Dangerous Waters

Dangerous Waters

I returned to the Philippines in 2005 and spent the next five years in corporate farming while recovering from Leukemia.

The economic activity I engaged is in pursuit of addressing poverty alleviation program for marginalized Filipino farmers.

In tandem with a Venture Capitalist I cultivated Kamoteng Kahoy in commercial scale tapping idle lands in the countryside conducive for root crop plantation. In my return to change pace of an urban life I settled in the Arctic and pursued another adventure.

Annually the Philippines require two million metric tons of processed Tapioca chips to supply the needs of industrial users namely starch companies, livestock growers, and biofuel for the transportation industry. Three years thereafter, I was enabled under the joint auspices of Agriculture Department and Root Crop Centre to form Philippine Tapioca Board and crafted its Constitution & Bylaws singlehandedly counting among others San Miguel Corporation, LandBank, Eastern Petroleum, Philippine Starch and a few others as charter members. Subsequently, a medium size distillery plant was erected in Negros Occidental to process Tapioca Chips into food wine, which is now exported to the Middle East.

Entering into a “gentleman’s agreement” with the Philippine Government not to export Philippine grown cassava unless the local requirement was met, I aimed to go full throttle in cassava plantation and market the excess produce overseas, specifically to China. An international food trading firm with regional office in Hong Kong concluded a Supply Support Agreement with me to deliver one million metric tons per annum of sundried cassava chips. I was guaranteed a net profit of $0.10 cents per kilo sold. Working with another intermediary, I negotiated a grower’s contract agreement with China to supply tropical fruits. China will provide the capital, farm inputs, equipment, and technology. While I will be responsible in identifying the location, supply of farm workers, and oversight of the project.

Unfortunately, the controversy over the Spratly Isles contested by China, the Philippines, and other neighboring nations came full blown that the bilateral relationship between the birth land and China were strained. The trial shipment of several container loads of bananas were stalled in Chinese ports until the cargoes got spoiled and eventually rejected.

The losing business proposition traumatized my associate that he cursed China and promised not to deal with them anymore. Certain that I will suffer the same fate if I am going to pursue my ongoing talks of Supply Support Agreement with China, I backed out from pursuing the lucrative contract to cut losses. The series of not so fortunate episode made me comment the ocean that spans between the Philippines and China are dangerous waters.

During the waning months of PNoy’s administration there were loud clamours the Philippines must prepare for war and fight China. I am an active member of the cyber forum of expatriate Filipinos dispersed all over the globe and the controversy polarized the members in the serve list. One group rants to take a belligerent stance against China. I am identified with the opposing group that favours dialogue and negotiation – pursue bilateral negotiations; rather than agitate for the procurement of warhead missiles and the latest state of the art fighter planes and war submarines.

While it is true I am an advocate for a lean standing army, well trained, well equipped, and well paid to insure high morale I am, however, opposed to take hostile stance against China not because I am cowed to carry a gun and fight the invading forces; rather, I find it foolhardy and ridiculous to challenge a superpower when our Armed Forces could not even send out regular aerial patrols to the contested area, since our trainer planes could not take off for lack of aviation fuel.

Our infantry troops don’t even have ample ammunitions to sustain a thirty day gunfight when conflict shall arise. I hold the view, it is kaungasan to send troops to harm’s way when we cannot provide them appropriate armaments to fight a conventional war. It is ludicrous to fight over the swimming fish in Scarborough Shoal, after all, the fish are migratory species that knows no geographical boundaries.

I am partial in the pursuit of dialogue and negotiation because reaching back our historical ties with China, records show that regular and active trade between China and the Philippines took place as early as the tenth century, several centuries ahead than Spain that colonized our country five centuries later. During those periods, this boggles my mind, traders from Mindoro are already trading with China.

Space restricts me from writing the whole shebang about this historical account; but, I wish to draw, however, the attention that if we desire to live in harmony and peace with our geographical neighbor, by all means whatever it takes the Philippines must forge good political, cultural, and business relations with China.

While it may be true that empirically there is no necessary connection between good politics and good commercial relations – Philippines had trading relationship with Russia – but they can be complimentary. Moreover, when politics and economy go hand in hand our impoverished homeland will attract global investments even from non-traditional trading partners.

There is no doubt bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China is mutually important for both countries. China is strategically important in Philippine foreign and security policy for historical, cultural, geographic, economic, and political reasons. Ultimately, it is to the mutual interest of both countries to work towards the prevention of the escalation of conflicts, particularly armed confrontations. Both the Philippines and China should continue to uphold and honor international law, exercise self-restraint and espouse the non-use of force in the expression of their respective claims.

The parties should continue to use diplomatic and other peaceful means to manage and resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea through bilateral and multilateral initiatives, including the adoption of code of conduct as far as West Philippines Sea and South China Sea is concerned. It does not follow, because we are allied with U.S.A., we will declare China enemy. I for one prefer to exchange bread with our geographical neighbour, rather than exchange bullets over the clueless swimming fish.

About the Author: Bob Gabuna had a stint with National Security Council during the decade of the 90s.