Today, it is my pleasure to introduce a new Guest writer on LiP, his name is Louie Hernandez. Thank you so much for your contribution, Louie, it is most welcome, and I hope we will see you here on LiP more in the future, you are most welcome to join us! It’s always nice to have new Filipino contributors to the site! MindanaoBob
This is the question in the minds of many Filipinos now because of the Philippines ongoing dispute with China over Scarborough Shoal.
The Bone of Contention
The Scarborough shoal is a group of islands and reefs in an atoll located in the South China Sea (known in the Philippines as the West Philippine Sea). Locally, the shoal is considered part of Zambales and is referred to as Bajo de Masinloc in the Philippines. This group of islands is believed to be rich in marine resources and important minerals. Add to it is its strategic location said to be good for military operation. Last April 2012, an aircraft of Philippine navy surveillance plane spotted Chinese vessels illegally fishing in Panatag Shoal. Navy personnel aboard BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (the lone military ship of Phil. navy) was sent to verify and upon inspection discovered illegally collected coral and endangered/protected marine species inside Chinese vessels. Before the Phil. authority could apprehend the illegal poachers, two Chinese maritime surveillance ships blocked the path of BRG Gregorio Del Pilar creating tension and standoff between the two countries.
Several official Philippine maps published by Spain and United States in 18th and 20th centuries show Scarborough Shoal as Philippine territory. The Philippine navy for long has been occupying and guarding the Panatag Shoal, and no country ever really contested it, but only until now. In 1957 with the help of U.S. Navy force formerly based in Subic used the area as an impact range for defense purposes. An 8.3 meter high flag pole flying a Philippine flag was raised in 1965. It has in the past apprehended some Chinese illegal fishermen. The disputed area is 840 km distance of the shoal to the nearest coast of China in Hainan province, which is nothing compared to its “extreme proximity” of 220 kilometers to Zambales Philippines that if we’re going to apply the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UCLOS) it’s clear the Philippines is the rightful owner of the Panatag Shoal.
China for its part claim that Chinese people discovered the shoal centuries ago and that there is a long history of Chinese fishing activity in the area. The shoal lies within the nine-dotted line drawn by China on maps marking its claim to around two-thirds of the total area of the South China Sea. In 1935, the Chinese government, at that point the Republic of China, regarded the shoal as part of the Zhongsha Islands. That position has since been maintained by both the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China. In 1947 the shoal was given the nameMinzhu. In 1983 the People’s Republic of China renamed it Huangyan Island with Minzhu Jiao reserved as a second name.
What is the motivation
Why risk a war over the sovereignty of Scarborough Shoal. If we go by the actions of the Chinese fishermen involved in illegal fishing in the disputed area and their government’s response to the situation, it seems that their primary purpose in the disputed islands is to tap its natural resources to further their already economic superpower status and use the strategic location of the chain islands for military and other purposes suited.
The Philippines for its part I think the prospect of economic gains to get from Panatag Shoal is only secondary to the purpose of protecting inherent right over the land that is clearly belong to the country and to uphold the constitution. Not to be stepped upon by other nation and stand up against bullying.
Having been dependent in the U.S. military presence in country for the past 100 years against any external threat, the Philippines has no military hardware to talk about to the present. After the U.S. military bases left the country in 1992, the Philippines has the weakest and ill-equipped military in the region.
China has all the modern military hardware. You can find in the net that Beijing has J11B multifunction fighter, new generation 99G main battle tank (MBT), type 97 infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), HQ9 long range surface-to-air missile (SAM), and new 155mm self-propelled gun (SPG), similar to the Russian 2S19 SPG. DF21 intermediate-range ballistic missile and DF11 short-range ballistic missile, intercontinental ballistic missile and type 093 nuclear attack submarine. You name it and they have it. In other words, one of the most modern war machines in the world.
Diplomatic & Economic ties between Philippines and China
The two countries are supposed to be friends, but the Chinese government keeps on provoking the Philippines. Last week the Chinese naval frigate ran aground at the Hasa-Hasa shoal, just 60 nautical miles off Palawan (the Phil. govt. never protested over this). In the morning news today there were about 30 Chinese fishing vessel encroached in Philippines Economic Zone (EPZ). At the beginning of the standoff, Sino government made a stricter inspection of Philippine banana export to China, this is the subject of Bobs article “The Philippine Banana Business is sagging”. If this is not bullying, we don’t know what is. But as neighbor and friend country, I think it is the hope of many Filipinos that the present dispute will be settled in a diplomatic way.
The Big Brother America
This the tag always mentioned about the U.S. and its association with the Philippines (and other smaller nation). There’s a long standing friendship between the two countries. In WW2 Filipinos and Americans fought side by side against the Japanese. The U.S. and the Philippines have rich history of friendship. Even after the withdrawal of U.S. military bases in the country, the Mutual Defense Treaty still existed between the two countries and the yearly Balikatan exercises (military exercises) continues up to the present time.
What will happen if situation worsen
Not a doomsayer. But even if the Filipinos don’t want it, there’s a possibility that the country can be entangled in unnecessary war. Given the situation above, it is clear that China is the one bullying the Philippines. There’s a great disparity in terms of stocks of military hardware between Philippines and China. But the Philippines and the Filipinos seem determined to uphold its own constitution and stand up against bullying even though its military is ill equipped. If shooting war erupted can the Philippines rely on its friend and old ally the U.S.A? Remember that the U.S. has ties with China too. It is one of the major trading partners of U.S. Some comments in the yahoo site averred that the U.S. would naturally protect its lucrative business interest in China, but some others feel that the long standing friendship of the U.S. and Philippines, plus the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) would be far more important. It’s a very complicated situation and there’ll be far reaching effect on what will be the U.S. determination. What’s your position on this, what do you think the U.S. will do if worst comes to worst?
A side note: As of recent news, a top U.S. military official assured the Philippines of U.S. support.