More Deadly Variants! India, Critics, ‘Utang Na Loob’

How did India’s friends and “rivals” act? China offered both equipment and supplies, immediately sending 800 oxygenators and 10,000 more later on top of additional help.

Earlier criticized for reducing cargo flights to India caused by legitimate staff concerns that added protection protocols should be established before flights return to normal after 15 days, China made the private Sichuan Airlines return added flights. Indian mainstream media never acknowledged these assistances, likely because of recent political issues.  The US did not help. Serum Institute of India Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla revealed the US was hoarding the raw materials needed to produce much-needed vaccines. US State Department’s Ned Price said, “US first” despite the US already having more supplies than it needs. Indian-origin US Vice President Kamala Harris offered no help. The US, while unable to help India, sent the battleship USS John Paul Jones into Indian waters to “protect democracy and freedom of navigation” in violation of Indian laws. After Russia and China sent real help, US State Secretary Antony Blinken said they will help with equipment but did not mention vaccines. QUAD, the anti-China alliance that assiduously courted India to be part of, empathized but also did not help. Japan’s prime minister discussed China’s issues with its Indian counterpart Modi but offered no help. Australian premier Morrison praised Indian resilience but also offered no help.

The Chinese position is that the pandemic is humanity’s enemy and must be battled together — representative of a culture with a concept of the collective good and a productive path to pursue amid differences. The help China gives has never been based on requiring nations to give up their claims. The continued demonizing, of course, is beyond decent people’s behavior, in spite of the disputes, especially when millions of lives and many economies are being saved.  Asian high culture values respect even among rivals. This is shown by Asian martial arts from Japan and the Koreas, among others, and even in American hit movies “Karate Kid” or “Kill Bill 2,” to name a few, where before and after the battle, the fighters bow to each other, and if the other is far superior, the loser may even become the winner’s student or admire the good points. This is shown even among enemies and rivals among the greats in history where even the enemy is honored and praised (before execution), or forgiven, even shown respect beyond death, and debts of honor are incurred for timely deeds of saving each other. (More stories in future articles.)

The Philippine experience? In our darkest pandemic hours, China was the only country to send life-saving protective personal equipment (PPE) when we had none, PPE for our health workers, masks for us Filipinos. Yet it is constantly demonized, led by those who contributed little if anything at all to saving anyone. Until lately, China was the only one sending vaccines to the Philippines, whereas the Western ones were only being promised, recently talking about 3rd quarter delayed deliveries. Sinovac is working with over 70 countries and its vaccines have been administered to over 80 million people, mostly in developing countries. While criticizing others, the US did not send any vaccine help, although, after millions of doses from China, it was talking about deliveries months later. It has since delivered AstraZeneca vaccines to Canada and Mexico without approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

All kinds of ideas are being raised, some to inform and reasonable, many are poorly researched and ridiculous, and some just to demonize. A writer opined that a promised future Covax Facility should be the one to thank instead of the Chinese vaccines — like a dying person telling the Good Samaritan that his help was not worth thanking because someone promised to give more than 6 months later?   Note that the party promising had repeatedly betrayed the Philippines in her fight for freedom against Spain, the Filipino veterans who fought and died in World War 2. It betrayed agreements with dozens of countries. The “don’t thank this donor today” is reflective of the level of the reasoning process and propensity for success or failure.

Capacity for appreciation, gratitude, and reliability is the hallmark of the very viability of relations — friendships, romances, or alliances. No one likes a partner who does not reciprocate or will not give a little something of himself. No one realistically expects someone to give up his major or core interests of family or country, but to insult people who help you and have not asked for anything in return indicates an inability to grow, build or make good decisions for most things in life. Those saying China should not be thanked because of the territorial disputes are being misled perhaps by false stories that China recently committed acts of aggression in Julian Felipe Reef (Vietnam had been there since the 1970s and China since the 1980s) and other fearmongering stories, debunked by reality and can be easily verified.

Biases run deep. It is like saying an American should not thank a Russian who saved his family’s life just because they are on opposite sides, or the Roman soldier who gave Jesus a drink should be insulted.

Gratitude is an appreciation to be paid back and expanded, when able, for the greater good, not necessarily to the original giver of goodwill. It is not the same as utang na loob that is owed to the individual giver directly and whose debt often must be paid even by acts greatly damaging to oneself or to society. The Asian way has proven over time to better settle matters than the insulting and conflict approach promoted by the West, which has initiated most of the military conflicts in the world in the last hundred years or so. Sen. Risa Hontiveros, Rep. Sarah Elago, Orly Mercado, and other critics of President Duterte’s supposed “misplaced utang na loob,” can they ask the US and Europe to send some vaccines and stop hoarding them? Shouldn’t the US have some utang na loob with some one-third of their nurses who died in America during the pandemic being Filipinos? Sen. Ralph Recto’s position is the reasonable one, to be grateful for China’s help, but not to give up our claims position.  Let’s not lose our sense of decency, sense of gratitude, especially when our neighbors are cooperating even amid differences and moving forward.

Jan Albert Suing has been conducting policy research for both the public and private sectors, with some of his works published in “Population Ageing in the PH: Issues and Challenges”; and “Towards an ASEAN Parliament: Challenges and Prospects.” He taught at Far Eastern University and received his master’s degree in International Studies from UP Diliman.

Also published in Manila Times on May 02, 2021. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (

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