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BBM’s stance on our SCS disputes with China so misinformed

BASED on his remarks in a speaking engagement in Honolulu, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s view on our disputes with China in the South China Sea (SCS) is so colossally misinformed.

He said: “Tensions in the West Philippine Sea are growing with persistent and unlawful threats and challenges against Philippine sovereign rights and jurisdiction over our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) — actions that violate obligations under international law, particularly the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).”

He was alarmed: “Our regular routine and resupply missions at Ayungin Shoal are subjected to coercive tactics and dangerous maneuvers of coast guard and maritime militia vessels in the West Philippine Sea, putting the lives of our people at risk and challenging the rule of law that has defined our economic zone and the maritime territory of the Philippines. So, I have said it before, and I will say it again, the Philippines will not give a single square inch of our territory to any foreign power. The law is clear, as defined by the Unclos and the final and binding 2016 award on the South China Sea arbitration.”

Marcos was echoing the statements of his advisers on the issue, that the Philippines has the sole sovereign rights to Ayungin Shoal and the Spratly islands where it is, because these are within our EEZ as defined by Unclos.

What Marcos was not informed about is the following crucial information:

China is claiming Ayungin Shoal, and the entire Spratly archipelago (Kalayaan to us) as part of its sovereign land territory, without any reference to the Unclos and the EEZ concept it created. In the modern era, China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea island groups had been established through many official actions, such as their depiction as a part of China in its maps and the People’s Republic of China’s 1958 declaration of its territorial sea, which listed the island groups in the South China Sea (that included the Spratlys) as part of its territory.

Never has Marcos mentioned that China (and Vietnam) has had a long-standing claim of sovereignty over the Spratlys.

Terra nullius

The Philippines actually had earlier claimed that the Spratlys was within its sovereign territory after Marcos’ father, Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr., annexed it and declared it as a municipality of Palawan province in 1978 through his Presidential Decree 1596, which claimed — wrongly — that it was terra nullius, i.e., unclaimed by any country. Before that, our territory as defined by the 1898 Treaty of Paris by which Spain surrendered the Philippines to the United States did not include the Spratlys nor Scarborough Shoal.

Aquino 3rd’s administration and now Marcos’, however, had all but dropped that claim of sovereignty over the Spratly. The most important reason for this was that since the disputes broke out in the 1980s, the US (as well as most of the world’s countries) had taken the official stance that it is neutral to this sovereignty dispute over the Spratlys, which also involves Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia, such neutrality being its usual stance in disputes it is not involved in.

However, the US as part of its “Pivot to Asia” starting in 2009 — a thinly veiled campaign to prevent the rise of China as a superpower — undertook a clever maneuver to portray China’s claims as illegitimate, in order to drive a wedge between the superpower and the Philippines that it can transform into its proxy in Asia. It got the Aquino 3rd government to file the “arbitration suit” against China, invoking Unclos.


The arbitral panel did declare that the Philippines’ EEZ encompassed most of the Spratlys as the only legitimate EEZ in that area under Unclos, and the implication was that China therefore had no business in the Spratlys, and that it was illegally intruding into our EEZ.

But Unclos is a treaty that took effect only in 1994 — at least a century after China claimed the Spratlys as part of its territory — by which 157 countries agreed to what the EEZ is and to respect these when declared by countries.

And more importantly, if an EEZ overlaps a country’s sovereign territory, including its 12-nautical mile territorial sea, the latter is the superior claim. For instance, our EEZ covers nearly half of Taiwan, but it is absurd to claim we have sovereign rights given to an EEZ there.

The tribunal also ruled that China’s so-called nine-dash line — which the Philippines and the US portrayed as the basis for China’s claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea — has no legal basis under Unclos. But China has never claimed that that still-undefined dashed line was the basis for its sovereign claims. (Why is it dashed and not a solid line, the usual way cartographers depict a nation’s boundary?).

But even as the reality was that the arbitral ruling left the issue of sovereignty over the Spratlys unresolved, the US and its minions here misrepresented the ruling as one voiding China’s claims. China’s actions against us in the Spratlys, they claimed, violate international law.


The arbitral ruling, however, did not rule on China’s sovereignty claim over the Spratlys, and declared that issues of sovereignty are not within the Unclos’ mandate. Despite this, the US and its minions here have gone to town, deliberately misrepresenting through a massive propaganda campaign that the ruling voided China’s claims in the Spratlys. Its actions in the Spratlys, they claimed, violate international law.

However, to his credit, even retired justice Antonio Carpio — who started and intensely undertook this demonizing of China in 2012, claiming it has trampled on our EEZ — has partly recanted and recognizes that our disputes with China do not just involve maritime claims (i.e., EEZs) but sovereign territorial claims, which cannot be resolved by any international body, but only through negotiations or voluntary submission to an arbiter. (See my column, “Carpio: Just wait for sea levels to rise,” November 30).

For Marcos, the Philippines has every right to supply the marines living at the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin with whatever they need for their survival and to prevent it from sinking to the sea, because it is within the Philippines’ EEZ, and he is hoping the US will help him enforce that right.

Xi Ren’ai Jiao.

For Xi Jinping, China is defending Ayungin (which it calls Ren’ai Jiao) part of the sovereign territory of his country which has the biggest army in the world and is even the world’s biggest economic power. How can a weak country, he must be thinking, demand that we give up our sovereign territory on the basis of the ruling of a five-man panel on the Philippines’ EEZ, created under a 1994 treaty, which even categorically declared that issues of sovereignty are not within its scope?

Marcos brown-American advisers did not just feed him misinformation. They didn’t provide him with crucial formation, as the fact that China claims Ayungin and the entire Spratlys as part of its sovereign territory. Our claim is even of a lower value, that our EEZ covers the area. They have been feeding him disinformation so as to prod him to take a fiercely anti-China stance such that he has made the Philippines an American vassal.

No wonder, to use Marcos words, the situation in the Kalayaan Islands “is getting more dire.” Why wouldn’t it if he can’t see why China is adamant in protecting what it thinks is its sovereign territory. Does he think that a superpower, to use again his favorite term, will give up a square inch of its territory?

There are only two things worse than fighting a superpower and a neighboring one at that. One is to quarrel with it for very wrong reasons, and second to fight it on behalf of a superpower’s rival.

Not late

It’s not too late to change your stance against China, Mr. President. Only 7 percent of Filipinos, according to a recent reputable poll, care about “defending the integrity of Philippine territory against foreigners.” In contrast, the concerns of 74 percent of Filipinos are over “controlling inflation” and 49 percent over increasing workers’ pay.

And if China, our biggest trading partner, decides to retaliate against us, do you think inflation will decrease and workers’ pay rise? In effect, you’ll be losing the trust of only 7 percent of Filipinos and gaining that of the 74 percent, which might even go as high as 90 percent.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Duterte was right once again. Not only is Bobong Marcos weak, he is also gullible and easily manipulated both by local Amboys and foreign imperialist hegemons with their own agendas and foreign policy objectives.

  2. Dorina S. Rojas

    As long as we hold on to the crotch of US and its allies and believe in them, we are doomed to fight a war and lose it. Will the US even care even if their own bombs destroy our inland and marine territories? I bet they will just sleep over it as long as their bases are here forever. And PBBM and his family have gained permanent visas to migrate to the US anytime, with history repeating itself with some happy revisions, so with our Amboy leaders who might even lead the migration at the US’ signal. The rest of us? We can just pray and pick up the pieces afterwards if we are lucky enough to survive.

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