‘Res Nul­lius' – The Spratlys' deeper his­tory

Palawan News - - OPINION -

On my first term in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives back in 1991, I took an early in­ter­est on the is­sues in­volv­ing the Spratlys, a small ar­chi­pel­ago lo­cated on the west­ern flank of Palawan within the West Philip­pine Sea com­posed of hun­dreds of reefs, atolls, islets and is­lands. Within these high seas, an es­ti­mated 5 tril­lion dol­lars-worth of sea-born com­merce pass through. I had be­come an avid stu­dent of the his­tory of the Kalayaan Group of Is­lands (KGI), which un­der 1987 Con­sti­tu­tiMarites Dañguilan Vi­tug’s ‘Rock Solid- How the Philip­pines Won Its Mar­itime Case against China’. on was added as Palawan’s 23rd mu­nic­i­pal­ity and part of the leg­isla­tive dis­trict of the prov­ince I rep­re­sented in the House. For my mas­teral the­sis in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, I wrote about the KGI’s past, present and my vi­sion of its fu­ture. Last month when I was in Manila, I chanced upon the last copy at the Ate­neo de Manila Univer­sity Press of Marites Dañguilan Vi­tug’s ‘Rock Solid- How the Philip­pines Won Its Mar­itime Case against China’. This book ac­cord­ing to Vic­tor An­dres C. Man­hit, Pres­i­dent of Strat base ADR In­sti­tute “is a com­pre­hen­sive ac­count of the epic le­gal suc­cess of the Philip­pines’ ter­ri­to­rial claim over that of China” in­volv­ing the Spratlys, be­fore the Per­ma­nent Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion (PCA) in The Hague, Nether­lands. China, of course de­faulted, re­fus­ing to bow to the Court’s ju­ris­dic­tion. Con­se­quently, China’s main an­chor for its “his­toric rights” ar­gu­ment – the so-called “nine-dash line” the­ory – was in­val­i­dated. De­spite her not be­ing a lawyer, Ms. Vi­tug was able to cap­ture the le­gal sce­nario, its his­tor­i­cal an­tecedents, and the depth of the ex­changes in the pro­ceed­ings in such a riv­et­ing way that the reader’s in­ter­est re­mains to the last page. She de­scribed the out­come of the case as an “over­whelm­ing vic­tory for the Philip­pines”. I could not agree more and even the fact that China re­fused to be a party to the pro­ceed­ings was in­con­se­quen­tial. In­deed, with or with­out China’s ev­i­dence on record, the Philip­pine claim was “rock solid”. That said, let me say that ‘Rock Solid’s his­tor­i­cal cov­er­age was a bit con­densed. I must state here that the Spratlys has a his­tory go­ing past the Mar­cos regime and other ad­min­is­tra­tion’s work in le­git­imiz­ing and strength­en­ing the Philip­pine claim over the Spratlys. My own re­search re­vealed that the pre 2nd World War era could in fact serve as an ap­pro­pri­ate start­ing point for our claim and that im­por­tant events there­after up un­til the early 1970’s were as much as the his­tor­i­cal and le­gal bases for the coun­try’s sovereignty over this group of is­lands. Let me out­line those sig­nif­i­cant events as fol­lows: Ja­pan’s Greater East Asia Co-pros­per­ity Sphere – prior to the start of the 2nd World War in the Asia-Pa­cific with the Ja­panese bomb­ing of Pearl Har­bor in Hawaii in 1941 and with China be­ing un­der Ja­panese sub­ju­ga­tion, its pow­er­ful war ma­chine was rolling over smaller pa­cific na­tions to de­feat. It was at this point that Ja­pan, al­ready at the vic­tory’s doorstep, es­tab­lished the so-called Greater East Asia Co-pros­per­ity Sphere that placed these na­tions un­der Ja­pan’s sovereignty in­clud­ing the Spratlys and later the Philip­pines. At that time, only France was in one of the big­ger is­lands, hav­ing con­structed a fer­til­izer plant. His­tor­i­cal data re­mains, point­ing to sev­eral French struc­tures and mark­ers. Filipino fish­er­men ven­tur­ing as far as those is­lands con­firmed the ex­is­tence of French mark­ers. This was also the be­gin­ning of the Viet­namese claim over some is­lands, Viet­nam then be­ing about to be lib­er­ated from French colo­nial bondage. The 1951 Treaty of San Fran­cisco – al­tho’ the 2nd World War ended in Au­gust 1945 with Ja­pan’s for­mal sur­ren­der to the al­lied forces on board the bat­tle­ship Mis­souri, it