Regain Scarborough as proven Phl territory

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

China stole Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in 2012. The Philippines must regain it by diplomatic and geopolitical means. The 2016 international arbitral victory was a good start. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague illegalized China’s occupation. Next steps are, with the help of allies, to make China abide by the ruling, and recompense the Philippines for environmental destruction and poaching.

Panatag is Philippine territory. A day’s sail by banca from mainland Luzon, it is traditional Filipino fishing ground. Ancients called it in different periods Panacot, Galit, Lumbay and Bajo de Masinloc. The 1.5- to five-meter shallow waters teem with seafood. Enclosed horseshoe-shape by rocks and reefs, the 15,000 hectares is the size of one-fourth of Metro Manila.

Spanish maps from the 1700s label Panatag, as with other far-flung seamarks, as “Punto de Mandato” (Point of Command), or jurisdiction. Old Japanese and British navigational logs include it among the Philippine Islands 120 miles off. American colonial, Commonwealth and Republic records call it “island territory.”

China claims the shoal by pseudo-history. The legend that an ancient Chinese engineer observed it from a series of towers in the mainland is possible only if the earth was flat. Panatag is 750 miles beyond the horizon. No ancient record or map backs up Beijing’s “historical right.” From China’s own annals, its earliest navigators hitched rides on Malay trading ships. Sea masters in the archipelagos now known as Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, the brown race conquered Madagascar across the Indian Ocean two millenniums ago.

Philippine historical proofs are extant, extensively researched by international maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal, PhD:

The Murillo Velarde map of 1734 draws the shoal as part of Luzon. The 1748 shipwreck there of Britain’s HMS Scarborough, officially reported to Spanish authorities in Manila, led to its detailed cartography. The Malaspina Expedition of 1792 located the shoal 57 leagues from land. In 1800 Admiral Alava dispatched from Cavite the steamer Sta. Lucia, under Capitan Francisco Riquelme, to survey the shoal and thereafter regularly patrol it. The summary of Riquelme’s findings became a fixture of the Doroteo del Archipelago Filipino, the Spanish guide for mariners. The description of the shoal in the 1879 edition of the Doroteo jibes with an 1866 British survey by the sloop HMS Swallow.

Spain ceded the main Philippine islands to the United States via the 1898 Treaty of Paris, and Panatag and outlying islands via the 1900 Treaty of Washington. The US took over jurisdiction of the shoal, including vessels in distress. When Sweden’s SS Nippon was shipwrecked there in 1913, the rescuers and salvors came from Manila. The scientific study on the salt water’s effect on the copra cargo, and the insurance litigation, also were held in the capital. The Philippine Supreme Court affirmed the insurance ruling in 1916. The American colonial administration listed the shoal in the 1918 Census of Philippine Islands.

In 1937, Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon formally inquired about the status of the shoal, which he wanted the newly formed Coast Guard to patrol. The US Departments of State, War, Navy and Commerce, and Office of Geodetic Survey ascertained that no other country had contradictory territorial claim.

Throughout the 1960s-1980s the independent Philippines exercised authority over Panatag. Every time the Philippine and US Navies held exercises like bombing runs there, Manila issued Alerts to Mariners safely to steer clear. Passing ships recognized Manila’s power. When smugglers hid out in the shoal, the Philippine Constabulary drove them away.

Panatag is part of the definition of Philippine territory in the 1936, 1972 and 1987 Constitutions. It is specified in the 2009 Archipelagic Baselines Law (Republic Act 9522).

(The complete text of Batongbacal’s study, “Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal): Less-Known Facts vs. Published Fiction,” is posted in imoa.ph, website of the Institute for Maritime and Ocean Affairs.)

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