Monday, May 7, 2012

Scarborough Shoal forever

Mostly rocks just below water at high tide, the Scarborough Shoal about 123 miles west of Subic Bay has become a rallying cry for born-again Filipino patriots. Led by a U.S.-based group who call themselves USP4GG, or U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance, these misguided flag-waving loyalists from the United States and Canada will be staging international protests wherever there are Chinese consulates in the world against China’s bullying tactics particularly against the weaker and smaller Philippines.

One self-proclaimed leader in the Filipino community in Toronto even has the gall to ask those who have not participated in a rally in their life to savour their first opportunity to join the protest on May 11 in front of the Chinese consulate. As if many of us have not experienced a protest march or anything similar during our younger days in the Philippines, to deplore the Marcos martial law regime for instance, or to protest rising tuition fees when we were university students. As if joining their protest would be a transformative highlight in our lives, awakening us from our docile nature to become freshly-anointed political activists. Perhaps, they are the ones who had never walked before in sweltering heat or rain on the streets of Manila to show their indignation to a government that had betrayed its people.
Follow link
to view interview with Chito Sta. Romana, former ABC News Beijing Bureau
Chief, on Scarborough Shoal stand-off.
Such a charade of love of country just for a few rocks submerged under the sea. Rocks which are uninhabitable and incapable of sustaining human habitation or economic life, that the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the very law that the Philippines is anchoring upon its territorial sovereignty claim to the Scarborough Shoal, describes these rocks as having no exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or continental shelf. Well, it happens that the Philippines is the closest country to the Scarborough Shoal and, by common sense, according to these people, these rocks must be ours. This commonsensical thinking is now pushing us to the brink of war.

Interestingly, these new Filipino nationalists are trying to match up with the Chinese in a war of words. However, there’s a wrinkle to this Filipino bravado. At the same time that they would issue provocative statements against China, they would also shamelessly beg for American help, asking for more aircraft, boats and radar systems which the Armed Forces of the Philippines can use in the face of an escalating territorial dispute with China. Again, as if the United States would do them the favour even if there was supposed to be a mutual defence pact between the two countries. On the contrary, U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton has said that the U.S. will not take sides in the conflict, stressing that it prefers a peaceful settlement instead of the use of violence in resolving the impasse.

The Scarborough Shoal or Scarborough Reef was named after a tea-trade ship, Scarborough, which was wrecked on the rock with everyone perishing on board in the late 18th century. To the Chinese, the shoal was known as Huangyan Island while to Filipinos, it was called Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc. Like most land formations in the South China Sea which include the Paracels and the Spratlys, these groups of islands or rocks have been the subject of competing territorial sovereignty claims. Both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) lay claim to the Scarborough shoal after the Chinese Civil War. In 1997, the Philippines joined in this dispute, making its claim to the shoal. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo enacted the Philippine Baselines Law of 2009 (RA 9522) which classifies the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal as a regime of islands under the Republic of the Philippines.

As I have written in my earlier posts about the disputed claims in the South China Sea, the dispute is more than a mere squabble over territory. The enormous reserves of oil and natural gas in these islands and  around their waters are fueling the territorial claims of these countries. Whoever is successful in establishing its sovereignty claim will have the potential to produce over a billion barrels of oil.

The UNCLOS, contrary to popular belief, is not the controlling law in the determination of sovereignty over land formations in the sea. It is concerned only with maritime waters and delineation of boundaries, not with sovereignty issues.

Under the UNCLOS, and this is what is commonly misunderstood, the country that holds valid legal title to sovereignty over their islands have exclusive right to exploit living and nonliving resources within twelve miles of their territorial sea and 200 miles beyond known as the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). But even if the Scarborough Shoal or the Spratly Islands is within the Philippines' EEZ from its coastline, it is not enough to acquire jurisdictional rights. It must first satisfy the sovereignty conundrum. At the core of the dispute is the question of territorial sovereignty, not law of the sea issues.

The competing sovereignty claims of six different countries to the Spratly Islands and now the stand-off between the Philippines and China in the Scarborough shoal have important ramifications to the United States insofar as its intention to remain a power in the Asia-Pacific region. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently declared that America was pivoting to Asia, a critical foreign policy decision now that the U.S. has lost its military bases in the Philippines which were closed in 1992.