was this 1951 treaty that of­fi­cially ended the war, with Ja­pan re­lin­quish­ing its sov­er­eign rights over the na­tions forcibly made to join its Greater East Asia Co-pros­per­ity Sphere. The Spratlys, with this re­lin­quish­ment, be­came res nul­lius (owned by none). Other parts of the Spratlys were placed un­der Philip­pine trustee­ship. Ad­mi­ral To­mas Cloma’s ‘dis­cov­ery’ in 1956 of Free­dom­land (within the Spratlys) and his sub­se­quent claim of is­land own­er­ship – the United Na­tion’s Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and more ap­pro­pri­ately, in­ter­na­tional agree­ments on mar­itime con­cerns prior to the UNCLOS de­clared that dis­cov­ery of is­land/s can only ripen to sovereignty rights if the is­land/s were/are res nul­lius cou­pled with ef­fec­tive oc­cu­pa­tion. Af­ter dis­cov­er­ing the Spratlys, self­styled Ad­mi­ral To­mas Cloma from Bo­hol planted his own flags on the 52 is­lands and islets, called them Free­dom­land and es­tab­lished un­der his gov­er­nance his fish­ing sta­tions in the big­ger is­lands. He also regis­tered his claim with the United Na­tions and the Philip­pine Gov­ern­ment, re­lent­lessly press­ing his oc­cu­pa­tion and own­er­ship of ‘his is­lands’. Jailed for some time dur­ing mar­tial law for re­fus­ing to sign waiver doc­u­ments over Free­dom­land in fa­vor of the gov­ern­ment, he be­gan to lose in­ter­est on Free­dom­land. Later, he did sign the waivers for a P1.00 con­sid­er­a­tion and was forth­with set free. In 1957, then For­eign Af­fairs Sec­re­tary Car­los P. Gar­cia (con­cur­rently the Vice-Pres­i­dent of the Philip­pines and co­in­ci­den­tally a prov­ince-mate of Cloma) pur­sued the lat­ter’s claim over Free­dom­land this time on be­half of the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment, ar­gu­ing that Cloma’s claim was ac­tu­ally for the coun­try. Mi­tra’s 1971‘wake-up speech’ for Free­dom­land – Ra­mon V. Mi­tra, Jr. was a young con­gress­man from Palawan and mi­nor­ity leader in 1971 when he de­liv­ered what later fa­mously be­came known as Mi­tra’s ‘ wake-up speech’ in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Free­dom­land. This was 2 days af­ter re­turn­ing from his fish­ing trip to Free­dom­land dur­ing which his speed boat, veer­ing close to one of the is­lands, was fired upon by what he be­lieved were na­tion­al­ist forces of Tai­wan. In his speech, he ex­pressed shock in know­ing that Free­dom­land was then ac­tu­ally oc­cu­pied by hos­tile for­eign forces, shocked even more by the fact that the con­gres­sional lead­er­ship was un­aware of the sit­u­a­tion and called for ur­gent ac­tion, diplo­mat­i­cally or oth­er­wise to pro­tect the Philip­pine claim. No­tably, from the es­tab­lish­ment by Ja­pan of its Greater East Asia Co- pros­per­ity Sphere prior to and dur­ing the 2nd World War un­til the 1976 dec­la­ra­tion by Pres­i­dent Mar­cos cre­at­ing the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Kalayaan (Free­dom­land) noth­ing was heard, ob­served, or seen from com­mu­nist China

De­spite her not be­ing a lawyer, Ms. Vi­tug was able to cap­ture the le­gal sce­nario, its his­tor­i­cal an­teced-ents, and the depth of the ex­changes in the pro­ceed­ings in such a riv­et­ing way that the reader's in-ter­est re­mains to the last page.

re­gard­ing the Spratlys. But with re­spect to na­tion­al­ist China or Tai­wan, its forces were oc­cu­py­ing some parts of the Spratlys as early as 1971. As far as I could re­call, it was only in the 1980’s on­wards that the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China(PRC) be­gan to rear its ugly head in the Spratlys by oc­cu­py­ing Mis­chief Reef, for­ti­fied it into its sea gar­ri­son. Mis­chief Reef by the way is only around 200 nau­ti­cal miles from south­west Palawan. From then on, China’s ex­pan­sion­ist poli­cies took the bet­ter of the sit­u­a­tion by cre­at­ing man-made is­lands for mil­i­tary use of reefs and atolls therein. By virtue of its “creep­ing in­va­sion”, the PRC is now the dom­i­nant pres­ence in the Spratlys.

D R / R 52N7 52

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines

© PressReader. All rights reserved.