Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

By Ado Paglinawan

Lessons learned in the delayed resupply of our troops in the BRP Sierra Madre grounded at the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in Spratly Islands, are that protocols and coordination must be seriously taken to avoid future similar incidents.

In the first place, why was the resupply mission being undertaken in the stealth of the night? Second why wasn’t the Chinese side informed in advance about Philippine intentions?

I am sorry but the layman’s argument of Erwin Tulfo that one does not seek resolution in coming and going to his own place, not only does not apply here but is simplistically lame. In a disputed neighborhood, this is the fastest for you to get abused even mauled.

Is Ayungin Shoal really ours?

Ayungin is ours

Theoretically “yes” because Ayungin was the 11th feature west of Palawan that President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. claimed in his 1978 Presidential Decre consisting of the Kalayaan Group.

After Japan renounced its title to the islands and features in the South China Seas in the 1951 Treaty of Peace in San Francisco, Marcos’ position was they reverted to being “terra nullius”, because they remained unoccupied for a long period of time, that is from 1951 to 1978, and the title was not explicitly passed to another state.

The Ayungin Shoal is a subject of conflicting sovereignty claims between China and the Philippines. China equally claims that all features in the Spratly Island or what it calls “Nansha” are part of their territory.

A related issue besides being our territorial claim is that the 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone provision of the United National Convention of the Seas cover Ayungin which is only 105 nautical miles from Palawan.

While EEZs cannot hold when the discussion is sovereignty, as EEZs cannot overlap sovereign territories as per provisions of UNCLOS, note that President Marcos issued a second decree in 1978 declaring a 200-nautical mile delimitations. This precedes UNCLOs that was only signed in 1982.

However, the matter cannot be argued on the basis of legalisms alone.

There are superfluous realities when we continue to recognize the so-called “award” in 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, a private arbitration process ordered by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III upon advice by his Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario.

Ayungin is not ours

Our very own American lawyer, Philippe Sands, conceded during the PCA hearings that “China took de facto control of that feature in May 2013. Chinese marine surveillance vessels, navy warships and fishing administration vessels have surrounded the shoal. They have blocked Philippine vessels, including civilian vessels, from approaching Second Thomas Shoal.”

So, in the practical sense, that is realpolitik, Ayungin is not ours.

This is what President Duterte repeatedly means when he says that “China is in possession of the islands.” What is true in Scarborough Shoals is equally true here. In international law, actual occupation, sustained administration and control and defense of a given territory, constitutes sovereignty.

A presidential decree is just a piece of paper. Onerous to the issuing country at that!

If we insist on according legitimacy to the PCA process and ruling, then we are doomed. Including Ayungin Shoal in the PCA agenda was a classic mistake according to former Ambassador Rigoberto Tiglao, who says that the PCA failed to rule in our favor not only for the return of Scarborough Shoal but also Ayungin.

Alas, a diplomatic breakthrough!

Yes, we must first accept that the Americans misled this whole scenario to their benefit not ours. If we however trash the PCA in its entirety and punish those who maliciously caused it, we render as fiction, not China’s nine-dash line claim to the whole of the South China Seas, but its ludicrous ruling that said so!

By doing so we open the gateway to negotiating that China cede to us the Kalayaan Island Group, as a minimum non-negotiable position on the issue of sovereign territory.  

Why is this feasible direction? First, Marcos already gave the baselines delimitation of the Kalayaan Island Group, such as

“From a point [on the Philippine Treaty Limits] at latitude 7°40′ North and longitude 116°00′ East of Greenwich, thence due West along the parallel of 7°40′ N to its intersection with the meridian of longitude 112°10′ E, thence due north along the meridian of 112°10′ E to its intersection with the parallel of 9°00′ N, thence northeastward to the intersection of the parallel of 12°00′ N with the meridian of longitude 114° 30′ E, thence, due East along the parallel of 12°00′ N to its intersection with the meridian of 118° 00′ E, thence, due South along the meridian of longitude 118°00′ E to its intersection with the parallel of 10°00′ N, thence Southwestwards to the point of beginning at 7°40′ N, latitude and 116° 00′ E longitude.”

