IT has been a colossal hoax pulled off with astonishing success by the pro-American Yellow Cult: that the award handed down by an arbitral panel in the suit brought by former president Benigno Aquino 3rd and his government upheld our rights to the Spratlys and ruled illegal China’s claims.
The deception indeed has been so powerful that even my esteemed colleague in this newspaper, whose columns I’ve admired, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, totally fell for it.
In his column last Monday, August 3, he claimed: “The law is on our side. The rights [to the West Philippine Sea] are ours. That was the great and inestimable result of the arbitral ruling.” He made the remark to explain why he disagrees with President Duterte’s stance of shelving the arbitration award, on grounds that the only way to do this was to go to war with China. Fr. Ranhilio says we are a David who should fight a Goliath.
Fight for a hoax?
Fr. Ranhilio’s and many others’ inability to see through the arbitration illusion is testament to the brainwashing power of the Yellow Cult, which controlled the media when it was in power.
A major factor though for the potency of the deception is that it has been embraced and disseminated by US media, which as in the case of its inherent racism, has a deep anti-China bias. Moreover, the arbitration has been a major propaganda offensive for the US’ “Pivot to Asia” launched this decade, which is a euphemism for its program to prevent China from eclipsing American hegemony in Asia.
We have to realize, and be honest enough about it, that our views of the world are dominated by the narratives of US media. We develop our view of the world from CNN, Fox News, the US wire services that local newspapers unquestionably use, the New York Times, Washington Post and the like. But do you ever watch Russia Today, CGTN or read Global Times and dispatches of Xinhua? How many readers of this paper would bother to read the increasing scholarly studies exposing the hoax that was the arbitration award?
To be sure, the arbitration suit, a brainchild of the US State Department and executed by the savvy and extremely expensive Washington, D.C. law firm Foley Hoag LLP, was a brilliant “lawfare” operation, intended both as a propaganda offensive and as justification for US efforts to maintain its dominance in Asia.
It exploited both the extremely technical provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and the exceedingly abstruse legal language of the suit’s award to such an extent that it doesn’t easily lead to critical analysis of the deception.
Who would bother to read the 500-page award written in legalese, as well as the other documents and transcripts that are in over 5,000 words? Instead, we have been told what these documents mean through the statements of the Yellows, especially of Aquino’s foreign secretary Albert del Rosario with his propaganda machine in the Philippine Star and Philippine Daily Inquirer, as well as US media reportage.
But we have to unravel the truth about the arbitration as the hoax persists, clouding our views of the world, and especially of our neighbor that is emerging as a world superpower, China. That dictum certainly is so relevant in this issue: “Patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels.”
The suit took advantage of the abstruseness of the modern, precise term “exclusive economic zone” or EEZ, which is one of the most important provisions of the Unclos, which took effect in 1994.
The EEZ refers to the 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers, or a bit more than the Manila to Baguio’s 240 kms) drawn from lines linking the outermost islands of a coastal state.
The 12-nautical mile area emanating from these baselines is a country’s territorial sea, which, as the name suggests, is part of that country’s sovereign territory, where its power as an independent state is absolute.
The difference between the territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone is that the first confers full sovereignty over the waters, whereas the second merely gives the coastal state exclusive rights for exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or nonliving, of the EEZs and of its seabed. The surface waters are still international waters.
These rights have been abbreviated to be called “sovereign rights,” which the Yellows and the US exploited to confuse people that the Philippines’ EEZ is part of its sovereign territory, which most definitely it is not.
Sovereign territory is weightier, so to speak, than an EEZ, encapsulated in that international-law maxim “land dominates the sea”: a state’s territory determines the extent of the EEZ.
In fact, the basic rationale for Unclos is that while borders of most countries, except for a few, had been established and accepted by the world community, countries’ rights to the seas were undefined, and usually subject to the power of a claimant state.
That EEZs are not as absolute and fixed as a state’s territory is demonstrated by the fact that when a nation’s EEZs overlap with that of another state, they have to compromise through negotiations to agree to a “delimitation” of their EEZs.
