WITH our disputes over the South China Sea territorial and maritime disputes again hogging the front pages, I am again astonished at the massive misinformation on the issue, a testament indeed to the tremendous power of the US and its propaganda apparatus.
What gives these lies so much power is first, deep-seated anti-Chinese racism, which early in our history as a people led to massacres of the Spanish-era Chinese settlements, called the parian. Second, it is another instance of that deeply ingrained mentality that psychologists and anthropologists call the “us vs. them” syndrome: that is, evil is the other tribe, the other clan, the other fraternity, the other basketball team, and the other country with territorial disputes with us.
It is understandable for the man on the street, senators playing the gallery, and Philippine Coast Guard officials like spokesman Jay Tarriela basking in the media limelight and swallowing hook, line and sinker the American deception. Such brainwashing is easier because the SCS dispute involves complex concepts as abstract as, say, physics’ black holes or quantum entanglement: territorial sea, exclusive economic zone, and even the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
It is disappointing, though that a few columnists, otherwise intelligent and scholarly as well as known for diligent research, have easily fallen for the US propaganda line.
One example is a statement from a veteran columnist in his Philippine Star piece yesterday: “Under the terms of the Unclos, Bajo de Masinloc sits well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. The arbitral tribunal in 2016 rejected the validity of China’s sovereignty claims over Bajo de Masinloc and the contested reefs further south.”
The columnist repeats that statement used by unthinking reporters as a stock phrase every time they write about our disputes with China: “Ayungin Shoal, Bajo de Masinloc, etc., etc., is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.”
My esteemed colleague Fr. Ranhilio Aquino has been writing the same error, as in his recent column: “China has taken over features and zones rightfully ours, from which we have been unable to eject it. But that we have gone to court and have obtained a judgment declaring what is ours remains one major obstacle to China’s ambition to widen even more its already absurd, exaggerated claims over the West Philippine Sea.”
I have stated the following in so many of my columns and in my book, “The Aquino Regime’s Scarborough Fiasco and the South China Sea Arbitration Deception”:
Our ignorant officials and their media mouthpieces claim that Scarborough Shoal, Bajo de Masinloc, Iroquois Reef, Sabina Shoal and others, which have been areas of open contestation between us and China in recent years, “are well within our exclusive economic zone.” However, China claims that these are well within their sovereign territory, which is now part of Sansha, a prefecture-level city of Hainan province.
The EEZ is the marine area measured roughly 200 nautical miles from a country’s coasts, invented, i.e., agreed upon under the treaty called the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) by 157 countries and taking effect in 1994. The country from which that zone is “attached” has exclusive authority to exploit the area’s natural resources. It is not part of its sovereign territory, however.
In contrast, China claims these areas — especially the Spratlys — as theirs because it is part of its sovereign territory, as exercised, declared and recognized by most countries before World War 2. President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. invaded a huge part of the Spratlys and declared it part of our territory only in 1978, while Vietnam occupied theirs mostly from 1973 to 1988. China managed to occupy only seven reefs in 1988.
The sovereign territory of one country is considered “more legitimate” than an EEZ of another, and no nation has contested otherwise. One example is Taiwan, whose land and territorial sea overlap with our EEZ.
The colossal deception disseminated by the US is that the ruling by an arbitral panel (convened under Unclos provisions) invalidated China’s claims in the Spratlys.
This is a total, indisputable lie and is merely a clever propaganda scheme. What the ruling (which China rejected as it wasn’t part of the arbitration procedure) invalidated is the so-called nine-dash line first drawn in 1947 by a minor bureaucrat around the South China Sea to mark the archipelagos, such as the Spratlys that China calls Nansha, that China claims are part of their territory.
But China’s claims over the Spratlys and the other three archipelagos aren’t based on the 1947 dashed-line, but on the international-law practice basis for declaring sovereignty, among them, effective occupation, conquest and general recognition by other states, which was China’s bases before Vietnam, the Philippines and even Malaysia invaded the features it now occupies. Every map issued by China in the modern era has had Nansha and the other island groups depicted as part of its territory.
Unclos or any other body cannot decide what nation legally owns a disputed area. While this is an indisputable principle, the arbitral ruling still reported in Paragraph 153 of its Award on Jurisdictions and Admissibility (dated Oct. 20, 2015): “The Philippines has NOT asked the Tribunal to rule on sovereignty and, indeed, has expressly and repeatedly requested that the Tribunal refrain from so doing.”
