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The Scarborough Shoal controversy: a personal connection

Posted On 2014 Mar 17
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PART I

Myrna Aquitana_LighthouseMy grandmother was born is Candelaria, Zambales (a town north of Masinloc where the disputed Bajo de Masinloc is located). Though my grandmother and her family (her husband was from Fookien, China) settled in the capital town of Iba, as I recall, we used to go up north and visit the Acoje Mines in Masinloc to see the red rocks (much like Sedona, Arizona) and spend a day relaxing among the picnic tables by the fishing area.

Bajo de Masinloc (international name: Scarborough Shoal) is a disputed area claimed by the People’s Republic of China, Republic of China (Taiwan) and the Philippines. It is a “triangular-shaped rock formation that has several rocks encircling a lagoon, which was why it was also called Panatag Shoal (kulumpol ng panatag).  It is this rock formation which is being disputed by China calling it “Huangyan Island” which it claim is within the “467 nautical miles from the mainland, in its 9-dash line map.”

In a position paper published by the Department of Foreign Affiars, Bajo de Masinloc is “an integral part of Philippine territory. It is part of the Municipality of Masinloc, Province of Zambales, and it is located 124 nautical miles (220 kilometers) west of Zambales and is within the 200-nautical mile (370 kilometers) exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and Philippine continental shelf.

On Wikipedia’s information site, the shoal is about 198 kilometers (123 miles) west of Subic Bay. To the east of the shoal is the 5,000-6,000 mi. (16,000-20,000 ft.) deep Manila Trench. The nearest landmass is Palauig, Zambales which is 220 kilometers (137 miles) due east.”

Per the DFA report, in the Bajo de Masinloc’s chain of reefs and rocks, “there are about five of these rocks that go above water during high tide. Some of these rocks are about three meters high and can be seen above the water. The rest of the rocks and reefs are submerged during high tide.

Bajo de Masinloc is located approximately along latitude 15º08’N and longitude 117 º 45’E.” China’s claim however, is that the disputed rocks in Bajo de Masinloc is approximately  472 nautical miles (850 km) from its nearest coast.”

The DFA report further asserts that a “distinction has to be made between the rocks of Bajo de Masinloc and the larger body of water and continental shelf where the geological features are situated. The rights or nature of rights of the Philippines over Bajo de Masinloc’s are different from the rights it exercises over the larger body of water and continental shelf.

Scarborough Shoal (photo courtesy of : http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scarborough_Shoal_Landsat.jpg)

Scarborough Shoal
(photo courtesy of : http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scarborough_Shoal_Landsat.jpg)

The basis of Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction over the rocks is likewise not premised on proximity or the fact that the rocks are within its 200 nautical mile EEZ or continental shelf under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

On a historical note, the DFA also reports that “one of the earliest known and most accurate maps of the area named Carta Hydrographical y Chorographica de las Yslas Filipinas by Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde, SJ published in 1734, showed Bajo de Masinloc as part of Zambales.”

“The name Bajo de Masinloc was also given to the shoal by Spanish colonizers in 1792, where another map by the Alejandro Malespina expedition was published in 1808 in Madrid, Spain, and it showed Bajo de Masinloc as part of Philippine territory. This map was reproduced in the Atlas of the 1939 Philippine Census. In 1990, the Mapa General Islas Filipinas Observatorio de Manila, published by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, likewise showed Bajo de Masinloc as part of the Philippines.”

In watching a recent televised forum at the University of the Philippines’ Law Center last month, the Scarborough Shoal controversy was the subject of discussion among law professionals such as: UP College of Law Associate Dean Francis Jardeleza, UP  Professor Herminio “Harry” Roque, Jr. and former UP College of Law Dean Merlin Magallona. They discussed the Principles of UNCLOS as it applies to the disputed area of the Scarborough Shoal.

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