Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Crosshair by Erick San Juan

Crosshair by Erick San Juan

Our 1987 Constitution mandates: “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its xxx exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”  This is the mandate of the Constitution that we have all solemnly sworn to uphold.

To fulfill the State’s obligation to protect the nation’s marine wealth in its exclusive economic zone, the Philippines has filed an arbitration case against China in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).   At stake in the arbitration before an UNCLOS Annex VII tribunal is whether the Philippines will keep or lose 80% of its exclusive economic zone and 100% of its extended continental shelf in the West Philippines Sea.

The maritime dispute between the Philippines and China boils down to whether there are overlapping EEZs between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea. Are the waters enclosed by China’s 9-dashed lines part of the EEZ of China such that China’s EEZ overlaps with the EEZ of the Philippines?   China also claims that the islands in the Spratlys like Itu Aba generate their own EEZs which overlap with the Philippines’ EEZ in Palawan.

China argues, through its scholars and officials, that the arbitral tribunal has no jurisdiction over the Philippines’ claim for two reasons: First, the dispute involves maritime boundary delimitation arising from overlapping EEZs of the Philippines and China, a dispute that China has opted out of compulsory arbitration.  Second, China’s 9-dashed line claim is a historical right that predates UNCLOS and cannot be negated by UNCLOS. On these grounds, China has refused to participate in the arbitral proceedings.

 The Philippines’ response is that the waters enclosed within China’s 9-dashed lines do not constitute an EEZ because the 9-dashed lines are not drawn from baselines along the coast of continental land or habitable islands. Under UNCLOS, EEZs can only be drawn from baselines along the coast of continental land or an island capable of human habitation or economic life of its own. China’s 9-dashed lines do not comply with the basic requirement of UNCLOS for drawing EEZs. (Speech delivered by Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio before the Philippine Women’s Judges Association, 6 March 2014)

The ongoing arbitration at the Arbitral Tribunal, formed under the aegis of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), should be treated by our government as part of a bigger picture on how to solve such crisis by defining a strong foreign policy that will protect our sovereignty.

Sadly, Richard Javad Heydarian (assistant professor in political science at De La Salle University, and a former policy adviser at the Philippine House of Representatives (2009-2015) has to remind us in his article of how poorly we are treating a major issue like the South China Sea. He writes – “After more than 15 years, the Philippines has finally decided to repair its ragtag outpost on the Second Thomas Shoal, located about 100 nautical miles away from the Philippines’ westernmost province of Palawan. The Sierra Madre ship – a 100-meter-long tank landing vessel, operated by the U.S. Navy back in the Second World War – has served as a tenuous expression of Manila’s sovereignty claim over the contested feature in the South China Sea.

For long, it has also served as an embarrassing reminder of how little the Philippines has invested in concretely defending its claims in a heavily-contested area. To paraphrase a Western journalist who visited the site in recent years, "the Philippine outpost from afar is an abominable site amid a beautiful maritime wilderness; surrounded by reefs and a vast blue ocean, Sierra Madre looks even more awful up close."

Since 1999, the rusty, grounded vessel has hosted – on a rotational basis – a handful of marooned and resilient troops, who have repeatedly resisted siege and other forms of intimidation tactics deployed by the far better equipped Chinese coast guard forces, which are even better armed than the Philippine Navy.

As the former Philippine National Security Adviser Roilo Golez told me, the Philippines’ South China Sea strategic planning “was dominated by internal defense officers who looked inward and ignored the China threat in spite of repeated warning.” No wonder, then, he said, that “nothing was achieved by way of minimum deterrence during the 1990s and the 2000s.” He lamented how military modernization funds were going to “minor items” that “were useless” for defending the country’s claims in the South China Sea.”

I agree with the former NSA Roilo Golez, if we have to modernize our armed forces, we should not settle for less especially those refurbished war materiel from the US. And most of all, it is not only a matter of military hardware. We must depend on our inner strength as a nation and not depend our security from outside forces.

The mere fact that we presented our case before an international tribunal, it is but logical to show to the world that we don’t need foreign military troops and materiel to use our military bases. Having two Visiting Forces Agreements – one with the US and another with Australia, and coming soon with Japan, will not do us any good.

Once and for all, we have to show our strength by not merely kowtowing to foreign ‘masters’ that will only shortchanged us and put us at the crosshairs of their enemies.

As I have written in our previous article (@ericksanjuan.blogspot.com), let us not agitate China because the mere presence of foreign troops is an agitation enough and could be a pretext that will justify China’s retaliation against us. The worst, we are not even prepared for it or have any tangible fall back just in case all hell break loose. 

God forbid!

No comments: