Have we forgotten that the Aquino-del Rosario tandem lost Scarborough twice over?

  • Reading time:11 mins read

HONESTLY, I am astonished at the brouhaha over a Chinese “naval warship” shooing away the Greek-owned crude oil tanker “Green Aura” from the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, with the warship’s spokesman telling the tanker that the area was “under Chinese jurisdiction.”

Perhaps we are in denial mode, or the Yellows’ control of media persists to this day.

Have we forgotten that President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his Foreign secretary Albert del Rosario lost Scarborough Shoal to the Chinese in 2012 and then in 2016?

China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have for many decades all claimed sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal. However, they were on a let-sleeping-dogs-sleep kind of policy, or chose to follow Deng Xiaoping’s wise admonition to let “smarter future generations” decide on these territorial dispute: No country tried to physically enforce its claim and allowed fishermen to fish in its rich waters undisturbed.

In April 2012, however, Aquino foolishly sent the refurbished cutter from the US Coast Guard, renamed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and officially a Philippine Navy warship, to help arrest Chinese fishermen in Scarborough Shoal.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer published on its front pages pictures of heavily armed Philippine Marines watching over shabbily dressed, forlorn-looking Chinese fishermen — but who, on returning to China, raised such a nationalistic outrage that their social media was flooded with demands for the People’s Liberation Army to invade that “puny country.”

The Chinese of course went to the rescue of their countrymen, but sent their civilian maritime surveillance ships to block the Coast Guard and vessels sent by Aquino.

This was the now infamous Scarborough Shoal standoff that lasted more than a month. Aquino panicked, especially when China started using its economic leverage, as when it let Philippine mangoes rot in its ports, on the ground that there were reports that the shipment was infested, and had to be subjected to stricter quarantine.

1734 ‘Murillo’ map with Scarborough encircled, as presented in Carpio’s e-book Philippine Sovereign Rights and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea.
2010 Namria map, the latest publicly released: Bajo de Masinloc not within our territory, which was defined by the 1898 Treaty of Paris between Spain and the US.

Angry at del Rosario’s belligerence toward China — the country’s top diplomat even boasted the Philippines would get the US, Australian and Japanese military to help resolve the standoff — Aquino appointed then Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th as his special envoy to China.

Perhaps worried that Trillanes would resolve the crisis, del Rosario begged the Americans to intervene militarily, like escorting our ships into Scarborough Shoal. No way, the US said.

Then in June, US Assistant State Secretary Kurt Campbell told del Rosario that the Chinese vice minister for foreign affairs, Fu Ying, had agreed to the two countries’ ships’ simultaneous withdrawal from Scarborough. Del Rosario believed Campbell and, according to Trillanes, ordered our Coast Guard ships to leave the shoal, without even bothering to get Aquino’s permission to do so.

Fu denied there was such an agreement. Campbell did not deny Fu’s claim in media nor in his 2016 book Pivot: The Future of Statecraft in Asia Most diplomatic experts said such a major move on China’s part would have taken weeks to decide on, especially as the Communist Party’s top leadership took over management of the Scarborough Shoal crisis, since it had inflamed nationalist sentiment in China.

When the Philippine ships withdraw from Scarborough, our government effectively gave up our sovereignty over it, on the principle that occupation is nine-tenths of possession.

A November 2014 report of the Center for Naval Analyses — a private think-tank for the US military — titled “The South China Sea: Assessing US Policy and Options for the Future,” pointed out matter-of-factly: “From its perspective, China resolved the sovereignty dispute with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal in 2012 when it established control over the shoal. Again, it is unlikely to relinquish it. The government of the Philippines is in no position to even begin to contemplate the use of force to recover Scarborough, and the United States is not going to become involved in any attempt to expel the Chinese.”

The Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative, a think-tank and data center for the South China disputes set up by the US Center for Strategic and International Studies, lists Scarborough (Huangyan Dao to the Chinese) as among the features in the Spratlys that China controls. It described the shoal thus: “Scarborough Shoal is effectively controlled by China, which has maintained a constant coast guard presence at the feature since 2012.”