For example, our 2009 baselines law creates a 200-nautical mile EEZ that covers huge swaths of the land territory of northern Malaysia, including its Bangui Island and Sabah, shown in Map 1 in this column. It would be absurd though for us to claim those areas as “ours,” and so our EEZ, after negotiations with Malaysia, have been delimited as shown in Fig 2, for some reason, that country managing to have its EEZ encompass a major part of our Kalayaan Island Group.
This principle, though, was not recognized by the Yellow regime and the arbitral tribunal so they could fabricate the illusion that the Philippines has the legitimate rights to the disputed Spratly islands.
The suit claimed that areas such as the Reed Bank (from where First Pacific and Enrique Razon’s oil exploration vessel was shooed off, which triggered Aquino’s belligerent policy vs China) and the seven reefs the Chinese had occupied in 1988, are within the Philippines’ EEZ.
China and Vietnam, however, claim that all these are features of an archipelago that the former calls Nánshā Qúndǎo and the latter Quần đảo Trường. The two countries claim that this has been part of their national territory since 200 AD for China, and the 17th century for Vietnam, and affirmed in modern times through so many treaties with colonial powers and by their own laws.
The award did rule that the Philippines EEZ emanating from its western coasts, encompass these areas. However, it was totally silent on the legitimacy of China, Vietnam and Taiwan’s territorial claims over these areas. It had to: The panel had no authority to rule on the legitimacy of sovereign claims.
The deviousness of the suit lay in its stand that since the panel was constituted to use Unclos provisions, it could rule only on maritime claims. Most scholars though point out that the panel could not have done so as it ignored China and Vietnam’s sovereignty claims, making the “sea dominate the land,” a gross violation of Unclos’ principles.
It had emphasized in its award though that its rulings are “without prejudice to any questions of sovereignty or maritime boundary delimitation.” (p. 471)
The panel and the Yellows exploited one weakness in China’s territorial claims. The Spratlys (Nánshā Qúndǎo) are portrayed both in its maps and international maps not as well defined an area as the Kalayaan Island Group but only as seemingly unrelated islands, islets and reefs. It is therefore perceptually difficult to see it as an archipelagic territory. The EEZ on the other hand is a distinct line, encompassing a big part of it.
Duterte in his SONA remarked: “China is claiming it. We are claiming it.”
Although I don’t think he really understands the claims, thanks to the fact that the foreign affairs department bureaucracy continues to under the spell of the Yellow hoax, he is certainly correct:
“China claims the area as part of its sovereign territory. We are claiming that it is within our EEZs.”
The deviousness of the US lawyers is in the fact that they knew that neither the panel, nor Unclos, nor any international court has the authority to decide on conflicting claims of sovereignty.
Duterte, even if it hurts our national ego, is right. In the modern era, conflicting claims of sovereignty have never been decided by courts or by the UN or even by “international public opinion” but, if not by mutual agreement, by force. This is what happened in the case of the conflicting claims of Britain and Argentina over the Falklands and in the case of Chinese and the Vietnamese over the Paracels that led to a bloody military conflict in 1974. We cannot send Filipino soldiers to die as the Yellows are so willing to do, for a hoax.
The US lawyers and the US itself played Aquino and del Rosario. They knew that while the arbitration suit would settle nothing, it would have at least consequences that would aid its encirclement campaign against China.
First, it would drive a wedge between China and the Philippines, which has been its proxy in a region where it has no business to be in. In fact, the US frightened Aquino that the Chinese would invade the country in retaliation for the suit that he quickly agreed to a new version of US military basing, called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed in 2014.
Second, it demonized China: “Because it rejected the arbitration award, it rejects the international rule of law, and should therefore be a pariah nation.”
And thirdly, the award’s ruling that no feature in the Spratlys can have an EEZ gives the US the legal justification for their ships, especially its submarines, to roam those waters without having to inform nations – especially China — that occupy the islands and reefs there. The ruling basically converts the Spratlys into international waters unimpeded by other nations’ EEZs and even territorial seas.
It was really a US plot, part of the euphemistically termed “US Pivot to Asia,” but which was a thinly veiled scheme to reassert American sovereignty in Asia by demonizing its rising superpower, China.
I’ve written so many columns on this issue, and none of the Yellows have dared to contest my arguments and hard data. I just wish Fr. Ranhilio takes the time to read the columns of his colleagues in the paper he writes on. I hope The Manila Times’ owners give him complimentary copies so he can do so easily.
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