The Torre de Manila and West Philippine Sea controversies


Torre de Manila at the background dwarfing the Rizal monument.

Torre de Manila at the background dwarfing the Rizal monument.

I understand that the Torre de Manila (TdM) issue and the West Philippine Sea (WPS) dispute with China are two separate and distinct controversies hounding the nation today.

Separate and distinct in the sense that the TdM has become controversial because of its alleged illegal construction which has been described by many as ‘photobombing’ the grandeur of the Rizal monument at the Luneta Park, while the WPS, where, even the country’s exclusive economic zone (a sea zone 200 nautical miles from its coast) prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which the country claims exclusive rights for fishing, drilling, and other economic activities, is now being claimed by China as part of its nine-dash map claiming practically the whole of the south China Sea.

If the subjects are two separate and distinct issues, then why am I bringing them up together instead of alienating one another?

Well, my intention is simply to point out how similar, yet dismal has been government’s approach in treating that which has now become controversial issues.

Take for instance the TdM issue. Why was the construction company given all the permits by the city of Manila to build it in a place where its monstrosity, at the end, will only destroy the vista or the visual corridors of the Rizal Monument in Luneta?

If the agencies providing the permits did not realize this at the beginning, at least the city government or the national government, for that matter, should have noticed that when the building started rising up, there were already signs that it was going to destroy the aesthetic landscape of the park, yet construction was allowed to go on, adding more floors, before deciding to stop it. And it was not even government that initiated the stoppage of the project.

Now the project is at standstill, while authorities and the stakeholders are locking horns as to how to proceed. Not only are politicians blaming each other, but one even ridiculously suggested to let the TdM stay and for Rizal to make an about-face.

Lack of concern, commitment, determination or political will, if you may, by authorities is simply the culprit. Once acts and decisions are corrupted it could have adverse effects on how our government leaders approach issues that could later turn controversial.

Local government’s delay, nay lackadaisical reaction towards the TdM condominium construction cannot really be alienated from the equally lethargic and passive approach taken by the national government towards China’s civilian-turned-military build-up in the South China Sea (SCS) that started to encroach in the WPS.

What I am simply saying is that our government, whether local or national, has always the propensity and habit of deploring and protesting violations of existing laws only when it is too late already.

China's nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.

China’s nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.

In the case of the WPS, despite the seemingly permanent structures built here and there and around the SCS by China all these years, supposedly to assist and give shelter to Chinese fishermen caught in inclement weather, we did not only have the foresight that years later the Chinese will start coming near our shores bullying our own fisher folks and, worst still, making islands out of atolls, but our leaders were more interested in our brand of politics that only made the nation poorer and weaker.

Not until we saw these man-made islands turn into airfields and military complexes that our leaders started making a lot of noise and moving mountains, looking for help. Certainly, we could not do it on our own, not having the capacity and the capability to prevent China from encroaching in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which China is claiming as theirs, too.

Sad to say that as China awaken, with the whole world seeing its succession of leaders turning around the giant nation with an enormous population into both economic and military power to rival the US and seek its own world dominion, the Philippines continued to wallow in poverty with its corrupt leaders and their allies putting their selfish interest ahead of the nation’s and it’s people’s well being.

If the US, the greatest and most powerful nation in the world, has not been able to stop China’s military build-up in the SCS and, most importantly, from imposing China’s nine-dash map that includes our own territorial waters, thus making China the sole claimant of the vast resources in and underneath the SCS, who are we to mount an offensive militarily against them?

What the Philippines has been exercising instead is verbal offensive, for that is all we can do, and for this reason the country is sending a delegation to the UN tribunal at The Hague, headed by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, to argue the country’s position against China’s claim over most of the resource-rich SCS.

But, China has been saying all along that it won’t participate in any arbitration proceedings now or in the future.

Suffice to say that no matter how many arbitration proceedings there will be and how articulate our delegates/advocates are, or whether or not the UN tribunal will rule in our favor, the fact remains that nobody can undo what China has done already at the SCS, including that which is in our own EEZ at the WPS, much less contest and drive them away from what the giant nation claims as their historical domain.

As we find the local government in Manila in quandary searching for solutions as to how to proceed resolving the TdM controversy, so are we looking at the national government alarmingly and desperately trying to keep what belongs to us in the country’s territorial dispute with China at the WPS.

The way I look at it, and I hope I am wrong, is that the steps taken by both governments are all exercise in futility.

Needless to say, we have to live and co-exist with whatever is there, on land and at sea, no matter what the consequences will be.


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