A couple of days ago, I was reading my textbook on the Philippine Constitution when my witty 6-year-old cousin, Mylene, came up to me with a long face. I was already skimming through Article I regarding Philippine National Territory and the discussions on the Exclusive Economic Zone when she chimed in: “Kuya, What should I do if someone does something bad to me?” “Huh? What happened?” I replied quizzically.
“Yesterday, my female classmate, snatched my lunchbox and ate my baon (snacks). I just stood still and remained silent”, the little girl confessed holding back her tears. “Hmm, what she did is not good”, I said. Seeing Mylene looking down, I told my coy cousin to be brave and not to tolerate her classmate’s bad demeanor.
“If she is going to do that again, you should speak out, okay?” Little Mylene nodded. “In a calm voice you tell her to leave you alone. And if she still wants to get your baon, you go and tell your teacher, okay?” I then patted her head. She then left for their morning class at a nearby preparatory school.
It really is sad to know that my cousin, who lives with us, just had her first experience of mistreatment from a classmate. It really seemed that the use of superior strength to intimidate others is somewhat prevalent in any human society.
As I scanned my textbook I can’t help but notice that this very same behavior is also conspicuous in the international political arena where countries which have superior resources andfirepower tend to step on other state’s sovereignty. The most fitting example of this is the People’s Republic of China.
The current tensions that are building in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) are nonetheless due to China’s clearly excessive claims of territorial sovereignty which covers almost all of the 1.2 million square-mile area. Having the economic strength among others, this giant has been threatening and using brutal force in its confrontation with other countries, including the Philippines.
I found out that this so-called ‘claim’ of China started in 1947 where, from out of the blue, they claimed the whole South China Sea to be ‘rightfully’ theirs. She drew a red line, the “nine-dashed line”, which covers practically the entire South China Sea, including the EEZ of various Southeast Asian countries.
I was a young kid then, about the same age as my cousin is now, when news of installations done by the Chinese in the Spratly Islands was reported in television. Initially, in defense, the Chinese Government said that those were just ‘temporary shelters’. In order to avoid trouble, the Filipino Government, in a way, simply ignored them. But what appeared to be ‘temporary shelters’ turned out to be today’s ‘permanent garrisons’.
And at present, the region where the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal are both located is regarded by many as a potential flashpoint which could trigger a regional conflict. This is so because PRC has so far resisted submitting the dispute to international courts. Due to these tensions, sporadic skirmishes further scar the state relations. A year before I was born, more than 70 people were killed during a confrontation between the Red China and Vietnam in 1988.
For a brief background, a significant part of the Spratly Islands is included in the Exclusive Economic Zone where our state has the right for exploitation and exploration. Same also holds for the Scarborough Shoal (which the locals call as “Bajo de Masinloc”), that triangle-shaped chain of islands and reefs located west of our sea banks. These are widely scattered rocks which cover about 150 square kilometers - almost the size of Quezon City!
Apparently, our country mainly bases its claims on its proximity and the principle of terra nullius (literally means "land belonging to no one"), which holds that it was previously unclaimed by a sovereign state. By virtue of the Presidential Decree No. 1599 issued by President Marcos in1978, the Philippines claims an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the baselines from which their territorial sea is measured. The nearest landmass from the shoal is about 137 miles (219.90 km) away, which is Palauig, in Zambales. Comparatively speaking, the said shoal is 532.795 miles (or 857.45 kilometers) away from China. Their claim is so preposterous that I bet Little Mylene can easily point which country’s closer with the map of Asia laid on the table.
But just how valuable are these tiny territories which caused this protracted rift between states?
After some research, I found the answers. Experts have discovered that the oil potential of the shoal is very massive. There is also a rich gas deposit in the disputed areas and are rich havens of marine life. These “strategically-located gifts of nature” could be of great help to the welfare of the Pinoys.
Exploiting these and harnessing its rich potentials means a better life for the most of us. If properly handled, this could actually provide opportunities for the empowerment of our kababayans (fellowmen) and help close the gap between the rich and the poor.
For years, the Philippines has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement. Apparently not being able to hold her patience anymore, our government has elevated the dispute to a United Nations arbitrator. “This step brought China before an Arbitral Tribunal of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)", Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in an interview last January. Very laudable and simply shows how us Filipinos uphold the rule of law.
And this also necessitates every Pinoy to let their minds be heard in support of this worthy cause. Every Filipino dispersed all over the world has to rekindle the fire of “bayanihan” (concerted effort) - we need to unite and act towards a solidified public opinion against the goliath of the North. And once our kababayans far and wide are aware for a collective action, a sense of responsibility would go with it. We have to stop China from bullying us and every Pinoy have to get his or her act together.
I come from the Island of Mindanao, and being far from the city capital, my ‘weapon of choice’ is the cyberspace in order to raise awareness. I maintain a political blog and post my thoughts
on the West Philippine Sea issue. I believe that my fellow youth can follow what I do by joining forums and sharing to the world that the Pinoy youth cares deeply about Philippine sovereignty.
From traditional to social activism, from Facebook to Twitter, the youth can help protect our resources. I have always believed that youth like me can be agents of change, considering that this country is predominantly composed of young people. And in the light of the upcoming elections this May, I decided to send candidates, including the re-electionists, e-mails of inquiry and posed my queries on how legislations could help ease up and help resolve the territorial disputes.
A few ticks passed and it was just then that I realized it’s already noon. I went to the dining area to eat lunch prepped by my mom. And just as I sat, I heard Little Mylene enter the house. She already came back from school and approached me again, but this time with a smile on her face.
“Kuya, my classmate confronted me once again. She demanded me to surrender my snacks to her… but I did what you told me to do. I did not give in to her”, Mylene grinned. “Oh, so how did it go? Did she try to steal your lunchbox again?”, I was eager to hear her answer.
“When he tried to grab my lunchbox, I looked at her straight to the eye, Kuya. I grabbed my lunchbox tight and told her to leave me alone", she smiled. “I then walked towards Teacher Yuna and told her about it. She was reprimanded”, she confidently told me.
“You did what’s right Mylene, you are a one brave girl”, I sighed in relief.
Little Mylene then volunteered to pray for our meal. She softly recited her prayer. In the middle of her prayer, however, the words she uttered echoed in my head: “Lord, please bless my bully classmate, too. Please make her become a good girl and not to be a bully to others”.
Little Mylene reminded me again of the rift in our western seas.
We, Pinoys, have to pray for China, too. God-willing, a change of heart from her ‘imperialistic’ policies would mean huge difference for me or my cousin’s future.
* This essay of mine was declared the Top 10 winner for Essay on the West Philippine Sea by USP4GG International Essay Contest two years ago.
Rappler website: http://www.rappler.com/nation/33790-ph-china-baseless-belgium
Rappler website: http://www.rappler.com/nation/33790-ph-china-baseless-belgium
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