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Rule of law must prevail in the South China Sea dispute


Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

By Florangel Rosario Braid


There is a growing concern about the building of structures in some areas in the South China Sea (SCS). That, as many fear, this territorial conflict may escalate and could become what Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio describes as Asia’s next flashpoint. For this reason, there must be some thinking of viable strategies that could lead to what we hope could happen – eventual triumph of the rule of law. Such is the primary objective of Justice Carpio’s e-book, “The South China Sea Dispute: Philippine Sovereign Right and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea.” To question the validity of China’s claims, Carpio used old maps, photographs, excerpts from the arbitral ruling, Chinese government statement, and claimants.

The book, which can be downloaded for free in English, will be made available in Mandarin, Vietnamese, Bahasa, Japanese, and Spanish to help more people understand the basis of our stand against China’s claim. Public opinion can then pressure Beijing to comply with an arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s historic claim based on a 1982 maritime treaty. China has dismissed the ruling and continues to develop artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago. This has alarmed claimants which include Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Taiwan, as well as the United States.

Carpio believes that the Chinese people, like all other peoples of the world, are inherently good but their government has drilled into their minds that since the past 2,000 years, they have owned the China sea.

Carpio believes that China may be planning to build more island outposts at Scarborough in order to have enough radar coverage of the SCS to be able to impose an air defense identification zone.

At the book launch, the original of the 1734 Murillo Velarde map, described as the “mother of all maps” was unveiled by NOW CEO Mel Velasco Velarde (who purchased the map at a Sotheby auction in London), and former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

Velarde, in his introduction of the map’s origin as well as the author and the e-book, describes the book as “possessing an abundance of historical, legal, socio-cultural, and geo-political ideas and insights which could provide new algorithms for inter-racial, inter-regional cooperation and brotherhood. The map, originally owned by the Duke of Northumberland (who owns the castle, the main setting of Harry Potter), is the first scientific map and is being exhibited in the country for the first time. Velarde donated it to the Filipino people through the Office of the Solicitor-General last April of this year. He also paid tribute to both his namesake, Murillo Velarde and Carpio by comparing their works, advocacies, and principles Murillo Velarde defended the Indios who rebelled against the Spaniards and when asked why he defended them, he said: “The only way to conquer them is to conquer their hearts through the rule of law.” Which is also what Carpio intends to do through the book.

Mel Velarde says that what constitutes the essence of who these two are, is that “in times of moral crisis, they acted beyond the call of duty — not on the basis of what they can do, but by what they ought to do for the greater humanity.”

I must say the same is true about Mel Velarde, who humbly noted that his role was to hand it to those for whom it was originally intended – the Filipino people. In a Senate resolution, Mel Velarde was recognized for this magnanimous and patriotic gesture. He was personally thanked by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Senator Vicente Sotto, and Senate officers led by Lutgardo Barbo who viewed the original map with great appreciation.

The bilateral talks that started a few days ago, and one that is expected to be “the beginning of a long journey” will tackle issues of mutual concern. We have formidable obstacles ahead of us, says Philippine Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana but he hopes that talking to one another would enable better understanding of where each one is coming from. But our primary responsibility is to protect our national interest, he assures us.

The consultations followed the “Belt and Road” summit attended by 29 heads of state and economic managers which tackled financial operation, trade, and connectivity. Following the summit, we learned that China had offered loans and grants for infrastructure, assured us of jobs in China for Filipinos, and increased its imports of our tropical fruits.

Before the bilateral talks, newly designated special envoy for intercultural dialogue Jose de Venecia proposed a three-way energy exploration at the Spratly Islands, a project which Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio said may not work. Perhaps Beijing may agree if China had sovereignty over the area, which was its reaction when a joint maritime seismic undertaking was proposed several years ago. Carpio further notes that Panatag Shoal could be a potential flashpoint and there could be some conflict over our plans to set up some structures as China would want it as sanctuary for its defense system.

Thus, in the bilateral talks, it may be necessary to establish some parameters to ensure that there is basis for trusting each other. Too, that there should be agreement on mutual benefit – that each one gains from cooperation without the other having to compromise its sovereignty. This should also guide the bilateral talks with the other four claimants.

We understand the importance of taking a pragmatic approach because of the economic benefits to be gained. We also understand that China wants to play a bigger role on the world stage. But legal and maritime experts believe that we should not put sovereignty in the back burner.

Thus, while the talks are going on, while we try to seek ways by which we can strengthen our ties with China – through exchange in the fields of education, culture, and science in addition to economic and trade relations, we must always keep the national interest foremost in the search for solutions.

And keep hoping that our advocacy through Justice Carpio’s e-book could eventually awaken the Chinese people.


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