Stupid, ignorant Senate resolution

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I JOIN chief presidential legal counsel Juan Ponce Enrile, the intellectual giant in this administration, in his condemnation of Senate Resolution 718 involving our maritime-area disputes with China as “stupid.”

He is being kind: they’re stupid and ignorant, or intellectually lazy, gullible to US propaganda.

While the resolution correctly junked Sen. Risa Hontiveros’ lame-brained, uneducated insistence to bring the issue before the United Nations General Assembly, the resolution still contained fallacies, and that shames the senators who signed it. And we pay them hundreds of millions of pesos to maintain their “research staff”?

I’ll discuss only the major lies.

First, the very first paragraph of the resolution says that on “July 12, 2016, in a landmark ruling in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (‘PCA’) Case No. 2019-2013, the PCA… held.”

As I have explained in detail in several columns, especially in my July 19 column, it wasn’t the PCA that heard the Philippine suit and handed down an “award.” It was a five-man arbitration panel organized on an ad hoc basis invoking a technical provision in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

The PCA was merely the registrar, i.e., the clerical staff, and depositary of documents. The PCA’s cathedral-like hall for its hearings provided a dramatic venue for the theatrics of the arbitration. There are over two dozen arbitration courts in the world, which could have been the registrar for the suit. The PCA was chosen though by the US propagandists, so the fallacy was that it was the PCA — located in The Hague, Netherlands, where the headquarters of such other institutions as the International Court of Justice are — which ruled on the Philippine petition, not just an arbitral panel.


The PCA, of course, is a “court” of law, denoting that the award was binding. But the body that issued the award was merely a panel of Unclos-savvy lawyers that supposedly “arbitrated” China and the Philippines’ clashing claims, even if the Chinese refused to be “arbitrated.”

The Philippines could just have chosen the Singapore International Arbitration Center or the Hong Kong International Arbitration Center, which would have saved us taxpayers tens of millions of pesos since airfare to those arbitration bodies would have been cheaper. But it would have less propaganda impact: “The Singapore [or HK] ruling invalidated…”

Second, the resolution’s second paragraph read: [The] “PCA also ruled that the Chinese government breached its obligations under international law, having violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its continental shelf and exclusive economic zone.”

Again, it was not the PCA but the arbitral panel that heard the suit and handed down its award.

More importantly, what the senators do not realize is that while the award declared that China breached — the actual word it used — articles of the Unclos involving coastal states’ rights to their exclusive economic zone and did not have an EEZ in the disputed area (Spratlys, Kalayaan to us), China’s claim (as well as Vietnam’s) is that these are its sovereign territory, which is a superior claim over an area than a claim over an EEZ.


Our EEZ, measured at 200 nautical miles from the so-called base lines (roughly the point nearest the waters), encompasses two-thirds of Taiwan as well as parts of Indonesia and Malaysia. But we certainly don’t demand that these countries give up their territories. Unclos was set up to provide guidelines on how nations can negotiate to delimit their EEZs, taking into account other countries’ EEZs and territorial waters.

Third, the resolution says: “Rather than comply with the decision, the Chinese government has instead chosen to ramp up its harassment of Philippine vessels, including those of the country’s fisherfolk, navy and coast guard, thus undermining peace and stability in the region.”

But the award very clearly explained that Unclos and therefore the panel cannot rule on sovereignty claims, only on maritime-area disputes (such as the legitimacy of an EEZ and how it was drawn up).

I have to belabor this point, which the senators and many Filipinos do not understand because of the thick fog of American propaganda.

Sovereignty is, for example, our nation’s territory, the Philippine archipelago as defined by the 1898 Treaty of Paris and includes inland waters and territorial waters as defined by the 2009 Baselines Law. The exclusive economic zone was defined by the Unclos (a treaty among 157 nations that took effect in 1994) as the maritime area 200 nautical miles from the baselines located in a country’s territory in which it enjoys certain rights (but not sovereignty), mainly exploitation of its resources.


Now here’s the confusion deliberately spread by the US: China (as well as Vietnam) had claimed long ago that the Spratlys are an archipelago over which it has sovereignty, which they have called Nansha Qundao for centuries and depicted as such in all their maps at least since the 18th century. These claims are reaffirmed in several laws made by China after World War 2.

For the Chinese, therefore, they are not harassing Philippine vessels and our fishermen or illegally building artificial islands in the Spratlys. They are merely defending their sovereignty. They fortified their reefs into artificial islands in response to the “lawfare” threat posed by the arbitration case filed in 2013. That is why the Americans just stood idly by as they watched the Chinese from 2014 to 2016 build their artificial islands one by one. How could they interfere since China was merely undertaking projects in what they are convinced was their backyard?

For the Chinese, it is the Philippines that is intruding into their waters. How hard is it to understand that situation?

Who’s right, and who’s wrong? The arbitral award very categorically said it does not address this question. No body on this planet can rule on issues of sovereignty. It is either through voluntary negations among the claimants or through war that such controversies are settled, and not, as the stupid Senate resolution says, by “bringing international attention to China’s harassment.”


Even the US has not taken a stand on which country has legitimate sovereignty over the Spratlys. A study in 2012 by the Center for Naval Analysis, a think-tank of the US Navy, concluded: “The consensus among scholars seems to be that China and Vietnam have the best legal case to claim in the Spratly Islands. China’s claims in the Spratlys are weaker than its claims to the Paracels (also claimed by Vietnam), and depending on how certain historic actions are legally interpreted, Vietnam may have a better claim to both island chains. US policymakers cannot lose sight of the fact that China’s claims may be superior. (McDevitt, Michael, 2014, “The South China Sea: Assessing US Policy and Options for the Future,” Center for Naval Analysis.)

So, what’s the purpose of the Senate resolution? It is simply another attempt by the US and its minions to keep alive the propaganda thrust that was part of the US “Pivot to Asia” policy launched in 2012, which is to demonize China as an expansionist power and drive a wedge between it and Asian nations so America would still retain its decades-long position as the region’s hegemon.

If we don’t see the US hand in our disputes with China, we will never arrive at a compromise solution with the Chinese, which could involve such advantageous things to us as the exploitation of the gas-rich Reed Bank and our fishermen’s fishing in peace in those waters.

I find it so shameful that one of our institutions, symbolizing our sovereignty, has been yoked to the service of the US.

I hope the Senate summons me to explain why I say their resolution is stupid and ignorant.

Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao

Twitter: @bobitiglao


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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Dorina S. Rojas

    Our Southeast Asian neighbors have been very disinterested and quiet in this issue because they know we have a losing case. The have also existing claims in the West Philippine Sea but they have chosen to occupy and develop them instead of forming alliance with the US and the rest. I feel embarrassed for our leaders in their dealing with this issue. We are losing our territories, our money and our face in the international arena.

  2. Ding

    You are too honest, most unlearn Filipinos will hate you!

  3. Jose Oliveros

    Even a seasoned journalist and a lawyer at that, Emil Jurado, has been consistently referring to the 2016 arbitral award as a decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. I wonder why Jurado and others like him who believes that the PCA is a judicial body affiliated with or under the United Nations cannot visit even shortly the website of the PCA to educate and inform themselves of the history and functions of the PCA. It is under or affiliated with the United Nations but was created in 1899 at the initiative of the Russian Czar, thus antedating both the League of Nations (1917) and the UN itself (1945).
    As for that stupid Senate resolution, the authors – Senate President Zubiri and Senator Hontiveros, as well as those who affirmatively voted for it are pontificating on an issue far in excess of their less than moderate intellectual endorwments – if they have any at all.

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