IF the Republic of the Philippines had a navy it could boast of, then surely by now its gunboats would have been steaming furiously across the South China Sea towards Hong Kong. But that not being the case, Manila's fiery and influential columnists have instead been left to take up the battle against the territory, led by the country's leading scribe Max Soliven who has been shooting from both hips. Yes, folks, we are still talking the Therese Necio-Ortega incident, where the Hong Kong-based Filipina hotel executive was arrested [if the official version is anything to go by] after apparently using her foot to obstruct the path of a taxi that was cruising about its legitimate business along Queensway, and then reportedly using her umbrella to dent the driver's pride - and possibly the roof of his car as well. Therese's account, in case you've missed it, was that the taxi ran over her foot and she banged on the car with her brolly to attract the errant driver's attention to the accident. Soliven, Therese's uncle to boot, was subsequently summoned to lunch at Malacanang Palace last Friday by President Fidel Ramos who has joined the fray over the emotive issue that is perceived in the Philippines as another example of how officialdom treats Filipinos over here. In his column yesterday Soliven wrote that during the meal the President implied that he might take up the matter with Governor Chris Patten. Soliven quotes Ramos as saying that Patten has ''always been very accommodating both as a person and as an official. Sadly not everything is within his control and problems occasionally arise which rebound to the hurt and dissatisfaction of our people''. Of course, if quiet diplomacy fails, Ramos might resort to the ultimate deterrent. By presidential decree he could order the 100,000-plus Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong to withdraw their services - thereby bringing the economy to a standstill as the captains of industry abandon all thoughts of the Hang Seng index while they struggle vainly to come to terms with the microwave, the washing machine and the supermarket queue. As the weekend war of words raged, what of Therese herself? Our snapper caught her at home yesterday with San Miguel executive husband Joey playing happily with their eight-month-old daughter Margaret Marie. She told Keeping Posted: ''While I am touched by all the concern that has been shown these past three weeks and deeply grateful, I feel I really now want to put all this behind me and get on with my life. My foot has almost healed, although I still can't wear heels.'' But back to her ''Uncle Max'', a former columnist of the South China Morning Post, who reserved the strongest dose of vitriol in his column yesterday for police spokesman Eric Lockeyear who in a statement claimed that the ''European passenger in the taxi'' denied having seen the incident. [Therese told us yesterday that on the contrary the passenger concerned was in touch with her and had expressed his willingness to back up her version of the incident any time.] Blazed Soliven: ''What utter poppycock is this you are dispensing, Inspector? Get thee back to Old Blighty''. Now, now, boys . . .