In shifting its attention to Asia, the United States is restructuring its military strength in the region from establishing a new submarine corps base in Port Darwin in Australia to rotating military presence in the Philippines. This has the effect of making China the specific target for Pentagon’s global security programs, very much similar to America’s previous design of creating a missile interception network in the whole of Europe, which unnerved the Soviet Union during the Cold War between the two superpowers.

From a practical point of view, the Chinese are not about to rush to any military confrontation with the United States. China is in no position to challenge the U.S. because of the huge disparity in power. All signs, however, clearly indicate a new cold war is emerging as both countries try to avoid any direct confrontation in the high seas.

The United States is much more interested in dealing with the issue of human rights violations in managing its relationship with China, which Beijing suspects was aimed at challenging the ruling legitimacy of the Communist Party. Right now, the U.S. is in a deep predicament about its tense diplomatic situation with China concerning Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese dissident lawyer and human rights activist who sought refuge in the American Embassy in Beijing. Although Mr. Chen has left the embassy in order to be treated in a hospital in central Beijing, he told reporters that he and his family feel insecure in the hands of Chinese authorities, and would like to go to the United States. To date, the U.S. government has offered a visa for Mr. Chen to pursue his studies in the United States.

Mr. Chen’s fate remains in the centre of this diplomatic firestorm between China and the United States. President Barack Obama is already on his re-election campaign mode and whatever happens to the negotiations between the two countries regarding Mr. Chen’s future will surely be exploited by the Republican Party presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, as political ammunition against the current administration’s ineffective or inconsistent record of dealing with China’s human rights violations.
Philippine protesters over Scarborough shoal belonging to the Akbayan party.
So, what is it that these new Filipino patriots in the United States and Canada really want to achieve with their global protests against China? For certain, the United States has already made known its position that it will not take sides in the Scarborough shoal stand-0ff, with or without the Mutual Defence Treaty with the Philippines. Raising the level of rhetoric against China will not bring other nations to the side of the Philippines, especially in view of its shameless mendicancy to the U.S. policy of re-establishing its hegemony in Asia and the Pacific region, something that doesn’t sit well with the other members of the ASEAN.

The Philippines risks itself of becoming a pariah in its own backyard. Rejected by the United States, its wishful ally, and treated with suspicion by its neighbours.

All that the protesting Filipino patriots in the U.S. and Canada could accomplish is to rally well-known personalities to their cause: former politicians, civic society leaders and movie and entertainment stars. These are the people the organizers of the protest are all too willing to shove into the limelight, not the ordinary people who would really carry their protest placards and march in the sweltering heat of a noon-hour protest. As if these personalities would be ready and willing to play heroes—to offer and sacrifice their bodies to the enemy in order to defend our country’s territorial sovereignty for a few rocks submerged in the sea.


  1. It is good you will show your patriotism by having protest rally in front of chinese consulate
    in Canada or anywhere in the world as Filipinos are scattered.

    But it would be much better and beneficial to the Philippines if you could form an NGO with the aim of sourcing funds to the Philippine navy and Air force.

    There are 12million Filipinos abroad and if every Filipino living/working abroad will donate USD100.00, it is equivalent to USD1.2billion which is a good start to fund
    frigates and fighter jets to protect our territory and dignity as a people. USD100.00 a month will not affect the living condition of Filipinos abroad.

    But disbursements of these funds just in case, will be under supervision of NGO, a reputable auditing firm and the office of the President of the Republic of the Philippines. Don't give it to the generals please.

    1. That would be good money for the politician in the Philippines to'll end up with a 1.2 bn propeller fighter planes (no jets). there is no way that money would end up buying military equipment.

  2. I am not sure if you have chinese blood in you Mr Joe Rivera..instead of supporting your fellow filipinos, you are putting them down.

    Not really sure what you are trying to say in this uncomplicated articule...honestly, you 're article is very complicated.

    1. Let me clarify my position on the Scarborough Shoal issue by referring you to my other postings on the Spratlys issue – they are all interrelated and if you have time to check the following posts, you’ll get a better understanding of the legal dimension of this issue. I believe you are being misled by others that the UNCLOS is the governing law in this dispute.
      Crisis in the high seas
      Spratlys war of words must stop
      U.S. proxy war with China imminent in the Spratlys

  3. You have your point on your post but I think Filipino or the country Philippines must deserve what it must have and that is its own Island, the Scarborough shoal. I'm sure that other citizen would also fight for this.