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What cost reprieve?

FOREIGN relations is not for the weak. In promoting their national interest, states employ their best poker players as diplomats to bluff, cajole, and threaten if need be. It is not for the faint hearted. Because in asserting what is best for a country, diplomats will employ ruse, lies and gimmickry to achieve what is best for their sending state.
And yes, because foreign policy is a nasty game played by diplomats everyday, states must have a clear view of what comprises its national interest so that in the course of this intricate game of deceit known as diplomacy, diplomats would have a clear picture of what should be done to suit their national interests.

When news came out that Vice-President Jejomar Binay earned a temporary stay on the execution of the three Filipino drug mules in China, the question that came to my mind was: at what cost?

The official line, of course, was that it cost us nothing. Had it not been for my new found respect for the Marines that joined Sen. Sonny Trillanes in standing up to the evil one, I would have quickly said: tell that to the Marines.

In truth and in fact, no country, especially China, would grant a diplomatic concession without a price. What does seem more likely is that there was a cost, but our leaders are unwilling to tell us exactly how much it was.

The possibilities on how much it cost us to procure the stay are endless. There is the Northrail contract which, according to Sen. Franklin Drilon, should make it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being “the most expensive railway project on earth.” With a project cost of almost a billion dollars, it is almost as expensive as the Shanghai magnetic bullet trains, with the difference being that while the Shanghai train is levitating and runs at 300 kilometers per hour, our Northrail runs on diesel at 60 kilometers an hour. And were not even sure, in the absence of a detailed bill of materials, if it is brand new or junk. It could even be the precursor of those ultra modern Shanghai bullet trains.

Despite the change in government, and despite the fact that Northrail has always been a banner issue of the Liberal Party, I am surprised, to say the least, that this administration has not put an end to the Northrail scam. Surely, this could be one possible cost of the stay?

Then there is the Joint Maritime Seismic Exploration Agreement that had recently expired. Why the past dispensation entered into a joint exploration of our mineral resources with a foreign county despite an expressed constitutional provision reserving such exploration to Filipinos is just beyond comprehension. But with Chinas insatiable demand for oil, and the proven oil and natural gas reserves located in the South China Sea, the renewal of this agreement could yet be a convincing cost for the stay.

Forget oil for one moment. What about gold? One of the documents that I made public as evidence of GMAs many sins was one signed by Peter Favila granting ZTE Corp. of China the botched National Broadband Network deal plus the famed Diwalwal and North Davao mining concessions.

Initially, the likes of former Environment Secretary Lito Atienza denied the existence of that contract. Favila would later admit the physical existence of the contract but insisted that the Memorandum of Agreement was far from a perfected contract. Legalese defense notwithstanding, the MOA clearly granted ZTE the right to extract gold from Diwalwal and North Davao.

The latest from the grapevine is despite PNoys new administration, this grant to ZTE may still be may be honored indirectly: bid out Diwalwal and North Davao to a dummy Filipino corporation which in turn, will turn over the contract to ZTE. Lots and lots of gold for three stays of execution? Why not?

Then there are the disputed Spratlys islands in the South China Sea. With former solicitor general Estelito Mendoza advising the Philippine Senate in the last Congress that adopting the disputed Spratlys Islands as part of our archipelago might trigger a military confrontation with China, obviously one that we cannot win, it is still possible that the cost of the reprieve may be some of the disputed islands. After all, didn’t China simply shoo off our soldiers from Mischief Shoal in order to lay claim to it? So why not islands for reprieve?

The point is that policy makers should realize that nothing comes for free in the field of foreign relations. While saving Filipino lives, even those found guilty of large scale drug trafficking, is important for a Catholic country like ours, policy decisions such as winning a reprieve for three Filipinos from the death penalty, should be made with a clear understanding of what it will cost the country.

In the absence of a holistic picture of what our national interest are in relations to a powerful country like China, the possibility of an “uneven” deal becomes a very real possibility. And lest we forget, they were not apprehended with inconsequential amount of drugs, they were caught with a whole lot of them.

Perhaps, it is high time that we realize that unlike our legal system, some countries do enforce their laws as a matter of course. Dura lex, sed lex. The law may be harsh, but such is the law.