On Benham and territorial issues: There is no peace for cowards


Marlen V. Ronquillo

The whole world knows by now our fecklessness when dealing with territorial issues.

Exhibit A is Sabah.

Sabah remains a legitimate part of the Philippine territory. It is owned by the Sultanate of Sulu, which made the bone-headed decision to lease it to the British North Borneo Company in 1878. Malaysia’s claim rests not on actual ownership but on the false interpretation that the 1878 lease was a “cession.” Or the Sultanate’s supposed forfeiture of the ownership after being paid a token lease. Lease is neither a sale nor the abandonment of property.

The 1963 formation of the Malaysian Federation was attended by the holding of a referendum that sought the votes of the Sabahans on which mother country did they prefer. Naturally, the voters preferred Malaysia that had acted as their de facto mother country since the 1878 lease. To serious scholars of territorial jurisdictions, a referendum cannot prop up the ownership claim of an interloper, which in Sabah’s case has been Malaysia.

We are supposed to have a “dormant” claim over Sabah. But then again, what is the value and worth of that? My favorite answer comes from John Nance Garner, former vice president of the US, who was asked how important his VP post was. His answer: not worth a pitcher of warm spit. That is the current value of the PH’s “dormant” claim on Sabah – not worth a pitcher of warm spit.

Exhibit B are the areas covered by the West Philippine Sea.

All the old maps of the world have another name for the Scarborough Shoal, a collection of reefs, sandbanks, atolls and rocky outcrops that fall within the UNCLOS rule on territorial rule of 200 miles off the nearest coast. That name is Bajo de Masinloc, which is a town in Zambales province. From time immemorial, our fishermen have been fishing off the atolls and rocks in relative peace. The Shoal’s other names are Panatag, which means peace or serene, and Karburo, the smelly powder being used to ripen mature Zambales mangoes.

The cartographers of the old times have not heard of its Chinese name – Huangyan Island – because they did not recognize China’s claim over the Shoal. Even Charles Darwin, in a monograph, placed the Shoal under Philippine territory.

China, using an UNCLOS-defiant 9-dash line, has claimed the shoal and pretty much all of Philippine territorial waters there.

China has not only encouraged its fishermen to equip their fishing vessels with modern equipment so that they can venture out with regularity and impunity in these territories. It has been on a construction binge, from military facilities to putting in place navigational aids. Its military might – it is estimated that it can be at parity with the US military might in a few decades – allows it to build and annex the WPS without any sanction.

China does not want any form of international mediation to settle the WPS territorial issues. It stands by its erroneous 9-dash line. The territorial annexations, like the ones being done by Russia, have massive support from China’s over a billion population.

Now, we have reports that a Chinese group using a survey ship made a recent visit to Benham Rise. China’s foreign ministry said it was an innocent incursion and invoked the usual “freedom of navigation“ right. But with China, any incursion is suspect, given its wont to annex territory that does not clearly belong to it.

The other disturbing development was a statement from China’s foreign ministry that said the Philippines can’t claim Benham Rise, ignoring a UN decision in April of 2012 that approved the Philippine claim over Benham. The Philippines filed it with the UNCLOS in 2008.

More than the UN decision, the Benham has seismic, magnetic and geological features that are very similar to the Philippines. It is actually an extension of the Philippine territory. Since the ancient days, Filipino fishermen have ventured into the area to fish.

This is the Eastern Seaboard remember. China can invoke all sorts of magical and baseless reasons to doubt the Philippine ownership of Benham. But China’s distance from Benham automatically rules any and all ownership claim over the underground formation that is larger than the entire Luzon region.

So what have been the official steps taken by the PH government to force our ownership issue? Not much. Except for a lame statement from the Palace that Benham is our territory, nothing much has been done to physically annex it.

A proposal to create a Benham Rise Development Authority, which should be a priority given the Chinese suspicious moves on Benham, has not been certified as a priority measure.

The Benham Rise is said to contain an awesome natural gas deposit that would make the country a natural gas exporter.

Any other country that lays claim on Benham should be given a forceful warning. It is ours, don’t intrude. We are willing to go to war over it. As Archbishop Villegas said, there is no peace for cowards. More so, when the territorial integrity of the country is mocked.


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  1. “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will still have war.”
    – Churchill’s remark after Chamberlain returned from signing the Munich pact with Hitler

  2. The reason that we are weak in regards to our territory claim is because of corruption and the nationalistic idea that we don’t careless provided I am not directly affected mentality.

  3. arnel amador on

    minsan na tayong nagkaroon ng isang pinuno na matapang at kayang makipagsabayan sa mga taga banyaga at nagsabing “this nation can be great again”…anyare? marahil alam na alam mo ang mga sumunod na pangyayari. cowards? not only that, this country has never been ran out of traitors from all walks of life, from top to bottom, people from media included? if the price is right….why they kept us remain a weak nation, you will be the judged, try to figure it out….

