It is good to hear from a legal luminary, a Justice of the Supreme Court, elaborating on the issues surrounding the West Philippine Seas and China’s aggressive incursions into most of the disputed maritime areas.  Already, the leadership of Philippine government is deeply alarmed by this aggressive if not provocative acts of the Chinese government.  Its basis in claiming most parts of the West Philippine Seas is their so-called”historical facts”.

But the good Justice Antonio Carpio has made enlightening clarifications, citing old maritime maps, including those that are made as references by China.  And what is very instructive in the statements of Justice Carpio is his notion about the role of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas).  He said this UN Body does not, or is not empowered to tackle issues that involve territorial claims of countries.“UNCLOS,”  he says, “regulates maritime claims and disputes but not territorial disputes.”

In this light, the Philippines can not  expect a categorical declaration from the UN Body that such and such an island is part of the territorial waters of this and that country.  In his lecture, however, Justice Carpio goes at length to unfold ancient historical records to prove that what Chinese officials have called historical facts are, after all, “historical lies”.

From his exhaustive scholarly discussion, we present the following excerpts that underscore the cogency of his conclusions, to wit:

Historical facts, even if true, relating to discovery and exploration in the Age of Discovery (early 15th century until the 17th century) or even earlier, have no bearing whatsoever in the resolution of maritime disputes under UNCLOS. Neither Spain nor Portugal can ever revive their 15th century claims to ownership of all the oceans and seas of our planet, despite the 1481 Papal Bull confirming the division of the then undiscovered world between Spain and Portugal. The sea voyages of the Chinese Imperial Admiral Zheng He, from 1405-1433, can never be the basis of any claim to the South China Sea. Neither can historical names serve as basis for claiming the oceans and seas. The South China Sea was not even named by the Chinese but by European navigators and cartographers. The Song and Ming Dynasties called the South China Sea the “Giao Chi Sea,” and the Qing Dynasty, the Republic of China as well as the People’s Republic of China call it the “South Sea”  without the word “China.” India cannot claim the Indian Ocean, and Mexico cannot claim the Gulf of Mexico, in the same way that the Philippines cannot claim the Philippine Sea, just because historically these bodies of water have been named after these countries.

In the early 17th century, Hugo Grotius, the founder of international law, wrote that the oceans and seas of our planet belonged to all mankind, and no nation could claim ownership to the oceans and seas. This revolutionary idea of Hugo Grotius later became the foundation of the law of the sea under international law. Coastal nations could claim as their territorial sea only a narrow belt of coastal waters extending to three miles from their shore, the distance that a cannon ball could travel. The maritime space and resources beyond this three-mile territorial sea belonged to all nations.

Clearly, there is nothing “historical” or “right” about China’s 9-dashed line claim. The 9-dashed line claim is based not on historical facts but on historical lies. Since the start of the Song Dynasty in 960 AD until the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, a period of 952 years or almost a millennium, the southernmost territory of China has always been Hainan Island based on all offial and unoffial maps of China. After the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912, the Constitutions adopted by China from 1912 to 1946 consistently declared that the territory of the Republic of China remained the same as the territory of the Qing Empire. As late as 1932, the Chinese Government in a Note Verbale to France reiterated to the world that the southernmost territory of China is Hainan Island. These unilateral declarations of China are binding on China under international law. The southernmost territory of China under its imperial dynasties was always Hainan Island, and has remained so under several Constitutions of the Republic of China. 

Neither the Spratlys nor Scarborough Shoal appeared in any Chinese dynasty maps, as obviously the Spratlys and Scarborough are several hundred miles farther south to Hainan Island. In fact, the Spratlys are more than 600 NM, and Scarborough Shoal is more than 500 NM, from Hainan Island, at the other end of the South China Sea. The Chinese claim today that Scarborough Shoal is the Nanhai island where Guo Shoujing erected a celestial observatory is a double lie because China already offially declared in 1982 that Nanhai is in the Paracels, and it was physically impossible for Guo Shoujing to have erected an observatory in Scarborough Shoal.

Numerous ancient maps made by Westerners, and later by Philippine authorities, from 1636 to 1940, consistently showed that Scarborough Shoal, a.k.a. Panacot and Bajo de Mas inloc, has always been part of Philippine territory. Scarborough Shoal has never appeared in a single ancient Chinese map throughout the long history of China. Neither is there any historical record of any Chinese expedition to Scarborough Shoal. In contrast, the Spaniards and the Americans extensively surveyed Scarborough Shoal during the time they were the colonial powers in the Philippines.

In sum, China’s so-called “historical facts” to justify its 9-dashed lines are glaringly inconsistent with actual historical facts, based on China’s own historical maps, Constitutions, and official pronouncements. China has no historical link whatsoever to Scarborough Shoal. The rocks of Scarborough Shoal were never bequeathed to the present generation of Chinese by their ancestors because their ancestors never owned those rocks in the first place.

By this clarificatory accounts, it seems the Philippine Government stands on moral and legal ground to assert its own claims.  But in the context of realities wherein we are no match to the military prowess of China, the only option is to build-up our own military to shield our territorial claims vis-à-vis the bullying of China.  No less than SC Associate Justice Antonio Carpio opines that there is a need to build up and develop our defense capability rather than rely on the US  to help us defend our sovereignty.

Yes indeed, we have to fight our own fight. Just like what North Vietnam did during the Vietnam War.  It’s the only option—the most honorable option—no other better way!

General Gregorio Catapang, in a media interview, awkwardly echoes the sentiment of the good Justice so much as to say that the EDCA cannot be relied upon in case of war, which is the same as saying the US cannot be depended upon to come to our aid.  “It is better, “ he says, “ that we develop our own defense force against external threats to our sovereignty.”   Oh well, that is a salutary statement, General!  But much much better than that—Stop bullying the Bangsam oro people!  Bullying our own people is a worse mental disorder.

What a ridiculous phenomenon indeed to be asserting what morally and legally belong to us by letting another superpower do it for us!  Aside from making a laughing stock of ourselves in the eyes of the world, we are putting ourselves in a position of being “eternally beholden” (if we are not already!) to the US on whom we depend so much for our  own salvation and survival.  What can stop the US from demanding—as it has been constantly doing—whatever it wants of us on account of our own helplessness and reliance on its armed might to save us? The imperialist claws of the US are in fact keeping us in its stranglehold for decades now! Are we a truly sovereign nation?

We noisily assert our sovereign rights against one superpower, and surrender that same sacred sovereignty to another superpower!  What utter stupidity!  Our own waters and seaswill surge in chorus with the hounding habagat winds in angrystormy reproach!  And our land masses will burst in their seams as truly as seething volcanoes explode in fury for all the idiocy of our President Aquino and Defense Secretary Gazmin and the rest of the US puppets in our Government.

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