(Part 3: Maps vs legal alchemy)

When you come for an appointment at the Department of Defense building at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, you are first led to a holding room, where a protocol officer later picks you up and accompanies you to the person you are visiting.

As you enter the holding room, at the left wall is a giant elegantly framed map of the Philippines produced in 1734 by the Spanish Jesuit cartographer Pedro Murillo Velarde, and two Filipinos; engraver Nicolás de la Cruz Bagay and artist Francisco Suarez.

The map was of course gifted to the defense department by Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC) chair Mel V. Velarde.

 Velarde also donated official replicas to the Philippine Navy on July 6, 2017 and exhibited at the Hall of Flags of Philippine Navy headquarters. The Philippine Army and the Philippine Air Force received theirs a month after, while the Philippine National Police much later on September 2018.

Today as we speak, this well-funded public relations gimmick that started in June 2016 when copies of the map was disseminated to military units of the Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command.

Mr. Velarde has also personally donated official replicas to the Supreme Court, the Philippine Senate, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management, Office of the Solicitor General, Central Bank of the Philippines, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and the Philippine Postal Corporation.

Some higher educational institutions including Ateneo de Manila University and Holy Angel University (an AIJC partner school in Angeles, Pampanga) as well as the embassies of Canada and Singapore have likewise received official replicas.

How the map finally came home

The billing of this historical piece as “Mother of All Philippine Maps” certainly paid off after IT businessman Mel Velarde won it in a Sotheby auction on November 4, 2014 for 12 million Philippine pesos.

History accounts say the Murillo Velarde map was taken out of the Philippines as part of the loot by British forces who invaded the country in 1762. It was acquired by Duke of Northumberland.

The map was among 80 heirlooms that the current Duke of Northumberland, Ralph George Algernon Percy, decided to auction off after a devastating flood hit Northumberland County in April 2012. One of the Duke’s properties is the vast Alnwick Castle, which has been featured as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the first two Harry Potter films.

Would it be possible that Stratbase ADR Institute had sidelined into a map distribution agendum, collateral to a PR blast to push the arbitral process?

The language is definitely developmental. The map is being positioned also as the first-ever scientific map of the country.

When Velarde turned over the replica for the Philippine Army, Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda’s acceptance speech was overflowing, “The importance of this map cannot be denied. This will form part of our heritage right. We are going to take care of it and sooner or later the future generation would know who we really are.”

Miranda even went overboard, “It serves as a reminder of the country’s sovereignty and territorial rights which the PA has pledged to protect.”

Strange affinity

All along I was under the impression that the unusual generosity of donor Velarde was fueled by some consanguine relationship with cartographer Murillo Velarde.

Velarde donated the original copy of the map to the national government through the Office of the Solicitor General. I think it is now a permanent exhibit at the National Museum.

But Velarde has yet to find out if he is related to the Jesuit priest, although Carpio claims a possible connection was one of the motives for his pursuit of the artifact.

I find it rather curious that a huge sum of money will be available for it after a copy of the map was among the documents filed by the Philippines in its case against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on January 22, 2013? 

Then the truth unraveled itself. Velarde said Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio, a long-time friend, suggested to him sometime in October 2014 to bid for the Murillo Velarde map. Velarde said Carpio’s convincing line was: “You know, Mel, you’re a Velarde.”

So there you go, the IT millionaire suddenly found an avocation, an offer from bosom relations, he could not refuse to splurge on.

Carpio to promote his tandem’s newfangled advocacy, conducts lectures debunking China’s claim of almost the entire South China Sea through the use of the Murillo Velarde map.

But this is really more meaningful for Carpio who equally is preoccupied albeit retirement from the Supreme Court to take advantage of any goodwill he has earned serving as a magistrate.

Not only has he launched an e-book, “The South China Sea Dispute: Philippine Sovereign Rights and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea,” he hopes would be translated to Mandarin to turn the Chinese people against Xi Jingpin, but he is now on YouTube with a boring enumeration of details about the South China Seas that do not end adding up to any conclusion favorable to the Philippines because the territory is obviously disputed by more than four countries including China and one Chinese province.

All 264 pages based on 105 figures, including “Eggs and Larvae of Fish Deployment in the Spratlys”, gathered to form this expensively printed book, gathered from 140 lectures of the former associate justice from 2011 to 2017 ostensibly the apogee of his advocacy promoting the “rule of law”.

Shortness of breath

Frankly I found only a narrative based on conflicting claims of municipal insights by countries in dispute and shallow jurisprudence using the fake ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration based on its perfunctory interpretation of the United Nations Laws of the Seas, in opposition to China’s historical claim to a nine-dash line.

