two Chinese maritime surveillance ships identified as Zhonggou Haijian 75 and Zhonggou Haijian 84 managed to sail to the mouth of the shoal, placing themselves between PF-15 and the eight Chinese fishing vessels, thus preventing the arrest of the Chinese fishermen.
The Chinese embassy in Manila asserted that the disputed area, including the area nearer to the Philippines, as their territory. In a statement, it also “urged the Philippine side to stop immediately their illegal activities and leave this area”.
Our largest battleship, Gregorio del Pilar, was stopped by two Chinese maritime surveillance ships. As of writing, the Philippine Navy has dispatched a second ship to the Shoal and authorities are trying to resolve this in a peaceful and diplomatic manner.
I have already written about BRP Gregorio del Pilar and the dispute at the West Philippine Sea in the past. I have always wished that things would end in a peaceful and diplomatic manner – without compromising our territory and sovereignty. I have always viewed this as a David and Goliath battle. Is our largest battleship enough to patrol and secure our waters? Is he enough to defend our country and her people? It may appear virtually impossible.
I have always wondered why they chose Gregorio del Pilar as the name of this warship. According to my research (AKA google-ing), there were three (3) choices for this former USCGC Hamilton – BRP Lapu-Lapu, BRP Jose Torres Bugalon, and BRP Gregorio del Pilar. The panel ultimately confirmed the name Gregorio del Pilar in honor of the young general.
But who is General Gregorio del Pilar or Goyo? I only remember two things about Goyo based on the Philippine history that was taught to me in school – 1. he’s a young general and 2. he’s the hero of the Battle of Tirad Pass. His name and his heroism was also immortalized by some of these memorials: The Philippine Military Academy, Ford del Pilar, was named after him; the Municipality of Concepcion, IlocosSur was named after him; his life was featured on a 1995 movie tirad Pass: The Last Stand of Gregorio del Pilar with Romnick Sarmienta; and our country’s biggest warship (to date) was named after him. He will be forever remembered as the defender of Tirad Pass, as someone who let General Miong escape from the Americans. A hero. Or was he?
As what I have written above, I have a very limited knowledge about the life of General Goyo so I decided to dig deeper. I read a chapter from my book, A Question of Heroes by Nick Joaquin. The chapter is entitled Is the Hero of Tirad a Hatchetman? and it showcases the story of Goyo that most of us don’t know. It shows the young general’s ascend to rank and power, his relationship with General Emilio Aguinaldo, and what really transpired before and during the Battle of Tirad Pass – and how it turned out to be a disastrous failure.
As most of us know from school, the Battle of Tirad Pass was waged to help General Aguinaldo flee. But that was not the whole story. The “delaying action” of Tirad Pass was nonsense for it helped a man, General Aguinaldo, who didn’t know where he was going to. It was a failure. It was a waste. As Nick Joaquin put it, Gregorio del Pilar’s finest hour was, to use a current cliche, an “exercise in futility”.
I find the other details of Goyo’s life amusing, shocking, and annoying (you may have noticed it if you are following me on Twitter). I will not deal more (lest I spoil) with the other details from the chapter – it’s for you to read and discover. And if there is one thing I learned, it changed my view about the General and it helped me appreciate history more. History should be treated as a learning lesson for us. As George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
The BRP Gregorio del Pilar, our country’s largest and most powerful warship and the great men behind him may have a characteristic similar to General Goyo – brave, respected, and being look up to as a defender. But he can also be like Goyo, a bait, a warrior who may die in vain against the colossal foes at West Philippine Sea. As Manong Johnny Enrile once said, a single torpedo can sink our warship (although he was referring that time to BRP Rajah Humabon, our Navy’s former flagship).
The warship maybe considered as President Aquino’s greatest contribution to the Philippine Navy. But is the warship be just another ‘concealer’ of the alleged inaction of the President? Will it just be the last beacon of hope for our helplessness? Or will it be just a useless armada against the strong enemy? Will it be a Gregorio del Pilar to Emilio Aguinaldo? President Aquino has been criticized as just being a man of pure words with less or no action. As Rina Jimenez David pointed out, “Our President is all bluster and bluff when discussing reported incursions of Chinese vessels, especially those belonging to the Chinese navy. But after making the necessary noises, he usually steps back, calling for a diplomatic solution and more talks between our foreign affairs department and theirs.” But of course, we don’t want war and we want this to be resolved in the most peaceful and diplomatic way.
The tension at Scarborough Shoal has not yet ceased (as of writing. BRP Gregorio del Pilar has been puled out from the area to replenish its supplies and China deployed another ship on the area.) the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Navy are trying their very best to ease the tension and to resolve the problem.
If we firmly believe that that part of the sea is ours, I think it’s time for the Filipino people should stand their ground and express it in their own little way. It is our natural resources that they abuse. It is something that can be beneficial to the Filipino people. We don’t want to lose another territory (just like what happened in the 1960’s when we lose Sabah to Malaysia).
But how can it happen if, at the height of the tension at our territory, most of our countrymen (especially those with access to Twitter and other forms of social media) are glued to the boob tube, giving nitwitted commentaries about a particular show? How can we learn from the mistakes of the past if we ignore the lessons from our history or not care about history at all? How can we stand united to defend our sovereignty if we are too busy with other stuff?
I have always believed that the trending topics on Twitter of a country reflect its citizens’ priority. Based on what I have always seen, in my opinion, we are creating another Gregorio Del Pilars – people who will die in vain from a divided people.
- Philippines, China hit diplomatic, military impasse over Scarborough Shoal standoff. (Interaksyon.com) – See the photos of the (alleged) poached marine species here.
- Philippines should bring Scarborough issue to UN, says Honasan
- China orders Philippine warship to leave disputed waters. (gmanetwork.com)
- Philippines to ‘secure sovereignty’ if challenged by China. (inquirer.net)
- Defending our Sovereignty – A Commentary by Rina Jimenez-David
- David and Goliath on West Philippine Sea (Juan Republic)