DISREGARDING international conventions and practice, President Benigno Aquino 3rd in 2012, on his own, renamed as the “West Philippine Sea” a segment of the South China Sea. It is a term that would hobble our efforts to settle our sovereignty and maritime-claim disputes with China and Vietnam.
The South China Sea name was given by Europeans starting in the 16th century and recognized over the centuries as such by the world’s nations. It is defined precisely through geographic coordinates by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), governing body for the naming of bodies of water around the world. China calls it internally as the “South Sea” while Vietnam calls it the “East Sea.”
Aquino through Administrative Order 29 of 2012 named as “WPS” or West Philippine Sea, “the western side of the Philippine archipelago the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.”
Aquino ordered the entire government to use the term “West Philippine Sea;” thus, the term has come to be used by everyone, from as high an official as President Duterte to the lowliest public employee.
However, only the Philippines uses that term to refer to that part of the South China Sea adjacent to the archipelago. Even high US officials such as former State secretary Michael Pompeo and the current one, Antony Blinken, while prodding the Philippines to quarrel with China, did not use West Philippine Sea to refer to the area that is the site of our disputes with China.
Aquino’s unilateral renaming of “WPS,” urged on by the Yellows, represents his rejection of international rules, as there is an International Hydrological Organization (IHO), consisting of 94 nations, that determines, through consensus, the names of the world’s seas and oceans.
Strangely though, the Aquino and the successor Duterte administrations have not exerted any effort at all to get international recognition of the “WPS” nomenclature. Neither the National Mapping and Resource Information (Namria) nor any other government office has requested the IHO or the UN to recognize the “WPS” name. The 2002 draft of the IHO’s publication Limits of Oceans and Seas and Seas, its official catalogue of such bodies’ names and locations, defines parts of the South China Sea borders as the coastlines of the Philippine archipelago, and there is no reference at all in the IHO website nor publications of a Philippine request to change these boundaries.
Aquino’s officials probably knew that the renaming of the “WPS” would be found upon rigorous study to be without basis. How can a mere administrative order rename an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which is international waters (although it confers sovereign rights to its exploitation)? Even North Korea submitted volumes of evidence including ancient maps to argue before the United Nations that the term “Sea of Japan” was an imposition by imperialist Japan in the pre-war era as Korea was under its colonial rule, and therefore should be named “Korean East Sea.”
The Philippines would be laughed out of the room in a meeting requesting for such renaming as the only reason it can give is that the WPS covers its EEZ, and therefore has the right to call it any way it wants to. However, China and Vietnam claim a significant part of that area – the Spratly Islands – as its sovereign territory.
It was in fact the pink party Akbayan, through its party-list representative Walden Bello who had proposed that “WPS” name. However, Bello’s resolution filed in May 2011 merely urged “the House committee on foreign affairs to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the process of renaming the South China Sea to ‘Western Philippine Sea.'” When the committee sat on the resolution, probably told that it would require an act of Congress, or even a plebiscite, Aquino went ahead and issued the administrative order in September 2012 renaming the sea region.
My sources claim that Aquino’s foreign secretary, Albert del Rosario, had told him that naming the South China Sea the “West Philippine Sea” would create a mindset among Filipinos that it does belong to the country, which would galvanize support for the arbitration suit the regime filed in January 2013.
Indeed, Bello had explained in a December 2011 article the rationale behind his proposal to rename the SCS to WPS: “If you keep on calling a site the South China Sea, it subliminally connotes some kind of ‘possession’ by China. This is in light of the fact that oftentimes our actions and thoughts are guided and shaped by forces that operate on the subliminal level. For us Filipinos, calling the area the WPS marks a subliminal paradigm change. Suddenly the name that always carried China is now changed. This was a psychological blow to China.”
In other words, the renaming was meant to brainwash (“the subliminal paradigm change”) Filipinos that we own the Spratlys, that we have unquestionable sovereignty over the islands and reefs there.
For Bello to claim there was a “psychological blow to China” though is hogwash. China does not call it the South China Sea, but the South Sea. It was Portuguese mariners, who first called it the South China Sea, as it was the last barrier to their reaching China, and the name stuck through the ages.
Bello, however, was correct that it would brainwash Filipinos as many now uncritically think the area called “WPS” is ours, or else why would it be called as such.
Even the military officials that make up the “Task Force on the West Philippine Sea” have been brainwashed, and therefore declare with soldiery conviction, most recently, for instance, that the Whitsun Reef – an area “occupied and controlled” by the Vietnamese and the Chinese since the 1970s – is ours, as it is within the “WPS,” which they have been made to believe subliminally as having been ours since the nation was established.
This task force was created by Aquino in March 2016. three months before he stepped down, through Memorandum Circular No.94. One part says that “consistent with the Constitution, the Philippines’ interests in the West Philippine Sea include the maintenance and protection of Philippine sovereignty.” This is wrong as we don’t have sovereignty over the EEZ which is the WPS, just exclusive rights to exploit its living and nonliving resources.
But military officials of the task force see it as doctrine, and thus are quick to issue belligerent statements as if China had invaded the Philippines when the Chinese Coast Guard and fishermen are of the correct thinking that these are disputed waters.
Aquino’s “WPS” renaming was infantile, adding not an iota of proof that we own the Spratlys. This is in the genre of Aquino’s mantra over our dispute with China, “What is ours is ours.” That instead led him into losing Scarborough Shoal and the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys.
This “WPS” inanity makes us look like fools and the Philippines a helpless, pathetic country since that sea’s most important area, the Spratlys, has been mainly controlled since the 1970s by Vietnam through its six fortified islands as well as 22 outposts built on reefs and banks, and China, which has reclaimed lands on the six reefs it occupied since 1988 that now total 710 has, making the superpower the biggest landowner in the WPS. By comparison, we occupy only six islands whose land area is one-eighth of that at 84 hectares. Except for Pag-asa Island, we haven’t built fortifications on the other islands, reefs and cays that we occupy.
This “WPS” though is an Aquino curse.
With the term repeated again and again, whenever the Spratlys issue comes up, not a few Filipinos are brainwashed into believing we are the sole legitimate owner of the disputed features there, and that the “WPS” name has been there since the nation was born.
That makes it difficult to undertake the only path to settle the SCS disputes and for the country to benefit from its living and non-living resources, which is through joint development.
This is to shelve the territorial disputes as China’s revered leader Deng Xiaoping advocated four decades ago and undertake joint development schemes in the area in the case of gas and oil exploitation and joint management and regulation of the fishing operations by all claimant countries.
But what political leadership would be bold enough to advocate we drop the “WPS” term, which the Yellows would immediately claim is treason? That’s why this Aquino brainwashing trick is a curse on the nation. Note that even you, dear Reader, have resisted reading this piece through.
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