Face reality. We lost Scarborough because of Aquino and del Rosario’s bungling. That is one of the biggest damage that Yellow Regime has done to our country. No international court, no arbitration tribunal will ever rule on sovereignty issues without the consent of the parties involved.

Why should we be surprised, and the Yellows angry, that a Chinese ship asked the Greek-owned oil tanker to leave Scarborough Shoal, a dangerous area for ships because of its shallowness and tricky sea floor that could have grounded a huge oil tanker of 60,000 tons, and stopped its crude oil from even reaching our shores?

Aquino and del Rosario lost Scarborough a second time, when they filed a suit against China in 2013, overtly to clarify our maritime claims but covertly to nullify the superpower’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Del Rosario said the suit was filed in order to recover Scarborough for us, although it certainly seemed that it was their very expensive smokescreen (costing P700 million in legal fees and other expenses) to cover up for Aquino-del Rosario’s stupidity in losing Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough).

Their plan backfired, big time. The tribunal ruled in July 2016 that it has no jurisdiction on this Philippine claim, as that is not an issue of maritime entitlements under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) but of sovereignty over an island. The tribunal merely admonished China that it must allow Filipino fishermen to “engage in traditional fishing at Scarborough Shoal.”

Page 318 of the tribunal’s decision reads: “The tribunal records that this decision is entirely without prejudice to the question of sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal.”

It is astonishing that there is still much confusion over our claim over Scarborough Shoal.

Bajo de Masinloc
Our claim over what we call Bajo de Masinloc, as the Department of Foreign Affairs explained in its April 18, 2012 position paper, is “not premised” on its proximity to our mainland nor on the fact that it is within our 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Indeed, international courts have long dismissed “proximity” as a basis for sovereignty. The EEZ is a maritime entitlement that cannot negate a sovereign territory, contrary to many media men’s assertions.

Our claim, according to the Foreign Affairs department, is based on the international law principle of effective occupation and jurisdiction, that is, that from Spanish times to the US occupation to the Republic, the Philippines has exercised jurisdiction over it, and occupation even if in the form of patrols to the area and at one time, the setting up of a lighthouse.

On the other hand, other than references to Chinese documents as early as the 13th century, Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan to them) was listed in 1935 as part of China’s Zongsha islands, and declared to the world as such in its 1958 Declaration on the Territorial Sea and its 1992 Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone. Zongsha islands, with Huangyan, were declared in the 1990s a prefecture of Hainan province. (I have yet to see a Philippine map showing Bajo de Masinloc as part of Masinloc municipality.)

We really should blame our leaders.

Regime of islands
It was only in 2009 during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term that we officially declared Bajo de Masinloc as ours, as a “regime of islands” that we exercise sovereignty over. This was through Republic Act 9522 enacted into law in March 2009.

The main intent of the law was actually to specify our “baselines” from which will emanate our territorial sea, contiguous zone, and exclusive economic zones. Unclos had set a May 2009 deadline for all nations to submit their baselines. If not for that deadline, we probably wouldn’t have formally declared Bajo de Masinloc as part of Philippine territory.

Guess what? Despite that 2009 law, our government has not put in our official map Bajo de Masinloc as part of Philippine territory, even as the Yellows, including retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio have been raving that a 1734 map by a Jesuit, called the Murillo map, incontestably proves Bajo is part of Philippine territory.

But that’s become a bit moot and academic, hasn’t it, after Aquino and del Rosario lost Bajo de Masinloc to the control of China?

Doesn’t that Filipino captain of Green Aura read the newspapers? If his ship had instead strayed near heavily fortified islands occupied by Vietnam (the biggest occupier of Spratly features), the combat veterans stationed there would have shot him.

Note: My series on the Malisbong massacre hoax will resume on Friday. I am hoping that former Commission on Human Rights chairman Loretta Ann Rosales, who is partly responsible for the hoax’s success, e-mails me her comments.




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