"We can never truly claim we lost an inch of our territory."
President Duterte is all wrong when he promised to set aside the arbitral ruling made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. His interpretation is that we ceded a portion of what is supposed to be “ours” in the South China Sea demarcated as part of our exclusive economic zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
To put things in their proper perspective, we have to begin by knowing our history. The Philippines is the first country, then a colony of Spain, to officially demarcate its boundary in the South China Sea. That happened when Spain and the US signed the Treaty of Paris on Dec. 10, 1898, which excluded the Spratly group of islands as part of the territory to be sold for $20 million.
The Spratly group of islands, one of which we now occupy as the municipality of Kalayaan, is demarcated outside the Treaty, and logically not part of the archipelago sold by Spain to the US.
Article III specifically pointed by degrees the latitude and longitude of the demarcations.
The group of islands now renamed and respectively occupied are: Itu Aba (occupied by Tiran); Thitu island (Philippines); West Bank island (Philippines); Spratly island (Vietnam); Parola island (Philippines); Southwest Cay (Vietnam); Sin Cowe Island (Vietnam); Lawak island (Philippines); Sand Cay (Vietnam); Kota island (Philippines); Shallow Reef (Malaysia); Namyet island (Vietnam); Amboyna Cay (Vietnam); Gierson reef (Vietnam); Central London Reef (Vietnam); Patag island (Philippines); and Panatag island (Philippines).
When UNCLOS was ratified and signed by us in 1973, an important concept called “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) was added, stretching the jurisdictional limit of adjacent states to 200 miles to allow them to explore and exploit mineral resources of that section in their continental shelf.
Whatever jurisdictional rights we have within the 200-mile limit came only after UNCLOS was ratified in 1973. Before that, we never entertained or claimed to have jurisdictional right over those areas outside the Treaty of Paris.
It was only after we ratified the 1973 Constitution that we deviated from the demarcated boundary of the Treaty by including Sabah, by virtue of legal title and historic right over that territory.
It is worth noting that the boundary separating the Philippines and Taiwan is along the Bashi Strait drawn in a straight horizontal line at 118 degrees, and moves straight downward at a distance beyond the 200-mile limit from our shore. Scarborough or Panatag shoal is 220 kms. from the nearest town of Palauig in Zambales province.
As the boundary reaches the end of Palawan Island, which is slanted outward to create a vast internal waters called Sulu Sea, and adopted by virtue of the “archipelagic doctrine” conceived by then Senator Tolentino, the boundary gets tighter and closer to Palawan as if to purposely exclude the Spratly group of islands until it reaches Balabac strait in Sulu, and moved eastward to Sibutu Strait. This narrow but craggy passageway is the boundary between the Philippines and Borneo, and was clarified by the US with Spain in the Washington Treaty of 1900.
Before that, we never said anything beyond the demarcated boundary agreed in the Treaty of Paris. Neither could we cite the EEZ to extend our jurisdictional claim which was conceived only in 1973. In fact, it was UNCLOS that gave the government the idea to extend our jurisdiction under the Convention by issuing P.D. No. 1596 on June 11, 1978 declaring Kalayaan group of islands part of the Philippine territory and providing government and administration thereof.
The “whereas clause” of the decree seemingly justified our claim, to wit: “by reason of proximity, the cluster of islands and islets in the South China Sea is situated within the Kalayaan group of islands is vital to the security and economic survival of the Philippines; that much of the area is part of the continental margin of the Philippine archipelago; that these areas do not legally belong to any state or nation but, by reason of history, indispensable need, and effective occupation and control established in accordance with international law, such areas must now be deemed to belong and subject to the sovereignty of the Philippines; and that while other states have laid claims to some of these areas, their claims have lapsed by abandonment and cannot prevail over that of the Philippines based on legal, historical, and equitable grounds.”
That same day, former President Marcos, to prevent a scramble by some states to assert jurisdiction over all islands and territory in the Spratly, issued P.D. No. 1599 on June 11, 1978, “Establishing Economic Zone” citing the EEZ provision extending the distance to 200 nautical miles from the baselines of our territorial sea which is measured as vital to the economic survival and development; and, that the zone is now a recognized principle in international law.
The Scarborough or Panatag Shoal is considered by us as our traditional fishing ground and we treat it as part of our territory, as when the US navy was still at Subic used it to stage regular target and bombing practice. When the US left the bases, they never said anything about the Scarborough Shoal, which reason why most of our fishermen from Zambales converted the area as their fishing ground. Nonetheless, Scarborough or Panatag Shoal is situated 220 kilometers off the coast of our nearest shore or outside the EEZ.
Taking all these into account, we can never truly claim we lost an inch of our territory. Only the PCA, which has for its intention of sowing the seeds of perpetual conflict with China and to keep relevant the presence of the US bases, insist on our rights over that area. Most importantly, the US never sought to bargain the inclusion of the Spratly islands in the Treaty considering its proximity to the archipelago it seeks to purchase from Spain as when it clarified the Sibutu Strait from Spain in 1900.
On the contrary, the Memorandum of Understanding to exploit and develop oil and natural gas in the Reed Bank between Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi did us a favor to ensure we get 60 percent of the share provided for in Section 2, Article XII of the Constitution. The MOU envisions a state-to-state agreement between the Philippines’ PNOC and China’s CNOOC.
The previous service contract was an agreement between the government and the private concessionaires. It accorded Shell and Chevron 90 percent share while giving only a paltry sum of 10 percent to PNOC, which was grossly disadvantageous, not to say a violation of the Constitution.
The Locsin-Yi MOU actually did us a favor but accidentally eased out other oil companies including the one owned by Del Rosario and Pangilinan. The President has not sold our country to unfairly compare him to England’s wartime Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to appease Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland to avoid war. President Duterte got three positive outputs from said MOU: 1) Economically by rectifying the sharing in accordance to our Constitution; 2) By getting what we want without losing an inch of our territory; and most important, 3) Cementing friendship with our neighbor.