Panatag means more than rocks and reefs

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - July 20, 2012 - 12:00am

“Scarborough Shoal is outside the territory delineated by the US-Spain Treaty of Paris. So it can’t possibly be part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.”

That is the common, if confused, theme of a salvo of recent e-mails. The senders, likely China propagandists, retort to my articles on China’s bullying in the West Philippine (South China) Sea. One of them, Ben Wrong (cguhl@live.com), calls Filipinos “stupid” for flouting what is “dictated by your colonial masters.” He waves the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, for Filipinos to learn about EEZs.

Ben’s little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It would seem for him that sovereign states should obey colonizers. If so, China must heed the Simla Accord of 1914, under which Great Britain later put Tibet under India. Newly independent Philippines in 1898 was left out of the Paris signing. So was China in Simla.

At any rate, the Philippines abides by the UNCLOS, which grants littoral states a 200-nautical mile EEZ. The EEZ is measured from the outermost base points of main or islands. In case of EEZ overlaps, the states can draw common median limits.

As for Scarborough, China claims ownership by hazy historical right, and improperly calls it Huangyan Island. From there and similar seamarks China makes its preposterous nine-dash boundary, effectively encompassing the whole sea. (Among the other seamarks is Panganiban or Mischief Reef, which China also calls an island, by virtue of manmade fortifications.) With Huangyan as base point, China begins to claim an EEZ limit equidistant to mainland Luzon.

Filipinos have an apt name, Panatag Shoal, for the sandbank ringed by rocks and reefs in the shape of a gigantic horseshoe. The Philippines’ 200-mile EEZ, measured from, among others, Zambales in mainland Luzon as base point, embraces the shoal, 70 miles off. Panatag is 900 miles from China’s Hainan island-province.

The UNCLOS that Ben waves about buttresses the Philippine line and demolishes China’s. Article 121, Regime of Islands, states:

“1. An island is a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide.

“2. Except as provided for in paragraph 3, the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf of an island are determined in accordance with the provisions of this Convention applicable to other land territory.

“3. Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.”

Panatag (Huangyan) is submerged at high tide. It is unimaginable how the ancient Chinese could have inhabited and mapped a “territory” that was underwater half of the day. No amount of calling it “island” will make it so — not till many more millennia of natural accretion. (Same goes for Mischief, etc.) Zambales and Ilocos folk have always referred to Panatag as Bajo de Masinloc, a rest stop. Present day fishermen know it is one of many seamarks within the Philippines’ 200-mile EEZ.

Panatag (Huangyan) is a collection of rocks and reefs, and so cannot be a start-off point for China’s EEZ. (Again, same with Mischief, etc.) China thus cannot push back the Philippine EEZ to a mere 35 miles off Zambales, as the median between Panatag and Luzon.

* * *

And this is where the rejoinder comes in to those who sneer that the Philippines is making such a big fuss over some rocks in its EEZ.

Panatag, Recto (Reed) Bank, Escoda (Sabina) Shoal, Hasa-Hasa (Half Moon) Shoal, Quirino (Jackson) Atoll, Amy Douglas Bank, Rajah Soliman (Boxall) Reef, and Rizal (Commodore) Reef are not mere rocks in the middle of nowhere.

They are within 60 to 80 miles off Luzon and Palawan, well within the Philippines’ 200-mile EEZ. They are rich in resources:

 • Recto potentially has tens of millions of barrels of oil and gas. Filipino and European explorers pinpointed a Sampaguita Field there as early as the 1970s.

 • The rest, by their nature as atolls, shoals and reefs, host rich marine food supply. China knows this. That’s why it grabbed Mischief Reef, 120 miles off Palawan, on the pretext of building fishermen’s shelters in 1995.

To surrender them would jeopardize the future of generations of Filipinos. The Philippines would be left with an EEZ that extends a mere 30 to 40 miles to sea, instead of 200. It would lose millions of square miles of exploitable economic zone. Along with it, fuel and food sources.

* * *

China can also learn a lesson from Russia’s treatment of Chinese marine poachers. That is, that it cannot just bully its way into neighbors’ territorial seas and EEZs. The Russian coast guard opened fire at and detained, and confiscated the boats of the fish thieves. Neighborhood bullies can get their comeuppance.

China’s Communist Party rulers have been taunting Manila to back up its EEZ with military strength. Through the party’s English-language organ, Global Times, Beijing jingoists have even called for the “economic and military punishment” of the Philippines for standing up to China at Panatag.

China got a taste three days ago of the military clash it has been asking for, courtesy of Russia. Global Times’ only pip was to acknowledge that trespassing is wrong, as is machine-gunning civilians.

* * *

For a really good laugh, watch God of Carnage, playing at the Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati, till this weekend only. The Tony awardee is about two pairs of parents who try to settle their sons’ fistfight civilly — but end up worse. Starring Tony awardee Lea Salonga, Singaporean Adrian Pang, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, and Art Acuña.

 For tickets, call Atlantis: (02) 8927078, 8401187, or 8919999.

* * *

Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

 E-mail: jariusbondoc@gmail.com

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