  4. Colonial mentality suggests we love everything US: language, government, products, travel destination, movies,citizenship, etc. If Yasay’s case is any indication, the top 10% of our PH population treats our country as their mere satellite country or business playground. Then there was that speculation that the Duterte family is offered a safe refuge in China in case PH sinks or decimated. For all they care about teritorial assertion if our generational leaders seem to carelessly abandon even our strongest points against aggressors. Hardly can we hear more about nationalism, statemanship and the likes of Rizal, Laurel, Recto, Romulo, etc. from our leaders. Poor 90% of us Filipinos who do not have any other country where to migrate to but live and die in our beloved pearl of the orient Philippines.

  5. Why doesn’t the Philippines do as Vietnam did to the Intsik intruders? Vietnam’s navy confronted the Intsik “fishermen” (?) building structures over an atoll within Vietnam’s territory (like our Panatag Shoal), driving them away (as they knew that those fishermen were Intsik agents of the PLA). The Intsik did not return till now. Duwag ba tayong mga Pinoy? Nangugulat lang ang mga Intsik na ‘yan!

  6. Jimmay Solis on

    Correction please. Benham rise is not part of our territoty. It is a part of the extended continental shelf. We claimed it to be part of our exclusive economic zone. It is still under water. We only have sovereign rights to explore and use it. So tell me who is brave enough to go their and plant our flag.

  7. If we don’t fight the Chinese, the world will not do anything, because China is afraid if they went to war with a poor small country, then no one in the world will buy their products, especially the US. Filipinos need to know that since 2009 China’s economy is slowing down drastically, case in point the ghost cities that they built almost a decade ago; their economy is not that good so they need new ways to “pump up” their economy, like manipulating their currency and stealing others natural resources (Philippine gold, islands, & sea).
    Hoy Instik! Kayo ang nagturo sa mga Pilipino maging corrupt, magalit man kayo wala kaming pake!

    • Hindi kailangan ituro ang corruption. Inherent yun sa lahat na kultura. Pero ang Kastila at Amerikano ang totoong sumira ng ating kultura.

      Huwag tayong makining sa mga war drums ng mga kano at iba pang may hidden agenda.

      maghanda tayo and itaguyod ang ating navy. pag lumaban tayo ngayon – isang oras lang tapos na ating navy pati na ang air force. makipag usap muna tayong ng mahinahon at maghanap ng common interests. yan ang ginagawang magaling ni digong.

      Yen tama na yang pag mis-interpret ng Bentham Rise issue.

  8. Hmm, you are an anti-Marcos but your recent articles have shown us that a lot of what Marcos did in his era seems to be to our favor. Before you mentioned about the Green Revolution. Now, it is Sabah. Who had let go of our Sabah claim? Who did away with Green Revolution? Ay naku, if only our former leaders after Marcos had continued his vision. He also decided to upgrade the military then. Now this cry for war. As you can see sometimes killing is necessary. Just like killing criminals if they fight back though the PNP should have a camera with them to prove their claim. The same goes with death penalty. Villegas is okay with killing after all. And we should be ready to get killed and lose this war since we should know that we cannot go against China.

  9. We are weak all because of the mishandling of the previous administrations.

    China was weak then because they let the foreigners run their country until they woke-up and had to turn into communism. China had to undergo a cultural revolution that was deadly but they learned from it. From what they were so against then, they got into capitalism. They learn how to make money through financial schemes, put up industries, save but spend to make weapons, and grow in force through the years. They know that education and unity were required that’s why they have a strong grip with their politics and government. It’s not an overnight process.

    We can do the same or better. Only with a strong LEADERSHIP.

  10. Nakana mo Bay! That is true, there is no way to stop the Chinese but to go to war. We do not war war?, they will grab another island the next and the next. It is just a matter of question, we go to war now or later?. Later may be too late. The Chinese carefully calculates our cowardice. We are telling them they are right. They are winning a war without firing a shot. The “sweetest victory”.

    • Modesto Segovia on

      Wow! Good ang suggestion mo! Lets go to war with China! Pwede kang manguna? Alam mo kung papaano ang gagawin? Sige mauna ka baka may sumunod. Ang ibig kong sabihin, talk is cheap. Pero ang reality?

      What i said is that WAR can only stop the Chinese. It is there where they will calculate if grabbing an island is worth the sacrifice of going to war.

      Now, if you do not want to go to war, FINE! They will grab an island of yours again and again. Until you will be speaking Mandarin and be a part of China. That is better than going to war.

  11. kale alaskador on

    The last words of our national anthem “ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyo” must be re-phrased as “ang magbigay pa para sa iyo (china).

    Our present crop of leaders are cowards!

    • as opposed to brave Panot ? Hay naku, siya nga ang dahilan sa problema natin ngayon. Umayos na tayo.