Filipinos must know what is theirs, or they risk losing it altogether
Philippine Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has once again sounded the alarm on mainland China’s continuing activities in the West Philippine Sea.
Mainland China, he said, is not just building artificial islands at seven reefs that are all within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone as defined and recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which both countries are signatories. The fortifications being made are at the expense of 10 other reefs within the contested area, which are being dredged to provide filling material for the seven reefs that mainland China has appropriated for itself, despite competing claims not only by the Philippines but also by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Carpio’s earlier research into and survey of 60 ancient maps, the oldest of which dates back to 1136 under China’s Nan Song Dynasty, have persuasively debunked mainland China’s claim of “historical ownership” over nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea based on its so-called nine-dash line. That demarcation would have brought China’s maritime border suffocatingly close to a long stretch of the Philippines’ coastline — from Yamin Island in northern Batanes to Balabac Island in southern Palawan, as Carpio has pointed out.
But, as his research into ancient cartography shows, none of the maps ever indicated that the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal were ever part of Chinese territory. In fact, another map not part of Carpio’s survey appears to provide conclusive proof that Scarborough Shoal, then called “Panacot,” was already part of the Philippine domain some 300 years ago. The Murillo Velarde map, a certified true copy of which was recently acquired by businessman Mel Velarde through auction at Sotheby’s in London, includes Scarborough or Panacot in what it presents as a “A Hydrographical and Corographical Chart of the Philippine Islands,” circa 1734.
But these pieces of prima facie evidence have not deterred mainland China from imposing its specious claim by successively grabbing and leapfrogging from one reef and islet to another — by force if necessary, such as when it drove away Philippine troops stationed on Scarborough in 2012 — and eventually transforming these slivers of land into what appear to be military installations and other facilities that would give it greater dominance and forward flexibility in the area. The demands so far by the international community to halt any activities that contribute to further tension in the region have been roundly ignored by mainland China; instead, it has truculently attacked the Philippines for seeking international arbitration via the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to help resolve the conflict and make mainland China desist from uni- laterally enforcing its claim.
Carpio is tireless in his efforts to keep this issue alive — to drum up and sustain attention against mainland China’s unrelenting machinations to create a fait accompli in the region that would prevent other claimant countries from reacquiring territories that it has forcibly annexed. His is heroic work that the Philippine government should take up, support and expand. Specifically, with the map exhibit Carpio has put together, as well as the Murillo Velarde map that Velarde has promised he would donate to the Philippine government, all Filipino schoolchildren and students should henceforth be taught more assiduously about the facts, the history and the implications of the Philippine claim in the South China Sea.
As retired University of the Philippines geography professor Meliton Juanico lamented in an opinion piece in this paper, “geographic illiteracy” appears to contribute to widespread disinterest and apathy among ordinary Filipinos who can’t seem to be roused to engagement and anger despite China’s abusive, bullying behavior. The loss of territory in the seas that are well within the Philippines’ internationally recognized economic zone has not occasioned the kind of indignant and resolute reaction among Filipinos that the Vietnamese, for instance, have consistently shown whenever mainland China so much as tries to encroach on its own claimed domains.
“If we had been taught that the maritime territories are part of our national patrimony that we should love and defend, it should have been easy to kindle nationalistic fervor against intruders,” writes Juanico. Indeed. It might be late in the day, but not too late, to start redressing this monumental omission. Filipinos need to know what is ours — or we risk losing it by indifference. This is an editorial published by Philippine Daily Inquirer on Aug. 1.