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We all have stories to tell about bullies.

When I was in high school, Bobby (not his real name, of course) was our in-house terrorist. Here was a problem man-child, a big guy who picked on our smaller classmates just for the fun of it.

Bakit ba, ano’ng problema mo?” his victim would ask after being literally kicked in the butt while lined up for the Monday flag raising ceremony.

Ang pangit mo, eh,” Bobby would say. “May angal ka?

And that would be that.

Once in a while, someone would try to stand up to his bullying. But an invitation from Bobby to go to the bathroom to settle the matter would stop us in our tracks. No one dared risk having his head immersed in the toilet bowl.

Eventually we got Bobby to stop his antics. All it took was a supercharged class bull session where everyone ganged up on him to make him realize how hated and isolated he was, combined with a slew of complaints to our homeroom adviser and the principals office.

Other bullied kids in our batch were not so lucky, especially those who took the quick and easy path of getting a bigger bully to outbully their tormentors. In the end, they ended up with a worse enemy – the bigger bully. As if that weren’t enough, when the bigger bully was away, the original bully would still dominate them and make their lives no better.

The worst thing to happen was when the two bullies eventually became friends, making life doubly miserable for all.

The lesson here is that you have to face your bullies yourself, if not in his own game of might is right, then in the better game of right is mightier. The latter means taking the moral high ground, isolating the enemy, and giving him enough room to rectify or compromise.

President Aquino and his officials probably had little experience in being bullied, and so are taking the disastrous route of bringing in the bigger bully, as seen in the way they are currently handling China’s incursions into the Spratly Islands.

China’s recent actions are, to be sure, deplorable and provocative. They violate the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which binds ASEAN member-countries and China “to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”

In the face of such incursions, the Philippine government has invoked the 1951 RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) to bring in the biggest bully of them all, the United States, into the fray. The scenario is familiar to every high school kid whose been bullied – the Philippines wants the US to come beat the crap out of China, or at least scare China into backing off.

But we all know that won’t happen. The MDT itself does not bind the US to our side if and when hostilities break out with China over the Spratlys or the Scarborough Shoal.

Besides, the two bullies happen to be good friends. China is the US’ biggest creditor, at over a trillion dollars. All the iPods and iPads, plus a plethora of consumer and industrial goods sold in the US, are made in China by American-owned companies. Just last week, China and the US concluded very friendly talks on their common interests in the South China Sea.

The Aquino government’s posture on the Spratlys betrays a mendicant foreign policy still framed within that old colonial relationship with the US. It leaves us in that funny position of having brought in a bigger bully for nothing.

At the end of the day, the Americans will act based on their own interest, not on some nebulous treaty or out of any sentimental concern for their little brown brothers. For them it does not matter who owns the Spratlys for as long as the sea lanes and air routes are kept open for their trade and maritime activities. #

*This article came out in my ‘Man in the Mirror’ column in the July 1 issue of Good Morning Philippines newspaper.

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