CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/25 April) — Ignoring international rules of engagement, especially United Nations protocols, China defies diplomatic efforts to settle its wild claims to ownership of islands in the West Philippine Sea. They just barge in and take over—and dare anyone to evict them!
The Spratlys are 120 miles west of Palawan—way inside the Philippines’ 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. But China, 1,000 miles away, has stationed armed forces and construction crews in the area, claiming ownership of it, building illegal structures, and occupying them in defiance of international law.
The area has been a traditional fishing ground of Filipino fishermen since way back, but now Chinese vessels warn them away and confront them menacingly with warships.
Our government offers to settle the issue diplomatically or resolve it through international arbitration as is proper in disputes of this type. But the Chinese Communist officials arrogantly reject the idea and carry on with their illegal activity. A bullying, uncivilized behavior!
This upsetting development could test the commitment or even loyalty of our brother Chinese-Filipinos that have nothing to do with China’s hostile behavior.
Or perhaps they can do something about it; an appeal or petition to the motherland maybe? Or is this too much to ask?
China already has vast lands and resources on the mainland, but this doesn’t stop her from coveting part our territory.
We’re a small country; they’re a behemoth! It’s immoral, illegitimate, and downright greedy to grab any part of a neighbor’s territory!
And they’re doing it by deceit: sneaking in on some shoals (shallow sandbars), filling them up with more sand from surrounding areas till they grow to the size of an island, then build structures on them for military and economic uses. Shameless opportunism!
To think that Chinese fishermen have also been getting away with poaching in our waters for years, making off with rare and endangered marine species!
Grabbing part of our territory there has been going on for several years. But, sadly, our own government has done nothing except file a protest with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)—which possesses no capability to enforce its rulings.
Fortunately, the issue has caught world media’s attention, for which we have thoughtful Filipino expatriates to thank. They’ve been monitoring (by satellite) China’s bullying tactics in our Western backyard and feeding the information to media.
The group is USPGG (U.S. Pinoys for Good Government)—headed by New York-based Loida Nicolas-Lewis, with lawyer California lawyer Ted Laguatan as legal counsel and West Coast media man Rodel Rodis as spokesperson.
Writing and speaking out relentlessly since the issue surfaced two years ago, they’ve been urging action to prevent China from completing the structures (which are now in an advanced stage of completion).
As much as 60 hectares have already been reclaimed, with various facilities in place including a runway, helicopter pad, and berthing for supply ships. And they’ve accelerated the construction pace, obviously to complete the facilities before anyone can stop them one way or another.
From just one construction site last year, satellite photos today reveal seven sites, indicating how speedily the works are proceeding—with supplies and materials being unloaded and facilities installed quickly.
The stealth with which they accomplish the build up and occupation can be likened to a sneak attack, or like professional squatters taking over a site at lightning speed, putting up structures, installing themselves overnight while no one is around.
Unless these illegal works are stopped soon, it will be too late. It will take more than diplomacy or persuasion to get them dismantled or removed. Defiant, arrogant, and recalcitrant, China’s behavior suggests only one alternative: destroy the structures, just like what Israel did when it bombed Iraq nuclear plants years ago.
But we don’t have the equipment or capability to destroy them, although it is justified on grounds of national security. Leaving them intact will make that portion of Philippine territory China’s staging area for its hegemonic designs, to become a naval superpower soon.
It will enable them to tap our undersea oil for the needs of their gargantuan military-industrial complex; they can exploit our fishing grounds more thoroughly; and harvest our exotic marine resources to their heart’s content. Surely an economic as well as military threat, and we have a right to protection and self-defense.
The question is: with faith in the righteousness of our cause, do we dare challenge and defy them? Can we find allies who will defend us? The world media is already aware of this issue. Their investigations confirm the truth of the land-grab and illegal occupation; and they are adding their voice to ours.
But for lack of initiative by our government (except to file a paper protest!), we are beginning to look like wimps. And ponder this: China’s spokesman has the effrontery to state that in order to avoid trouble, it is the U.S. and our government that should admonish everyone to get out of the way. ASTIG!
What do we do?
Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. Author of books on governance, he is national chairman/convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. [email protected]