THE important thing about the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), as far as day-to-day life for Filipinos is concerned, is that our fishermen may continue to do what they and their ancestors have been doing since time immemorial—fish in the waters of the West Philippine Sea. Both because of that, and the affirmation of Philippine sovereignty over those waters, which are inside the UN definitions of what belongs in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone), we rejoice that the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration decided in our favor on Tuesday.
The international court nullified China’s nine-dash-line claim as a legal basis for maritime rights under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It said no feature—reef, rock and whatever—within the Spratly Islands chain is an island entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Because of this, the EEZ extending from our country’s shore gives us de facto jurisdiction over most of the waters in the Spratly Islands not covered by the territorial seas of other countries.
It is against China’s (1) nine-dash line that covers practically the entire South China, including some of our territorial waters and the features inside them, and (2) reclamation and building of structures on our islets and reefs that the Philippine case at the UN was lodged. China has, however, rejected as null and void the UN ruling even. As early as when the Philippines was filing the case, China had declared that it did not accept the UN Court’s jurisdiction and would not abide by its decision. China did not participate in the UN tribunal’s hearings, despite its being a signatory to the UNCLOS, the United Nations covenant that is supposed to govern member-states’ adherence to the laws of the sea. Taiwan, too, which claims to be the real and legitimate China as the Republic of China, has declared that it does not accept the tribunal’s ruling and will not abide by its decision.
Even Itu Aba, which Taiwan holds and calls Taiping Island, was ruled to be only a rock entitled, therefore, to only a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea.
This means that no matter how monumental our victory in the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration, this does not amount to anything as far as the woes of Filipino fishermen are concerned. Our fishermen will still be harassed by Chinese in large and armed Chinese fishing vessels escorted by the Chinese Navy; these will continue to drive our Filipino fishermen away from fishing waters that are our sovereign territory. And Chinese expeditions will still come and destroy our corals in the process of stealing our rare and marine treasures.
This is what will happen because the officials, Coast Guard, Navy and people of Communist Party-ruled People’s Republic of China intransigently insist that our sovereign territorial waters belong to them.
Instead of us driving away Chinese fishing parties from our sovereign territory, they and the navy of the People’s Republic of China will drive away and fire water cannons and maybe machine guns on our fishermen, so that Chinese fisherman can have their way.
They have done this before. The complaints of our fishermen who are losing their livelihood and source of food for their families will go unrelieved—because we are a poor and small country that cannot match the wealth and armed might of nuclear power China.
The best that we can do, in the view of some who would not mind having China control the Philippines and make us its slavish running dog and milking cow at the same time, is just grin and bear our rape and humiliation. We must not dare fight China. We must give up our rights to our West Philippine Sea, and to other things we hold sacred, like honor and dignity, if we want to continue enjoying the goodwill of the second-richest and most powerful country in the world.
To many other Filipinos, who love our country as envisioned by Rizal, Bonifacio and the other great patriots, that is a fate worse than death.