As the country cheered the UN tribunal ruling, progressive groups amplified their call for Filipinos to defend Philippine sovereignty, both against China and the US.
By KAREN ANN MACALALAD and DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Filipino patriotism is at an all-time high as the country is jubilant over the decision of the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) today, July 12, which ruled in favor of the Philippines in its case against China in maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea .
The favorable ruling is an opportune time for the Duterte administration to lead the country to defend Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity, said progressive groups, as they intensified their call for China to leave Philippine waters.
In a unanimous decision by its five-member panel, the PCA ruled that China has no legal basis to claim historic rights to resources within the West Philippine (South China Sea), on the grounds of its “nine-dash line.” The tribunal said whatever historic rights China claims “were extinguished to the extent they were incompatible with the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) provided for” in the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (Unclos).
Aside from the nine-dash line, the tribunal ruled on four other points:
• Status of features: China cannot claim entitlement to maritime areas under the Unclos, such as the Spratlys Islands, whose features are not capable of generating maritime zones.
• Lawfulness of Chinese actions: China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights to its EEZ, as it prevented Filipinos’ fishing activities and petroleum exploration, it constructed artificial islands, and it did not stop Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone. The ruling also recognized the Filipinos traditional fishing rights in Scarborough Shoal where China had restricted access by Luzon fishermen.
The tribunal also said China violated the Unclos provisions on maritime safety, as Chinese Coast Guard vessels risked head-on collision with Philippine vessels on several occasions.
• Harm to maritime environment: The tribunal said China violated its obligation to preserve and protect the marine ecosystem, with its large-scale land reclamation, as well as the poaching by its fishermen of giant clams, corals, sea turtles and other endangered marine species.
• Aggravation of dispute: Although the tribunal said it lacked jurisdiction to settle the stand-off between Philippine and Chinese naval forces and other military dispute, it said China “violated its obligations to refrain from aggravating or extending” the dispute, while the settlement process was pending. These include China’s massive land reclamation and construction of artificial islands.
• Future conduct of the parties: The tribunal noted that as both the Philippines and China had accepted their obligations under Unclos, it sees that the two countries have no intention to infringe on each other’s rights. It said the “root of the dispute” is the fundamentally different understandings of their respective rights under the Convention in the waters of the South China Sea.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua called the ruling “naturally null and void,” said a report by interaksyon.com.
This week, China staged live fire exercises near its reclamation areas in the West Philippine Sea, while US Air Force planes conduct patrols.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate lauded the PCA rulings as it “strengthens and solidifies the Philippine position in future bilateral talks with China.”
Zarate urged President Duterte “to initiate further diplomatic moves to strengthen our own claims and fortify our positions, even as we engaged China in mutually beneficial bilateral or multilateral talks.”
“Every Filipino here or abroad should defend our territory, our exclusive economic zones, our national sovereignty,” Zarate said.
Meanwhile, the International League of Peoples’ Struggles-Philippines (ILPS-Phils) called for the withdrawal of military forces by China and the US.
“It is best for the Philippines and the region to respect the UN tribunal ruling and for both China and the US to pull-out their troops from the area. We don’t want a powder keg to blow up, it must be defused,” said ILPS-Phils Chairman Elmer Labog said.
Labog also welcomed Duterte’s possible bilateral talks with China and resolve the dispute by peaceful means. Philippine sovereignty must always be upheld and protected from foreign intervention and aggression,” Labog said.
Progressives to China, US: hands off PH waters
Earlier today, progressive groups led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), in anticipation of the PCA decision, protested at the Chinese Consulate office in Makati City, and urged China to leave the Philippine territorial waters and respect the country’s sovereignty. The groups denounced once again China’s nine-dash which covers almost the Philippine and Malaysian coasts.
“China expands its territory by building artificial lands to claim the 200-nm rule” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). The Chinese Coast Guard have been patrolling waters covered by the Philippines’ EEZ and bars Filipino fishermen from coming to fishing grounds near the Scarborough Shoal, which is 120 nautical miles from Zambales province.
