What we did right in Kalayaan, we should do in the whole Spratlys

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - May 14, 2021 - 12:00am

In fairness to the present government, historical facts indicate that we cannot lay all the blame on President Rodrigo Duterte for all the debacles that we are now facing in the Spratlys, Scarborough Shoal, and Sabah. These are the products of decades of neglect, ineptitude, if not incompetence of previous administrations.

Under international law, a sovereign state can acquire sovereignty over a territory by any of the following modes; occupation, cession, prescription, conquest, and accretion. The Japanese tried to acquire the Philippines by occupation but failed. The US acquired our country by cession when it paid $20 million to Spain by virtue of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1989. We were the first to have occupied Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island) and established the municipality of Kalayaan. We were the first to discover the rest of the Spratlys but failed to occupy all of them. Today, we have a working government in the Municipality of Kalayaan in Pag-asa but we lost control over the others to China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Brunei and Palau have claims too but failed to establish their presence there.

As early as 1946, then Vice President Elpidio Quirino declared to President Manuel Roxas and the world that the Spratlys belonged to the national territories. At that time, we were under the 1935 Constitution which defined our national territory. There was vagueness in that definition of the national territory. It referred to the three treaties entered into by the US and other countries. The first was the Treaty of Paris concluded on December 10, 1898, between the US and Spain, and whereby the latter ceded the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to America for a measly $20 million. The second was the treaty between the same parties signed in Washington, DC, on November 7, 1900. The third was the treaty between the US and Great Britain on January 2, 1930. The fourth basis of definition in the 1935 fundamental law referred to all territories over which the Philippine government exercised jurisdiction.

In 1947, Tomas Cloma discovered the Spratlys, and claimed them but it was only on May 11, 1956 that he came back with 40 men. It was only then that he formally declared a new state, the Free Territory of Freedomland. He posted many signs all over the different islands and issued a notice to the whole world of his unwavering claim and decisive manifestation of sovereignty. But his claim was met with a very stinging opposition by China, Taiwan, and other claimants. During martial law, President Marcos had Cloma arrested and detained. Inside his detention cell in 1974, Cloma ceded his claims to the Republic of the Philippines in a formal document. Marcos forthwith issued Presidential Decree 1596 formally establishing the Municipality of Kalayaan and made it an integral part of the first congressional district of Palawan. Later, Republic Act 9522 was enacted defining Philippine territory and there is the inclusion of the Kalayaan Islands.

Today, the Philippines occupies five islands, three reefs and two cays, while Vietnam controls 21 islets and reefs, Malaysia occupies seven reefs, China also has seven reefs, and Taiwan one big 43-hectare island. But we only established our legal and sovereign powers in Pag-asa and established the municipality of Kalayaan. We neglected Patag, Kota, Lawak, Likas, Panatag, Parola, Balagtas, Rizal, and Ayongin. Had the past Philippine presidents exercised enough diligence and focused on our territorial sovereignty, we would have in complete control of Spratlys. This isn’t just the fault of President Duterte. His failure is in not standing up to China because of “utang na loob”. We can’t give up our domain in exchange for a few vaccines. This is a matter of national sovereignty.

If we can’t even assert our basic rights as a nation, we should at least have a sense of self-respect by denouncing these travesties against our dignity. Our Constitution, our victory in The Hague aren’t merely pieces of papers. They symbolize our national integrity. Evil triumphs because we, good men, are doing nothing.

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