Written and photographed
By Jude Thaddeus L. Bautista
China’s incursion into the Scarborough shoal is nothing new. Philippine authorities have arrested Chinese fishermen in the past. When it happens though it’s usually a matter of turning over the erring fishermen to their side. This time though it’s different. 2 CMS Chinese Navy surveillance ships have ‘assisted’ the invading fishermen caught red handed. There’s no denying it. The vessels were found by Phil Navy not just with fish but also with giant clams, corals and even live sharks. Nearly all of them are prohibited by local and international law from being caught or harvested and being driven to extinction.
The stand off between their surveillance ships and our own navy ship the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar is still going on, which started from Tuesday April 10. The main defense of the Chinese government is that the Scarborough Shoal is part of their territory and calls it the Huang Yan Dao.
In an official statement from the Chinese embassy: “Two Chinese Marine Surveillance ships are in this area fulfilling the duties of safeguarding Chinese national maritime rights and interests. Upon getting the report, the Embassy immediately lodged a representation to the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines and reiterated China’s sovereignty over Huangyan Island, urged the Philippine side to stop immediately their illegal activities and leave this area. The Chinese Embassy hereby reiterates that Huangyan Island is an integral part of the Chinese territory… Ever since the ancient times, numerous documents on the Chinese history have put down definitely in writing that Huangyan Island belongs to Chinese territory. ”
The only problem is that Huangyan / Scraborough is 350% farther from the Chinese mainland as it is to the Philippine coast. It is only 220 km off the Philippine main island of Luzon while being 800 km south of Hong Kong. It is a wonder why there is even a territorial dispute of any sort. When clearly, to anyone who looks at a map it is part of Philippine territory. Ancient historical records cannot be relied on in this case. China also engaged in trade with the Philippines at around the same time, which is also in their ancient historical records. That doesn’t give them territorial rights to any part of the Philippine area itself. What should be followed are current international laws that nations of today have agreed on and submit to.
They assert the Phil. Navy ships were harassing the Chinese fishermen who were only taking shelter in the shoal from a storm. Photos taken by Phil authorities of the cargo holds of these vessels with the endangered species have debunked the ‘shelter’ claims.
DFA (Dept. of foreign Affairs) Sec. Albert Del Rosario has made the right move of letting cooler heads prevail and not make any rash statements or actions except for asserting the country’s sovereignty over the shoal. In a press conference yesterday Del Rosario said, “I invited Amb. Ma, essentially I’d like to share with you my talking points with her. I made it clear that the Scarborough shoal is an integral part of the Phil. it is in fact 124 nautical miles north of Zambales. It is well within the 200 nautical miles of the Philippines exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. Secondly I also made it a point to say that the Chinese fishermen were evidenced to have been engaged in illegal fishing and harvesting of endangered marine species.
Thirdly I also made it a point that the Phil Navy was there to enforce our laws. In doing so they followed established rules of engagement. Including strict observance of human rights. Fourthly under international law, it was stressed that we have sovereignty and sovereign rights over Scarborough shoal. Finally I mentioned that if the Phil. is challenged we are prepared to secure our sovereignty. In closing the meeting we issued a diplomatic protest. The ambassador of China took the view that they have sovereignty over the Scarborough shoal. So in a sense we have reached an impasse in terms of our positions. And so there is a real challenge for us in terms of our agreement to keep on talking today. We resolved to seek a diplomatic solution.”
According to Wikipedia: “The Philippines bases its claim on its proximity and the principle of terra nullius, which holds that it was previously unclaimed by a sovereign state, which is also applied by the Philippines in its claims to the Spratly Islands. By virtue of the PD No.1599 issued by President Ferdinand Marcos on June 1978, the Philippines claims an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the baselines from which their territorial sea is measured. In 2009, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo enacted the Philippine Baselines Law of 2009 (RA 9522). The new law classifies the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal as a regime of islands under the Republic of the Philippines.”
Exclusive Economic Zone is the area that has been defined “as a sea zone over which a state has special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources, including production of energy from water and wind. It stretches from the seaward edge of the state’s territorial sea out to 200 nautical miles from its coast. In casual usage, the term may include the territorial sea and even the continental shelf beyond the 200-mile limit.” It was established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the sea of which both China and the Philippines are signatories.
The solution is not brute force but rather a matter of calling the world’s attention to China’s bullying. President Noy noy Aquino previously has called for a united ASEAN approach to the bullying of China in the Spratlys. The same solution could be used here. Let the media go to the shoals report on what the Chinese government has been doing in these areas.
Figuring out what the Chinese fishermen were doing there is not a mystery. Just ask anyone who’s ever gone to a Chinese restaurant. Even right here in Manila we have them specializing in Shark’s fin soup. The most populous nation in the world consumes sharks as food and medicine; as a result the world’s population of shark has dwindled down drastically. They have become an economic powerhouse and have beefed up their military. Now we know why they’ve invested in strengthening their Navy. We cannot rely on the US of A to come to our aid especially since they literally owe China a trillion dollars.
What we CAN do is show the world what this bigger and more powerful nation is doing wrong. While the Philippine government is looking for a diplomatic solution, CNN’s Nic Robertson should be sent to the Scarborough shoals to see the cargoes of the vessels in question. Sumama na rin dapat si Kuya Kim of ABS CBN. Kim Atienza isn’t just a weatherman but is also an animal rights activist. Kara David of GMA has already made a report on the giant clams that were seen in the Chinese vessels. She interviewed Dr. Perry Aliño U.P. Marine Science Institute who said that the giant clams caught were endemic and unique to the Scarborough reef. It also takes 30 years for them to grow with a diameter of at least 24 inches. Harvesting them endangers the species of which cannot be found anywhere else.
The more that the world sees what’s going on and what happened there, the more attention would be drawn to their invasion and senseless consumption. The more coverage it gets, there is less motivation for China to seek a military solution. Media’s role here is crucial to show the truth and the facts. It’s not just a matter China invading Philippine territory. But the whole region’s sea-lanes become a potential target for them. Coral reefs become a potential target too apart from sharks. What the Chinese fishermen did was wrong and the their surveillance ships are practically aiding and abetting them. They are wrong on so many levels. And yet just because we are not as politically or economically influential doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t stand up to them. Someone has to standup to the bully and have the temerity to say, “You are wrong.”