What can Filipinos do to help government and boost the morale of our leaders to continually and aggressively defend our country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea?
This was the question I asked retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, the foremost authority on the perennial issue of China’s incursions into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), during our discussion last Sunday when he was online guest in my TeleRadyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan.
His answer was a call to action: Let us organize ourselves into private groups and join hands with the citizens and non-government organizations (NGOs) of other countries and form a very strong moral force against the Chinese government.
“[As] private organizations, the people should group together and form a coalition against the nine-dash line. Dapat magtayo tayo ng (we ought to establish) ‘Nations Against the Nine-Dash Line’… Lahat ng mga (all) citizens of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, [etc.] magsama-sama (join forces); we will invite also people from the US, Japan, Australia, other countries na sumama sa atin (to join us) [and show] that the people of the world are against the nine-dash line of China,” Justice Carpio stressed.
China’s nine-dash line, referring to its sweeping claims spanning almost the entire South China Sea and which it introduced to the world in 2009, has been invalidated by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in a July 2016 historic ruling that the Philippines won against China under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Despite China’s insistence that it is not bound by the arbitral ruling, many countries have invoked the historic award. In September last year, for instance, the United Kingdom, Germany and France sent a joint note verbale to the United Nations “invoking the primacy of the UNCLOS” and declaring that China’s nine-dash-line claims “do not comply with international law and UNCLOS provisions and … that the arbitral award in Philippines v. China case dating to 12 July 2016 clearly confirms this point.”
Our 2016 legal triumph at The Hague invalidating the nine-dash line was asserted by President Duterte himself in a powerful speech at the virtual session of the UN General Assembly last October, earning him praises from patriotic Filipinos, his supporters and critics alike.
“The Philippines affirms that commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Award,” he said. “The Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”
President Duterte also stressed: “We firmly reject attempts to undermine it. We welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for – the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition. This – as it should – is the majesty of the law.”
Despite consisting only of four sentences in the entire speech, the impact of his message was certainly stunning as it was breathtaking. And it was specially meaningful as it was delivered as the UN was marking the 75th anniversary of its founding.
Thus, with all the support for the historic arbitral ruling that invalidated the nine-dash line claim, Justice Carpio’s call to action for Filipinos to join forces with other people of the world against China’s preposterous claim on the South China Sea is certainly feasible.
And such call to action is certainly urgent as Justice Carpio warns that China is on the verge of seizing the Julian Felipe Reef which is about 175 nautical miles from Palawan and well within our country’s 200-nautical mile EEZ.
With hundreds of Chinese maritime militia vessels seen at the Julian Felipe area since last month, he said that China is again employing the same tactics it used when it grabbed Mischief Reef from the Philippines in 1995. China said then that it was only constructing temporary shelters at the Mischief Reef to protect fishermen from storms. Yet now in 2021, Mischief Reef has become China’s Pearl Harbor, its largest air and naval base outside the Chinese mainland.
It is obvious that China’s artificial islands constructed across its nine-dash line claim are for military purposes. But Chinese incursions into our EEZ obviously have economic purposes, too. And these are what could hurt our country the most. It is believed that underneath the barren rocks and shoals within our EEZ is a vast supply of oil and natural gas that could provide power to claimants for a hundred years.
Such belief is fueled by studies including that of the US Energy Information Agency which said that, according to a published report, the Recto Bank within our EEZ “contains 17.7 billion tons or approximately 126 billion barrels of oil worth trillions of dollars along with 25.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.”
With so much at stake in our EEZ which we officially call the West Philippine Sea, and where many Chinese incursions are happening due to the preposterous nine-dash line, many feel it has become imperative for Filipinos to heed Justice Carpio’s call to action. A grand coalition with citizens of other nations to show that “people of the world are against the nine-dash line of China” is certainly a very strong moral force against the Chinese government.
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