By Gel Santos Relos
Amidst rising tension between China and the Philippines, National Chair of the US Pinoys for Good Governance(USP4GG) Loida Nicolas Lewis called on Filipinos to organize rallies and demonstrations in front of China’s embassies and consulates throughout the world on May 11 to protest China’s recent aggressive encroachments on the Philippines’ Scarborough Shoal.
Lewis especially reached out to the Global Filipino Diaspora Council representing 12 million Filipinos in 220 countries throughout the world. The planned protest actions will take place in major cities like Washington DC, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Vancouver, Sydney, Singapore, Rome and Hongkong.
“The most important thing is that they see that the global community led by Filipinos is going to stand up to their bullying. They should be shamed for bullying a tiny country like the Philippines,” Lewis said on The Filipino Channel’s daily newscast “Balitang America” last week.
Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario affirms the Philippine government’s position that it has sovereign rights over Scarborough Shoal and its surrounding waters. He cites that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), a country’s exclusive economic zone extends from the edge of the territorial sea out to 200 nautical miles from the baseline.
Scarborough Shoal, or “Panatag Shoal” as referred to by Filipinos, is located 137 nautical miles from Zambales province in the Philippines. But China asserts that this island which they refer to as “Huangyan island”, is their “inherent territory”, despite its 500 nautical mile distance from the nearest China port of Hainan.
This recent development is still part of the ongoing territorial disputes between China and other claimant countries in Asia-- Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malayasia and Taiwan over the Spartly Islands. These countries are all in search of gas and oil that are believed to be deposited in these areas.
As the impasse continues, China orders the Philippine vessel to leave.
But President Aquino remained firm in maintaining its presence in Scarborough Shoal as a way to assert its sovereignty. “The President’s position is – what is ours is ours and we should stand up for what is ours,” Del Rosario said.
Del Rosario said, “They are saying they have a historical claim over it. A historical claim does not translate into a title. That’s number 1. They said they named it. Naming something does not mean you are entitled to it. Thirdly, they took the position that they have used that area, their fishermen used it. Use of an area does not mean you are entitled. If I say I have been traditionally fishing in the Pacific Ocean, that does not mean I am entitled to claim the ocean as mine.”
The Philippine government filed a diplomatic protest against China.
China opposes Philippines’ “internationalizing” the problem and warns that this approach would complicate and aggravate the problem even further.
China’s People Liberation Army Major General Lou Yuan has called for a more decisive action against the Philippines. According to reports from China Daily, Yuan wants the Chinese government to send naval patrols, and marks its sovereignty with the national flag.
He also says Beijing should encourage more Chinese fishermen, as well as the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, and the China National Petroleum Corporation to move to the area.
Yuan also said China has not abandoned the idea of war at all cost in order to protect China’s sovereignty and interests.
Ignoring China’s warning, Foreign Affairs Sec. Del Rosario said the Philippines is relying on the United States in order to achieve “a credible defense system”.
Del Rosario added that the the Philippine government would like to reap the maximum benefits of its Mutual Defense Treaty with the most powerful country in the world.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin met with U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last Monday and joined the news conference on the U.S.-Philippine Strategic Dialogue at the U.S. State Department.
With the complexity of the US-China relations, and with the interest of the American people of paramount concern, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to do a balancing act as the US walks this delicate line.
While reaffirming its obligations under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, Clinton said, "In this context, the US has been clear and consistent: while we do not take sides on the competing sovereignty claims to land features in the South China Sea, as a Pacific power, we have a national interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law and the unimpeded lawful commerce across our sea lanes.”
Clinton likewise clarified that the US government opposes the use of force or threats by any party in settling territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pledged -- in standard language -- that the US will come to the aid of its weaker ally if it faces military aggression.
Moving forward, Del Rosario said the Philippines is pursuing a 3-track approach on the Scarborough Shoal dispute:
-- a political track, using the ASEAN as a framework via the code of conduct that is being put together;
-- a legal track, which means the use of dispute settlement mechanisms. He said the Philippines is hoping to pursue 2 out of 5 mechanisms under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;
-- a diplomatic track, which includes consultations with China to defuse the tension.
Gazmin said the US vowed to support the Philippines when it brings its case to international legal bodies. He reiterated that the US wants a "rules-based approach" used in resolving issues in the West Philippine Sea.
Another group of Fil-Am community leaders based in the nation’s capital-- the Migrant Heritage Commission-- said it is best for the Philippines to ask the United Nations to initiate a convention of Southeast Asian countries for a multilateral talks to peacefully and diplomatically resolve the political impasse on the shoal which is part of the disputed Spratlys group of islands.
But US Pinoys for Good Governance President Rodel Rodis emphasized that a strong showing of support and solidarity by Filipinos will impress on China “that it is not just confronting a small country that it can easily bully, but one that has influential citizens scattered throughout the world who can mobilize and galvanize public opinion against China”.
Ted Laguatan, USP4GG spokesman added, “We are calling on all Filipinos and all those who believe in freedom and the right of every country to control its own destiny to join us in a global demonstration at Chinese embassies and consulates in the United States and around the world at 12 noon on Friday, May 11.”
Will you heed this call?