Arbitration pushed despite China snobbery on West Philippine Sea issue

‘What is ours is ours’

Arbitration pushed despite China snobbery on West Philippine Sea issue

by Maria Eleanor E. Valeros, #CebuBloggingCommunity

CEBU CITY, PHILIPPINES (April 25, 2015) — Good fences make good neighbors.

But for China and the Philippines, it helps to underscore once more the fundamental principles that shape position on the issue of maritime territorial claims, such as the one in Bajo de Masinloc which is a jurisdiction of Zambales Province.

Maria Teresa Torres Almojuela, special assistant to the Undersecretary for Policy/executive director of the Maritime and Oceans Affairs Office – Department of Foreign Affairs, said that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas of 1982, each coastal state or country with coastlines like the Philippines and China have rights to territorial sea (12 nautical miles), contiguous zone (24 NM), exclusive economic zone (200 NM), and continental shelf (200 NM). A nautical mile is 1.8 kilometers.

However, China doesn’t respect UNCLOS provisions spread in 320 articles, nine chapters, and inked by 165 signatories. The UNCLOS is deemed “constitution for oceans” which espouses customary international laws, this according to Almojuela in her presentation “What is ours is ours.”

China stands firm that based on Nine-Dash Line, it owns virtually the South China Sea (misnomer in map labeling may have in a way triggered claims but was not emphasized in the presentation). China overlaps around 75 percent on the western portion of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines, 60 percent overlap with Vietnam EEZ, 85% in Brunei, and 80% in Malaysia.

China pointed out that the nine-dash line is a “historical right.” Yet, it was only in 1947 that the then 11-dash line was mentioned in a map. China could not even explain on the exact coordinates of the said nine-dash line. Therefore, Almojuela, surmised that the claim has no basis in any international law.

The high-scale, massive reclamation (involving detrimental, aggresive activities like sediment piping, channel dredging to create artificial islands), construction of a runway and what may appear to be a military base on banks and shoals in disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea and the corresponding airspace, took strength from the said nine-dash line.

To call for a halt on further improvement of structures and the conceived bullying of fast emerging superpower nation China over smaller countries like Philippines and Vietnam, the Philippine government files an arbitration case.

“We have a strong basis to debunk China of its claim. We have UNCLOS, the constitution for oceans. Our precolonial history backs us up; that is, we are of Austronesian culture. Seafaring skills is an Austronesian heritage. We have been a seafaring nation long before the Chinese learned to trade with us, as they were more land-based,” Almojuela emphasized. “Even China’s ancient maps tell of Hainan as its southernmost tip.”

“Races of Austronesian origin were the first to use maritime spaces, the Chinese junks came later.”

“That’s why it is important to note the wrong narratives that China is trying to peddle,” Almojuela reiterated.

The cold shoulder China is giving to the arbitration case, meanwhile, only shows that as emerging superpower nation, they are asserting military power in the Asian region, Almojuela further stressed.

In 1995, China occupied Panganiban Reef by first creating a “fishermen’s shelter.” Today, the reef is completely a military garrison of China. Nearby Ayungin Shoal has been guarded by Philippine Navy soldiers onboard BRP Sierra Madre.

As for the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), it is a Philippine territory since 1975 wherein the Municipality of Kalayaan of Palawan was created. The island of Pag-asa took name after our state weather station (PAGASA) which runs a field station there since the ‘70s.

Other reclamation activities are on Union Reefs North and South or the Kennon and Johnson Reefs, respectively. It was further learned that the activities already destroyed around 300 hectares of coral reefs.

The bloggers forum meant to shed light on why the Philippines has to wrestle it out with China in the West Philippine Sea was an initiative of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine Information Agency-Cebu Information Center, and the Cebu Blogging Community in the name of public awareness and social good.

Thirty bloggers, micro-bloggers, and social media managers of non-government organizations attended the forum at blogger-friendly Diamond Suites Inn, Cebu City.###