And then in Paragraph 272 of its Award on Merit dated 12 July 2016:
“The Tribunal emphasizes that NOTHING in this Award should be understood to comment in any way on China’s historic claim to the islands of the South China Sea.”
In plain language, the award did not rule on whether China or the Philippines has a legitimate sovereign claim in the Spratlys and on Scarborough Shoal. Yet our officials and even Fr. Aquino claim so.
The good father wrote, “We have gone to court and have obtained a judgment declaring what is ours.” That’s totally wrong.
It wasn’t even a court but a mere five-man arbitration panel. There was no judgment declaring that the Spratlys and Scarborough “is ours.” It was all smoke and mirrors that the ruling on the nine-dash line junked China’s sovereign claims in the South China Sea
As bad as proof of ignorance on the SCS issues was the Philippine Star columnist’s claim that Bajo de Masinloc is ours since it “sits well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.”
If not for the seriousness of the issue, that claim is hilarious as it denigrates the Philippine claim over Bajo de Masinloc, which the writer thought he was defending. In its April 2012 official statement, the foreign affairs department explained that the reason why Bajo de Masinloc is our sovereign territory is not because it is within our EEZ but because the Philippines has exercised both effective occupation and effective jurisdiction over Bajo de Masinloc since its independence.
Among the proofs of effective occupation and jurisdiction, the DFA cited were as follows: that it was used as an impact range by Philippine and US Naval Forces stationed in Subic Bay in Zambales; that its Department of Environment and Natural Resources has been conducting scientific, topographic, and marine studies in the shoal; and that Filipino fishermen have always considered it as their fishing grounds, owing to their proximity to southwestern Luzon. Also, in 2009, when the Philippines passed an amended Archipelagic Baselines Law that is fully consistent with the Law of the Sea, Bajo de Masinloc was classified under the “Regime of Islands” consistent with the Law of the Sea.
While the arbitral panel did not rule on the issue of sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, interestingly, it described at length China’s sovereignty claims: Scarborough Shoal, in China, is known as ‘Huangyan Dao’ and is treated as part of the Zhongsha Islands. In China’s 1958 Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on China’s Territorial Sea, China declared a twelve-mile nautical sea from “all territories… including the Zhongsha Islands.” China’s 1992 Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone also included the Zhongsha Islands in China’s territorial land, which generated a 12-nautical mile territorial sea.
China’s major rebuttal against the Philippine claim is that Scarborough Shoal is outside the Philippine territory as defined in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, by which Spain turned over its colony to the US.
While the US-manufactured narrative is dominant here, adopted by our top leaders in both the executive and legislative branches, many more man-hours have been expended by academics and writers who have presented a more balanced view of our SCS disputes than those who claim China as an Evil Empire grabbing our territories.
I’ve written over a hundred columns in this paper, in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and in the Far Eastern Economic Review when China first occupied Mischief Reef in 1994. I took a special interest in the issue because it was President Benigno Aquino 3rd, whom I was no fan of, who put us in the path of conflict with China, reversing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s huge accomplishments in drawing us closer to the superpower in our region. I wrote the book “Debacle” which in detail debunked the US-crafted propaganda narratives on the SCS disputes. None of the assertions in these writings have ever been questioned, except through ad hominem arguments as those by the PCG spokesman Tarriela and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who branded me a traitor because I didn’t support the US propaganda line Philippine officials have embraced.
The bottom line is China has its claims and we have our claims. No court has ruled nor can any court rule on which sovereignty claim is legitimate. We cannot act like spoiled brats and be angry and shout, “What is ours is ours.” We cannot resolve the dispute through a thousand diplomatic protests or stupid games like our vessels playing cat and mouse with Chinese ships. The only option is to negotiate with China. But our leaders don’t seem to like that path. China has its national interests to pursue and we have ours.
I am glad there are others as qualified or even more knowledgeable than me in boldly debunking the US narratives, which are intended to drive a wedge between us and China that is challenging its hegemony in Asia.
Among these are veteran journalist Herman Laurel; former Manila Times columnist Sass Rogando Sasot who has an MA in international relations from Leiden University College in the Netherlands and who has also written a book “A Lighthouse Before A Troubled Sea: Essays on the. South China Sea Conflict”; Anna Malindog-Uy, who has an MA in Advanced European Studies and International Studies and is now writing her PhD dissertation in economics; Melissa Loja (a PhD in public international law); and Romel Bagares (an instructor in public international law in three universities) who have exposed the fraud that is the Murillo Velarde map, even hinting that it may have been a scam.
The 19th-century existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard hit the nail right on its head when he wrote: “Truth always rests with the minority … because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion.”
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