IT is astonishing that after six years, there persists the belief that the arbitration award on our maritime claims against China handed down July 13, 2016, by an ad hoc panel that the Philippines organized asserted our rights to the Spratlys. The award is a chimera, something the US and their certified dummies here wish it did, but which, as President Duterte had said, is nothing but a piece of paper.
Why, even the newly appointed Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo issued a statement, on the July 13 anniversary of the ruling’s declaration, cut and pasted one from those of his pro-US predecessors, praising it as if it were a decision by a world court that must be enforced.
He should have consulted the more experienced Ambassador Rosario Manalo, who has studied the South China issue for decades. After all, it would have been so easy to ask his stepmother’s opinion. A very outspoken and bold diplomat who refused to join former Foreign secretary Albert del Rosario’s coterie of yes-men (and women), Mrs. Manalo in a 2019 interview* explained in detail why the award doesn’t mean anything really.
She even harshly pointed out (translated loosely from Filipino, which actually sounds harsher): “It was merely a Philippine panel, we handpicked its members, paid them for their time. Well, if you were paid by someone to be in an arbitration panel, won’t you give him a favorable decision?”
On second thought though, it is not that surprising that there are still people — mainly del Rosario, who filed the suit, obviously at the urging of the US and retired Justice Antonio Carpio, who helped in crafting the suit with a Washington-based American firm — who see the award as a legal victory that should be enforced.
That is how dominant the US hegemon is, how powerful its propaganda machine is to brainwash people. After all, it convinced the “free world” in 2003 that Iraq leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD), so terrible the Americans had to invade the country. Well, no WMD were ever found. Compared to that lie that led to 1 million Iraqis killed, an “arbitration ruling against China” is a harmless fib.
I have written over a dozen columns on this issue since 2012, and I have written a non-technical but detailed book on the issue, even exposing the oligarchs behind President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s belligerence against China.
The book’s main title is Debacle**, because Aquino’s unnecessarily antagonistic stance against China — mixed with his officials’ bungling and the US betrayal — led to a huge debacle, our country’s loss of Scarborough Shoal to China, an area we had effective control of since our birth as a nation.
My account of this episode — too lengthy to be discussed here — has not been contested, and I am challenging del Rosario and Carpio to debunk it, and I promise to publish their arguments in this column space.
The arbitration suit was also a debacle as it terribly backfired. The likes of Carpio and even the US State Department foolishly believed that China would just sit there and do nothing when the suit was filed. The Chinese response though was not in the legal dimension but in the real world, a classic example of “establishing facts on the ground.”
They transformed what was before merely the seven reefs it had occupied into fortified islands, complete with facilities. How could these be called mere reefs, as the Philippine suit claimed? How could the Chinese abandon these, built at a cost of $100 billion?
Except for the US (and the usual four dummy countries it uses in its diplomacy) and the Philippines, the world has ignored the arbitration ruling, seeing that it really means nothing. Many want to bury it even in academic discussions as several of its rulings declare as illegal what they have been doing. For instance, Japan claims an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 430,000 square kilometers around its reef Okinotorishima, which is just 9 square meters. The arbitration award says reefs are not entitled to an EEZ.
The fundamental flaw in the belief that the arbitration ruling upheld our sovereignty over the Spratlys and that of Chinese as illegal is the following:
It indeed upheld that the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone covers certain features in the Spratlys (our Kalayaan Island Group or KIG). The EEZ is the area 200 nautical miles from a state’s coast, agreed upon under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (Unclos) which took effect in 1994. An EEZ gives the coastal state rights, among others, to exploit the resources there but not absolute sovereignty. A very rough analogy: You have a title to your lot, but you have certain rights to a property adjacent to you but you don’t own — unless somebody has title to it.
However, it was totally silent on China’s and Vietnam’s claims that the entire Spratlys is their sovereign territory. These territorial claims had been made decades, and even centuries ago, and declared in several Vietnamese and Chinese laws. Our sovereignty claim on the KIG was declared and made into law by Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. in 1978, but this point wasn’t raised in the arbitration, as Unclos — under which the arbitration was undertaken — does not involve issues of sovereignty. Unclos merely provides principles under which countries’ overlapping EEZs should be settled — voluntarily, as it is a treaty, not some international law.
The straw man the Aquino administration set up to demolish — and which the panel did — was China’s nine-dash line, drawn along most of the South China Sea. But China has never — not yet at least — defined what this line is, whether or not it marks its boundaries in the South China Sea. It does not invoke it as the basis for its territorial claims.
Del Rosario’s insistence the past six years that the government should enforce the ruling is really hilarious. The ruling does not order China to do anything. The ruling even reads like an academic work. “China is in violation of Unclos etc., etc.” But it does not order China to do anything, unlike in all rulings of Unclos bodies, which specifically orders a party to do something, or suffer daily fines. The panel members must have laughed all the way to the bank to claim their fees; they ruled on the basis of Unclos’ concepts, but did not rule against China’s claims, as the US and the Philippines wanted.
So what should President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s government do?
For one thing, if his administration declares that the arbitration award, as Foreign Secretary Manalo says, is one of “the anchors of the country’s policy and actions on the West Philippine Sea,” then it has to declare the Kalayaan Island Group, which the elder Marcos created, as dissolved and no longer existing. It was Aquino’s lawyers themselves who claimed that the KIG, which includes the waters around the hexagon that Marcos Sr. defined through precise geocentric coordinates, does not conform to Unclos guidelines. (Read my June 20 column, “If BBM implements arbitration ruling, he loses territory his father created.”)
Let’s face the reality that the arbitration ruling is a hoax. It is a chimera, but it has had a real, serious impact on the Chinese people’s perception of us, and diplomats and even authoritarian leaders (as China does) do not work in a vacuum, and are affected by public opinion of their citizens.
The suit and its rulings are viewed among the Chinese as having been an American operation to open up the entire South China Sea, especially the areas occupied by China, the Philippines and Vietnam, as international waters, so its Navy would not have qualms about patrolling a sea so far from the US, and where it has absolutely no territory. The ruling is also viewed as a clever propaganda plot, an American operation to embarrass China, to portray it as not complying with international law. This is why the US State Department keeps issuing statements asking for its enforcement, especially on the anniversary of its decision.
What’s very bad for us, is that the Philippines, because it filed the suit in an international body, was viewed, and continues to be viewed every time our officials raise the issue, as the US’ willing servant and running dog in executing these plots.
That weakens our negotiating position in attracting not just investments or official aid from China, but in working for an agreement for a joint exploitation of the area’s rich natural wealth, including its marine resources, a commitment for China not to harass our military facilities in the KIG (including that on Ayungin Shoal), and perhaps even for China’s return of Scarborough Shoal to us, which after all is so close to us.
*A video of this interview is accessible at youtube.com, “Did Aquino, del Rosario, Carpio LIE to the Filipinos?”
**Debacle: The Aquino regime’s Scarborough fiasco and the South China Sea arbitration deception, available at rigobertotiglao.com/shop, Popular Book Store and amazon.com.
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