"The issue of the West Philippine Sea is still largely ignored."
One major issue at stake and yet still largely ignored in the May 2022 presidential elections is the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
The WPS is our claim to strategic islands, reefs, or geologic formations which are either part of the Philippine territory under the Treaty of Paris of 1898 and the Washington Treaty of 1900, or are integral to the country’s 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone and the 350-nautical mile Continental Shelf.
Gut issues will dominate the issues in next year’s presidential polls—high prices, joblessness, poverty—all three at record levels. Because these issues have been triggered and or exacerbated by the 18-month-old pandemic, management of COVID-19 is a major issue as well and could in fact, decide the results in the opposition’s favor (assuming the anti-Duterte forces can come up with a single unified ticket).
The Duterte administration’s pandemic management, if any, has been a gargantuan failure, so colossal that Duterte’s team risks losing badly in May 2022. At stake are the presidency, the vice presidency, the 12 senatorial slots, the more than 300 congressional seats, 100 provincial governorships, 100 city mayorships, and the 1,488 town mayorships, plus members of local legislative councils.
It seems clear now that Duterte’s feisty and sheriff-punching daughter, Sara Carpio, the mayor of Davao, will run for president.
So confident is Sara of winning she behaves as if she were entitled to being the successor to her father in Malacanang.
Initial surveys indicate that one of every four voters would vote for the presidential daughter—if elections were held today. Her election would make the Philippines seem like a monarchy.
COVID cases are erupting at the rate of 16,000 a day. If that rate continues between now and the May 9, 2022 elections, or in eight months, there would have been four million COVID victims, a doubling from the current 1.899 million cases.
Eight months ago, last January 2021, there were only 475,819 COVID cases. Today, there are 1.899 million cases, an increase of 299 percent, quadruple—despite the longest and strictest lockdown in the world that shut down 70 percent of businesses, laid off 70 percent of workers, impoverished half of Filipinos, and made the Philippines again Asia’s economic laggard.
About 1.7 of every 100 COVID victims die. So out of 4.0 million sick by May 2022, 68,000 Filipinos would have died –a 112 percent increase or more than double today’s toll of 32,000 deaths. With 68,000 dying, mostly unnecessarily, the Duterte presidency is the deadliest in our history.
Back to WPS. Two of geologic formations have been controversial because they have either been coveted or in fact, seized by China—Scarborough Shoal (or Bajo de Masinloc) and the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), which form part of the Spratlys.
The Chinese Navy seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 using a ruse brokered by an American official that both the Philippine Navy and the Chinese Navy would pull out of the area to settle a simmering standoff. The Philippine side did. The Chinese did not pull out and proceeded instead to seize the formation and militarize it. Scarborough is 120 nautical miles west of Luzon island.
In the July 12, 2016 ruling by the international arbitral tribunal, the Philippines lost its claim that Scarborough Shoal is part of its 200-mile EEZ. The Tribunal said instead Scarborough is a rock which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of its own. Being a rock, it is capable of generating a territorial sea but not an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf. We gained territorial sea waters but not land territory.
EEZ is nautical miles from the Philippine territory. Continental shelf is another 150 nautical miles farther from the EEZ.
The 45-hectare Itu Aba, the largest island in the Spratlys, was also declared by the Tribunal as not being capable of sustaining human habitation or economic life of its own. Thus, Itu Aba is only entitled to a 12-NM territorial sea. Again, we gained territorial sea waters but not land territory.
President Duterte has dismissed the July 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling as just a piece of paper.
The ruling declared “Any historic rights that China may have had to the living and non-living resources within the ’nine-dash-line’ were superseded, as a matter of law, and as between the Philippines and China, by the limits of the maritime zones provided by the (UN) Convention (on the Law of the Sea).” UNCLOS, the tribunal said, extinguished all historic rights in the EEZ, ECS and higher seas.
The tribunal also ruled “there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights in resources within the seas falling within (its) ‘nine-dash-line’.”
South China Sea is the Philippines’ future. It is a rich source of food—fish and other seafood. The Spratlys account for 12 percent of the world’s fish catch. Food is 50 percent of Filipino consumer spending.
The Spratlys are where the fish spawn—they lay their eggs there and the eggs and larvae are carried by currents to the coast of China, Vietnam, Luzon, Palawan, and Sulu Sea.
Equally important, the Spratlys are a rich source of minerals, oil, and gas.
With an energy shortage expected in three years, the gas from Malampaya and oil from other parts of the South China Sea could be the solution.
The South China Sea is one of the most important international waterways in the world.
According to former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, about $5.3 trillion in ship-borne goods traverse the South China Sea every year. Four leading exporting countries use the South China Sea for their maritime trade–China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
About 65 percent of the petroleum imports of South Korea, 60 percent of the petroleum imports of Japan and Taiwan passed through the narrow strait of Malacca on the way to these countries.
Today, 50 percent of the petroleum imports of China pass through the narrow state of Malacca going to China.
Carpio says China was always worried that someone might block this narrow strait and the Chinese economy would grind to a halt.
Because of that fear, China built two pipelines, one for oil and the other for gas, from the coast of Myanmar to Kunming in Yunnan province and these pipelines started operating in 2015.
About 30 percent of the petroleum imports of China pass through these two pipelines, and only 50 percent pass through the narrow strait of Malacca.