June 12 is that special day to remember the Filipino people’s struggles for independence from the time of the Spanish conquest to the present. It is also the time that we review our present situation with China and take appropriate action. The Philippines is in a maritime dispute with China over the entire West Philippine Sea (also known as the South China Sea). China has claimed sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea. It has aggressively acted on that claim by its reclamation activities and its occupation of that part of the Spratlys which is claimed by the Philippines, the Kalayaan group of islets, particularly Mischief Reef and Panatag Shoal. The Philippines has protested against this and asserts its sovereignty over that of China’s claim.
Something for us to know: The Spratlys is a group of 250 islets plus the shoals and reefs spread over 265,000 sq. kms. These are claimed entirely by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines. That part which is claimed by the Philippines is what it calls the Kalayaan group of islets located in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippine government filed a case against China under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in January 2013. It is the UNCLOS that provides the strongest legal basis and definition of what constitutes Philippine territory, including its extended continental shelf (ECS) and exclusive economic zones (EEZ). The International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has referred the case for hearing to the Arbitral Tribunal based in The Hague. On March 2014, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs submitted its Memorial to the Arbitral Tribunal. In spite of these diplomatic approaches, the Chinese incursions in the disputed area continue.
Safeguarding territorial integrity of the Philippines means protecting and defending our territorial sea, internal waters and keeping our sovereign rights over our maritime areas, exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and the extended continental shelf (ECS).
What is so important about the area in dispute? The West Philippine Sea holds rich fishing grounds and sources of corals, as well as being potential sources of gas and oil deposits. The islets and shoals are ideal outposts for military vessels and strategic for controlling navigation and commerce. The area is rich and can be made profitable.
Philippine sovereignty is an issue that progressive forces, organizations and ordinary citizens have raised. They continue to step up their opposition and protest against these aggressive
P1NAS says Hands off: People’s answer to Maritime Dispute moves by China and we see this with the recent formation of the nationalist group P1NAS (Pilipinong Nagkakaisa para sa Soberanya) led by former Senators Rene Saguisag and Leticia Ramos-Shahani, lawmaker and congressman Neri Colmenares and artists Bibeth Orteza and Heber Bartolome.
P1NAS is citizen diplomacy in action, a citizen’s formation to “rally Filipinos to stand up against China, the US and other powers that are out to make Philippine waters and Southeast Asian sea lanes an arena for their supremacy games.” P1NAS is continuing earlier protest actions with its June 12 caravan in front of the Chinese consulate and the US Embassy in Makati and Manila,with planned simultaneous protests nationwide.
You ask: Why the US Embassy as well? It would do well for the Philippines to pursue its positions and claims in this maritime dispute independently of any power. Intervention is not welcomed from either the US or from China as both do not respect our sovereignty. P1NAS declared that the US is “being partisan to China, because it has far larger interests in its relations with China than with those in the Philippines.”
Any intervention by the US will be to push its own American interests, not the Philippines’. We know this from our history and current experiences with the US. We should be vigilant that protests against Chinese incursions do not provide more reasons to justify the escalation of US military intervention in the Philippines, the further entrenchment of US troops behind the banner of visiting forces, and the furtherance of US interests in the Asia-Pacific region, specifically with using the Philippines as a strategic base in the US encirclement of China. It is foolish to expect that the US would automatically retaliate against a third party that would attack the Philippines.
The Philippines must not to allow itself to get caught between these two big powers. Let us not forget that the US and capitalist China have been working as partners in the neo-liberal policy of globalization — in trade, US debt to China, investments, etc. In spite of the tension, it is not impossible for a US-China collusion to happen. Thus, the exercise of vigilance.
The long term goal of a truly sovereign nation is to be independent of the US and China and other capitalist powers. This means national sovereignty in its genuine sense, national democracy, realization of land reform, national industrialization and a truly independent foreign policy.
Let us not be complacent even as we celebrate June 12, Independence Day.