Ratcheting up trouble in the South China Sea

Ratcheting up trouble in the South China Sea"Has Secretary Lorenzana become the unofficial mouthpiece of the US embassy?"


We should stop referring to that portion of the Spratly as ours because of the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It was the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that we ratified in 1982 where we got our right to have the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

To recall, it was then-Senator Arturo Tolentino, our leading expert on the law of the sea, that formulated our territorial waters; that islands separated beyond 12 miles is still considered part of our internal waters with outward limitation not to exceed 200 miles.

That decision was done to comply with UNCLOS which we incorporated in our Constitution.  Then-Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza aptly called it the “Philippine Archipelagic Doctrine”, to quote: “...all waters, around between and connecting different islands belonging to the Philippine Archipelago, irrespective of their width or dimension, are necessary appurtenances of its land territory, forming an integral part of the national or inland waters, subject to the exclusive sovereignty of the Philippines.”

We ratified UNCLOS pursuant to our adoption of the doctrine. Some say it follows the contour of the islands from their baseline to the outermost limit, and waters irrespective of width and dimension, that forms part of the archipelago.

The Treaty of Paris was later expanded to include our claim to our EEZ.  Almost all countries separated by archipelago recognize our doctrine.    

President Marcos issued PD No. 1596 on June 11, 1978 making Kalayaan a distinct and separate municipality of Palawan.  The decree did not to violate any international law but: 1) adjusted our territorial waters in accordance to the doctrine; 2) synchronized our national territory separated by bodies of water beyond the 12-mile limit as still part of our internal waters; 3) adopted the important provisions of the newly-ratified UNCLOS then, granting countries exclusive fishing and mineral rights over its resources up to 200 miles of their EEZ. 

The Aquino government made adjustments to our boundaries in the SSC after PD No. 1596 was inexplicably scrapped.  Maybe the Aquino government wanted to get rid of the Marcos legacy, but his advisers committed a serious mistake, for they virtually changed the date when the Philippines declared the Kalayaan Group of Islands part of our territorial waters which incidentally, is being contested by China, and other countries like Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Paradoxically, if we are to retain PD No. 1596, China will find it difficult to deny our claim, much that the decree is intended to align our EEZ to UNCLOS.  The boundaries in the Treaty of Paris rather narrowed down our territorial limit that it virtually denied us of the right to explore and exploit our EEZ.

Second, China as signatory to UNCLOS is committed to adhere to the Convention. The US is so adamant in highlighting the alleged expansionist moves of China in the SCS but refuses to ratify the Convention. 

Third, by ratifying UNCLOS, China equally extended its own EEZ but it cannot expand to cover the whole of SCS. 

China’s claim of that great portion of SCS referred to as the nine-dash line is based on ancient history and has practically been rejected by all countries littoral to the SCS.  Nonetheless, our EEZ does not overlap the boundaries of other countries like China, or any island, reef, coral or shoal for us to assert our sovereignty.

Claimants in the SCS, strictly speaking, can be considered intruders.  They managed to acquired some of these islands by occupation or merger with other territories consequent to the grant of independence by their colonizer like Borneo with Malaya, resulting in the creation of Malaysia and now claiming some islets adjacent to SCS, or as a result of the arbitrary decision in the Treaty of San Francisco, surrendering the Paracel islands to Vietnam, and the forceful occupation of the islands adjacent to Taiwan.  

When we incorporated our “archipelagic doctrine” and adjusted our EEZ, no country questioned the sincerity of our intention.  Hence, when the Senate replaced the decree with another law, that did not bode well  our intention; that the country attempted to cheat and tamper our history.

China cannot make reference to the Ming Dynasty to claim the whole of SCS as once a part of its  territory,  in like manner that we would  vehemently reject any claim that the  Philippines belongs to the crown of Spain just because we were once a colony of Spain.

When the Aquino administration retouched the decree by erasing the role played by Marcos, our lawmakers and some clerics wanted to make their own version of history.

Moreover, Defense Secretary of Delfin Lorenzana has rather become the unofficial mouthpiece of the US embassy.    It was Lorenzana who first raised the issue that China was massing “militia vessels” in the Julian Felipe Reef.  Whether he is referring to them as some kind of guerrilla or naval ships disguised as fishing boats to deny any connection with the Chinese navy, we really do not know.    

Lately, Lorenzana admitted that China already reduced its “maritime militia vessels” from more than 200 to just 32 for accordingly, they obeyed “his” request. The funny thing is, when Lorenzana admonished General Sobejana to be patriotic in driving out the so-called militia vessels last February 2021,  satellite photos indicated they already left the area.  

Some are saying that Lorenzana obtained his rank of general while serving as the country’s military attaché to Washington.  The ugly thing is, he served during the time of Foreign Affairs secretary Albert Del Rosario, who lodged a complaint against China over our claim in the SCS.   In effect, Lorenzana stands as the DPA of the US and of the opposition.   Americans practically know his move to  effectively made the Duterte administration look like a “pindeho.”

Moreover, many suspect the undiplomatic language used by Lorenzana was laden with meaning.    He said “he is not a fool” to believe that the Chinese militia vessels are merely seeking shelter.  Some could sense, he wanted to make sure there would be no last minute hitch in the delivery of the French-made submarine that cost the government a whooping of more than $500 million.

On the other hand, Lt. Gen.  Carlito Sobejana should have verified the authenticity of the pictures submitted by a private company doing intelligence work for the CIA.  The photos appear to have been purposely intended to heighten tension in the relations of the two countries.  Lorenzana and General Sobjejana should have known that the US is pursuing a policy totally different from us.  

Likewise, ABS-CBN should be punished for sending its own news crew to the Mischief Reef. That unwarranted intrusion without clearance from Philippine navy added confusion to what was going on there.  Many were startled why a yacht owned by Lopez was seen cruising in the disputed waters. When chased by the “Chinese gun boat” possibly to ask why they were loitering in the area, they readily made a hype of the incident claiming being chased out of the area by a Chinese missile frigate.

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Topics: UN Convention on the Law of the Sea , Permanent Court of Arbitration , exclusive economic zone
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