A least the book is not in denial that when exclusive economic zones (EEZ) or sovereign rights come into conflict between and among claimant countries as the UNCLOS provision of 200 miles applies, such zones no longer are exclusive. Is this rule of law or plain common sense?  

Does anything that Carpio showed in his e-book show whether the Philippines had sovereignty in all that are found there? Impossible, because sovereignty is outside of UNCLOS’ jurisdiction.

Granting that the Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands are visible in the Murillo Velarde map, as Panacot and Los Bajos de Paraguay” respectively, does this inclusion prove that the Philippines can exercise sovereignty over them?

 The fastest bullet to shoot down Carpio is asking why he is not saying anything whether the Philippines own “Borney” (North Borneo) that is more prominently shown in the Murillo Velarde’s Mother of all Maps?

Can Carpio for that matter summarily preclude Borney, but include the Isla de Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago which had never been part and parcel of Spain’s sovereignty over Las Islas de Filipinas, a discovery it named after its king.

The relationship between the Sultan of Sulu and the Spanish colonizers was governed by treaties, which is an agreement between sovereign states. Even in the last treaty between the two parties inked as late as August 15, 1878 between the Sultan Jamalul A’lam and the Datus of Sulu with the Don Domingo Moriones y Murillo (no relation to Velarde), governor and captain-general of the Philippine Islands, the status of Sulu as defined by this treaty resembled that of a protectorate rather than a dependency.

The internal administration of Sulu, its customs, laws, and religion were fully respected and were not subject to Spanish jurisdiction, confirmation, approval, or interference of any sort, except in matters pertaining to regulations for the use of firearms.

Such was the analysis of Dr. Najeeb M. Saleeby in his book the History of Sulu.

Carpio even denies China’s intimate relationship with the Philippines before Portuguese Fernão de Magalhães, on a mission funded by Spain, discovered the islands.

But as early as 1405, Sultan Paduka Batara signed a Treaty of Tributary Independent States with Emperor YongLe of the Ming Dynasty, effectively placing the territory ruled by the Sultan under the protectorate of China. Carpio dismisses this lightly denying any circumstance of Admiral Cheng He coming to the islands by virtue of a statement of some instant China expert from Singapore.

But he missed on the fact that Sultan Paduka made a tributary visit to Beijing in 1417 to visit Emperor YongLe, but died on his return trip through China’s Grand Canal. I may not be able today to produce 264 pages any of which showing Paduka’s signature on any treaty, but the eight-hectare burial ground of the Sultan at Dezhou City in Shandong Province, together with his concubine Gemuning and his two sons Wen Ha La and An Du Lu who have birthed 21 generations of descendants, is more incontrovertible proof than any piece of paper.

Pissing in his pants

However, the final blow that could send Carpio rushing to the john is a statement from Professor Carl Thayer of the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy:

“Maps, in international law, are only pieces of information.”

“The key to sovereignty is to demonstrate long-standing continuous occupation and administration over features in the South China Sea.”

The Philippines in its hurried quest to pursue lawfare against China’s nine-dash line, awakened a sleeping giant which as early as 1939 had been drawing its own maps arising from hundred years of humiliation.

What Carpio and his funders totally miss out on is that the Philippines went to spend over a billion pesos to stage a fake arbitral tribunal, while China started “reclaiming” islands in the South China Seas. No better analysis of what the Chinese was doing than Professor Thayer’s commentary in The Diplomat of July 7, 2015, one year before the PCA ruling:

“China’s construction of artificial islands directly subverts UNCLOS and represents a pre-emptive move against any decision by the Arbitral Tribunal. China has changed ‘facts on the ground’ and presented the region with a fait accompli. China is already challenging the freedom of navigation and overflight of naval vessels and aircraft as well as fishermen in the area.”

“No, China is not reclaiming land.

“China is building forward staging bases on artificial islands for its fishing fleet, oil and gas exploration vessels and maritime law enforcement vessels.

“When China completes building its infrastructure, including long range radar, it will be only a matter of time before military aircraft and naval warships make their appearance.

“In sum, China has succeeded in legal alchemy by transforming UNCLOS into ‘international law with Chinese characteristics.’

“This development will bolster China’s assertion of ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over the South China Sea.” 

This means we now have to exhume Murillo Velarde to create an update of his useless map.

This is the realpolitik that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has mastered which would be impossible to comprehend by those who are merely serving as an American proxy.

Oh, Carpio is so moot and academic!

Read: https://thediplomat.com/2015/06/no-china-is-not-reclaiming-land-in-the-south-china-sea/