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Confusion and misunderstanding in the South China Sea Part II

"Sober minds believe China will not renege on its oil and gas agreement with the Philippines."

There were, however, modifications to our national boundaries viz. territorial waters.  The first was the boundary made in the Treaty of Paris and the Treaty of Washington.  Second, the introduction by Senator Arturo Tolentino and later made into a law by then Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza of the “Philippine Archipelagic Doctrine” which was incorporated in Article I of the 1973 Constitution.  Third, our formal incorporation in Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution the UNCLOS provision granting us our right to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ).  

P.D. No. 1599 refers to an area as part of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).  Noticeable is that the decree did not mention the area referred to as our exclusive economic zone though it has reference to the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground in the South China Sea for our fishermen. Maybe we can speculate that China did not make an issue of our hypothetical claim of the EEZ.

The problem got complicated, for despite being the loudest and most vocal proponent of freedom of navigation, the US refused to ratify the UNCLOS. This is the most ambivalent thing that even our local media are silent to discuss.  Nonetheless, the US continues to supply our defense department and intelligence community with satellite photos of Chinese vessels docking at the SCS, its construction on many of the islands, and other relevant data tending to show that China has routinely been violating our “right to freedom of navigation” in the SCS. The US diligently reports these incidents to exaggerate harassment by Chinese vessels to the local media.   

Of course, these are all intended to test how far we could keep our patience to the alleged Chinese “harassment” with the US wily watching us at the sideline to avoid direct confrontation, notwithstanding that we have an existing defense agreement and even hosting five of their military bases in this country. 

As said, P.D. No. 1599 did not specifically mention the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal but affirmed that the Philippines seeks to establish its own exclusive economic zone under UNCLOS.  “Section 2, par. 2 of Article XII on National Economy and Patrimony of the 1987 Constitution states in categorical terms, to quote: “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in the archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserves its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”   

Our national boundaries not only expanded the original area stated in the Treaty of Paris, but also attempted to include the Panatag Shoal which is   outside of our exclusive economic zone now, thus adding confusion and misunderstanding.  It is now for anybody to guess the place where it is located, and for us to measure the distance from our baseline possibly in Zambales.  Maybe Marcos knew that if the area referred is beyond the 200-mile limit of the EEZ. Panatag Shoal is about 240 nautical miles from the nearest town in Masinloc, Zambales.  

This explains why the Permanent Court of Arbitration did not give much importance to China’s ancient map called Nine (9) Dash Line.  The only consolation is that China realized that the area is equally beyond its exclusive economic zone measured from their own baseline, which reason why it has been liberal, generous and accommodating to allow our fishermen   to resume fishing in the area.  Others prefer to call the reef “res nullius” or “without an owner” under international law. Besides, no state can impose sovereignty over an uninhabited reef or shoal.    

With respect to those Chinese vessels anchored in the Julian Felipe Reef, maybe the Philippine government is nervous and uneasy because of the large number vessels classified by Lorenzana as “Chinese militia vessels” may permanently occupy the shoal to make the area their anchor point.   The Philippine government wanted to avoid a repetition of the incident in 2015 when it was made to believe China would simultaneously withdraw its coast guard in the area.   The Aquino government was severely criticized by the Duterte administration after it ordered the unilateral withdrawal of our ships without us being clarified by Del Rosario of China’s stand on whether or not to comply with the supposed backdoor agreement brokered by the US.    

We can give two possible considerations as to why China did not withdraw its coast guard:  first, because the disputed area is not within our EEZ, thus making the Philippines a non-party to the dispute; and, second, it was our coast guard that boarded the Chinese fishing vessel and arrested the Chinese fishermen.    China did not relent to international pressure but applied the win-win formula to win our trust.  China has allowed the Philippines to harvest fish in the shoal but remains firmly in control of the area.    

Besides, China’s accommodation of the Philippines is to acknowledge that the Philippines is the natural beneficiary of the resources in the Panatag Shoal, it being littoral and the nearest state in the area.  Nonetheless, we should stop referring to Panatag as ours.  The PCA never awarded us the Panatag Shoal.     

On the stationing of Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef, it appears that the vessels have already left, indicating that China has no intention of permanently occupying the area.  The squabble over the stationing of those numerous Chinese vessels came to the knowledge of the Philippine government because of the satellite photo supplied by the US through a company contracted by the CIA. The satellite photo was presented to us to purposely heighten the tension between the Philippines and China, that China is out to wrest control of the area.  

Sober minds believe China will not renege on its oil and gas agreement with the Philippines. Rather, it is was Locsin who wants to spoil the day by asking China to remove their “fucking” vessels out of the area.  Such undiplomatic language drew a sharp reaction from China. The Mischief Reef and the Julian Felipe Reef can be considered as strictly within our EEZ, but the Treaty of Paris demarcated by the US and Spain indicates that they are outside our territorial boundary.      

The withdrawal therefore of the Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef should have laid the issue to rest. China knows our sentiment and is determined to resolve the issues peacefully with us.  To keep on ranting on the incident would appear that it is the Philippines that wants to keep alive a closed issue as when Secretary Locsin tweeted his sentiment via a loudspeaker as the Chinese media reminded him.  

To politicize the incident could sour our relations to affect altogether the important economic projects financed by China. Our unabated rant over an issue is turning into a provocative taunting of China which the US exactly wants us to do- to thwart the agreement similar to what it did to desperately stop the Nord Steam 2 project between Russia and Germany for the supply of natural gas to Europe. 

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Topics: Permanent Court of Arbitration , Philippine Archipelagic Doctrine , exclusive economic zone , China , Julian Felipe Reef
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