Satur Ocampo, Makabayan president and former representative of Bayan Muna Party-list, said Filipinos must carefully review the tribunal’s decision. “Our rights over our part of the [WPS] should be made clear, as well as the status of features such as the rocks and reefs that are either submerged on water or not,” he explained.
Should the Philippines need to engage on bilateral talks as requested by China, the country must ensure it will send its best and nationalist consultants to discuss the issue, Ocampo added. “The general call is to never resort to violence,” he said.
Former Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said that amid the call to defend Philippine territory against China, neither should the country rely on the United States, which has its own vested interests in the Asia-Pacific region. The Aquino administration signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) with the US in 2014, in the hope that the US will defend against China’s growing aggression. But two years proved otherwise, experienced by fishermen who were harassed and kept out of their fishing grounds, Colmenares said.
Fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales also joined the protest to decry the aggressive intrusion of China that threatens their livelihood, bringing a shattered boat to symbolize the adverse effect of the WPS conflict to them. Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) stated that the fisherfolk are unable to fish in the waters due to the reclamation activities of China in the Scarborough Shoal.
“The shoal has long been a fishing ground to the Filipinos. China built a nipa hut in 2012 stating that it will only serve as resting place… in 2014 they started bombing the fishermen,” said Pamalakaya vice-chairperson Salvador France.
Meanwhile, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) criticized the China for building facilities that destroyed hectares of coral reef and marine ecosystems. Earlier reports revealed that the China has constructed port facilities, military buildings and an airstrip in the islands of the WPS.
“Even inside the country, China has amassed our natural resources. There are mining corporations in the Mindanao region owned by Chinese moguls leading to the destruction of our lands,” said Kalikasan-PNE Chairperson Clemente Bautista.
Protesters are hopeful that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte will assert Philippine sovereignty, amid the statement of Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay. The secretary earlier said the claimant countries included in the WPS dispute might consider into entering joint exploration of oil and other resources instead.
Ocampo said Yasay misinterpreted what Duterte said before on the possibility of sharing resources, Ocampo claimed. “There is no exact statement (by Duterte) that the Philippines will offer such kind of arrangement with China,” Ocampo said.
The response of the Duterte administration is different with that of former president Benigno Aquino III, Ocampo said. “The President stated that he does not want to rely on the US, believing that it further exacerbates the situation. Still, we should monitor his stand on the WPS dispute,” he added.
Rule of law
Hailing the PCA ruling, Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio said it “re-affirms mankind’s faith in the rule of law in peacefully resolving disputes between States.”
Carpio has gone on a crusade to raise the Filipino public awareness on China’s aggression in Philippine territorial waters. He had earlier said that the country faces a long-term struggle in its dispute with China.
“The ruling also re-affirms Unclos as the Constitution for the oceans of our planet, a treaty ratified by 167 States, including China and the Philippines. The ruling applies the fundamental law of the sea principle that ‘land dominates the sea,’ that is, any claim to maritime zones must emanate from land and can extend only to the limits prescribed under Unclos. No state can claim almost an entire sea contrary to this fundamental principle and maritime limits,” Carpio said.
National Democratic Front of the Philippines chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said all countries, especially China, should respect the final and binding decision of the Tribunal.
“The arrogant claims of China over almost the entire South China Sea have no leg to stand on. China must accept the ruling in the face of the international community, especially the signatories of the Unclos, the majority members of the UN General Assembly, the ASEAN and other neighboriung countries,” Sison said.
“China will certainly face reputational damage by continuing to violate international law. It cannot boast of its supposed economic and military power to ignore or violently oppose the judgment of the tribunal. This is a time of serious economic and social troubles for China domestically because of its own crisis of overproduction and extreme abuse of credit and public debt and because of the ever worsening crisis of the global capitalist system. More powerful capitalist countries are not on the side of China on the issue of Philippine rights under Unclos,” added Sison.