By DR. FLORANGEL ROSARIO BRAID
While the country was totally absorbed with the deadly coronavirus, the government with trying to balance its response to health requirements and economic issues, and when all of us were caught flat-footed, not knowing whether we would make it through the night, China again demonstrated its aggressiveness by pointing a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship and declaring the Spratlys as part of Chinese territory. It also announced its creation of two new districts in the South China Sea and placing them under the control of the city of Sansha in Hainan province. This prompted Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin to send two diplomatic protests to the Chinese Embassy.
China which has opened new outposts on Zamora and Kasiguran reefs is likely to deploy boats believed to be militias just to deny us some space, according to our national security adviser.
As if these are not enough to provoke public indignation, there was also the Homonhon incident where the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in Region 8 reversed a March 31 suspension order on the entry of a Chinese vessel loading chromite ore from a mining site operated by Techcron Resources. This happened despite the general community quarantine in the region. But the halt was short-lived as the vessel resumed loading on April 14 with the MGB director justifying the reversal by saying it is a way of “reducing the economic damage” of the pandemic While we appreciate the concern on balancing health with economic imperatives, the fact that it violated the wishes of local residents and confirmed a practice that China had been doing for sometime now – that of extracting our precious national resources, make this incident an issue of grave national concern.
Here are a few historical footnotes regarding our rights to the West Philippine Sea prior to the Hague arbitral ruling. Our victory, as some may know, has been primarily due to the diligence of a powerhouse panel led by then Ambassador Albert del Rosario together with legal experts which included Supreme Court Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Francis Jardeleza, Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, and Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, among others. Justice Carpio has been one of the most prolific researchers on the WPS and has produced some of the most valuable documentation on the issue.
It was in the sixties when we asserted our first legal claim, the “archipelago doctrine” which was followed by the enactment of RA 3046 in 1961 and
RA 5466 in 1968, both authored by Sen. Arturo Tolentino. These laws which advocated the “baselines method” gained a strong ally and advocate, Indonesia, which helped us gain international acceptance of the concept. At the third and last UN Conference on Law of the Sea or UNCLOS, the Philippine delegation successfully incorporated the Law of the Sea and we were one of the first to ratify it.
The first attempt to draw archipelagic baselines was Sen. Leticia Shahani and later, Sen. Antonio Trillanes and Rep. Apolinario Lozada but it was only in 2009 through RA 9522 that it was signed into law.
This timeline is an attempt to show that this was not the first time that we failed to act promptly on critical national and policy concerns. The same thing had happened with the bill on Freedom of Information which to date had not been signed into law. I wonder what we would have become today if time consciousness or mindfulness were values embedded in our DNA.
We mourn the passing of an indefatigable public servant, Heherson Alvarez, senator, secretary of environment, pioneer advocate of climate change, and freedom fighter. Our friendship goes back to the dark years of martial law. Sonny was one of the leaders who courageously fought the dictatorship with the passion that characterized his leadership during the next decades. Our condolences to Cecile, a colleague and two children and a fervent farewell to a patriot.
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