How else would one interpret the latest Chinese declaration over the highly disputed Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal or what Beijing calls Huangyan Island, when this economic giant and military bully ignores the sovereign rights of a small, struggling, nation and claims the whole South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) and what is underneath it as its territory by virtue of historical grounds and that it won’t never go to court to settle the matter?
A declaration of hostilities, sort of, isn’t it?
Is this the way to settle territorial disputes in the 21st century by intimidation, provocation and military muscle flexing instead of using diplomatic approach as the appropriate and rational way of settling issues that has to do with sovereign rights?
The court referred to here is the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas (ITLOS) in Hamburg, Germany, where the country feels would be the real arbiter for such a contentious issue.
The Philippines insists that the shoal belongs to the country simply because of its extreme proximity to Zambales, which is 220 km only, compared to 840 km from the nearest coast of China in Hainan province.
Yet, China wants that the Philippines should “fully respect China’s sovereignty” and with a threatening tone even said that the Philippine government must “commit to the consensus we reached on settling the incident through friendly diplomatic consultations, and not to complicate or aggravate this incident so that peace and stability in that area can be reached.”
Is this saying that China is giving the Philippines an ultimatum?
If China has historical proof to show that the contested shoal is part of their territory, then why can’t they agree to show it to the whole world or bring it to the ITLOS? Why swiftly reject the proposal of the Philippine government that the dispute be resolved by the UN-backed ITLOS?
On the other hand, what the Philippines will bring to the ITLOS, with or without Chinese representatives, are old maps of the ‘Archipelago Filipino’ dating back to Spanish colonial times showing that “Bajo Scarburo,” the shoal now called Panatag by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), is a constituent part of Sambalez (now Zambales province).
Senator Edgardo J. Angara, who has a collection of ancient maps of the country said that the maps would easily disprove the territorial claim of China to the shoal and its surrounding waters, which in the first place do not show any historical or legal grounds under the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (Unclos).
“It’s clear that Scarborough Shoal is part of our cartography during the Spanish colonial times,” he said. “We have maps (reproduced) from the original, which was made in 1734. During that time, Scarborough is already part of the Philippines.”
An 1875 map was the “product of the most comprehensive mapping and charting work in the Philippines lasting more than 20 years (1849-1870).”
Angara said the original maps were deposited at Spain’s Museo Naval de Madrid.
The question now is: If this testament to our ownership of the shoal is not honored by China, what will stop them from disembarking on our territory and stripping us of our dignity?
Let us be pragmatic about it. We need help. We can’t stand on our own. We need the support of the world community before this part of the world becomes a flashpoint.