After resolving the hardest, we move on to their recognition of more features covered by our EEZ via UNCLOS, at worst agreeing to common use and joint patrol.

China has already agreed to our common oil exploitation of the Reed Bank or the Recto Reef, which is not in the Kalayaan Island Group, notably on a sharing agreement even in favor of the Philippines.

Scarborough Shoal also used to be under the control of the Philippines.

Finally, the Ayungin lesson. The resupply was successfully done a week after National Security Hermogenes Esperon and China Ambassador Huang Xilian agreed on a mutually-accepted protocol. Even if China says this is provisional and is being allowed on humanitarian basis (for the sake of taming its own constituency), this is still common use.

Ayungin can still be ours, but only if we level with the Chinese in the spirit of bilateralism. The signal is clear, China is enthused in rushing the Code of Conduct with ASEAN, so instead of running against this current, we can further ride on it to gain what we want.

Two-timing with the US

But we must go further than renouncing the PCA in order to prove to China our good faith. Besides we must now reposition our so-called independent foreign policy from bad politics to good governance.

We will continue to water-cannoned if our foreign secretary, Teddy Boy Locsin, continue slapping our Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States, on their faces.

Anna Malindog-Uy is correct in saying “Maintaining the VFA, EDCA or even the MDT is an anti-thesis to the Philippines’ pursuit of an independent foreign policy and non-aligned stance. 

“These agreements are symbols of US domination in the country, reminders of a colonial-era long gone and the interventionalist agenda of the US. The presence of US military forces in the country is a remnant of colonialism that Filipinos should put an end to.”

Ms. Uy tells Padre Faura, “The Philippines should take control of its destiny as a nation and steer away from being the ever-perpetual lackey of the US. It should strive to be a truly independent, sovereign nation that decides its course as it navigates the changing geopolitical landscape in the region.”

Because of the MDT, bad politics said we needed the VFA because we outlawed American bases in our territory, and because of visiting forces, they need EDCA which are Philippine bases where they can set up their needs. Note the fallacy being perpetuated by our legislators who are mostly lawyers?

I say this is a magnet to self-destruction. The US will always make us a proxy to their interests in the region, and this baggage will make us handicapped in taking full advantage of the post-pandemic economic upgrades that Xi Jingpin outlined a few days ago.

Just as we were left behind by China during the six years of Noynoy’s Aquino’s mal-governance of our foreign relations, America’s IWO (Information War Operations) agents and their Amboy counterparts will always be at work to create tension and misunderstanding between the Philippines and China.

 That means we will be left out of Xi’s comprehensive strategic partnership where China intends to share its development profits and open wide its market to ASEAN, ipso facto the Philippines.

Before we take on Xi JingPin, let us ask ourselves, what can the United States, Japan and South Korea do to help us on our post-pandemic track that China do best?

Here are the comparative  present gross domestic products. Who would be in a best position to help the Philippines? Surely, not the United States that to this day still is Ground Zero of the Covid-19 pandemic, isn’t it?

To repeat, what has rendering the nine-dash line as illegal brought us? It just made us a deeper proxy of American interests in the region. What has America’s exceptionalism professing the freedom of navigation gotten the region to but the intrusion of the USS Connecticut submarine in our waters, the destruction of our seabed, and the pollution of our seas with radioactivity. Let’s face it, the West wants safe passage merely to poke their war materiel into our consciousness so we reel in fear.

Neither China and the United States are our enemies. The Mutual Defense Treaty, the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement are weapons aimed not at China, but all Filipinos.

President Rodrigo Duterte, or his successor, must abrogate them and truly put in place a genuine independent foreign policy that according to a new song by Aegis, “ay hindi tuta ninuman” (is not a puppet of anyone)!

China and the United States are not kids, they can figure out between themselves how to co-exist in a world that is forever changing, this time hopefully, for true and lasting peace, for the benefit of all humanity! Pundits may differ but, Joseph Biden and Xi Jingpin in their recent Summit by Zoom have already made the baby steps towards political and economic cooperation. #

U.S. President Joe Biden listens while meeting virtually with President Xi Jinping of the Peoples’ Republic of China’s last Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.

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