Monthly Archives: September 2014


Dr. Jay L. Batongbacal Director, UP Institute for Maritime Affairs & Law of the Sea Lecture delivered for the Cartographic Exhibit Forum September 26, 2014 De La Salle University Introduction Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. Thank you for your kind invitation to speak before you today on the occasion of the exhibit entitled “Historical Truths & Lies: Scarborough Shoal in Ancient Maps.” It is indeed an honour to be asked to deliver a piece on the heels of Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio’s excellent analysis delivered a few months ago, and now echoing in the form of a map exhibit. But rather than attempt to duplicate Justice Carpio’s research, allow me to share with you some additional thoughts, snippets of historical facts, and documentary evidence that will round out the story he has been able to tell. These are facts that are of public record, and readily available to all. I will begin with the basic question of why a few rocks and a reef called Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) is important to the Philippines. Then I shall show you the basis and evidence of Philippine sovereignty over Bajo de Masinloc. I shall show you that we do have stronger evidence and a better right to Bajo de Masinloc, notwithstanding China’s insistence on its claim. And then I shall try to throw in some ideas meant to provoke a serious and sanguine conversation about what the Philippines should do next in relation to our pending issues with China over Bajo de Masinloc. The Importance of Bajo de Masinloc to the Philippines. Bajo de Masinloc is a large coral atoll, about 10 miles in width, triangular in shape, located approximate 124 nautical miles west of Luzon. Parts of the barely submerged reef are awash at low tide, and some scattered rocks, from 0.3 to 3.0 meters high, are visible from a distance. South Rock, located at the southeastern extremity of the shoal, is the highest and largest elevation. The reef encloses a lagoon that varies in depth from 9 to 13 meters, but with many patches of as little as 1.7 meters depth. (Figure 1) On the surface, it is a barren collection of nearly lifeless rocks. At high tide, the largest of these are barely enough to accommodate two men, much less support human habitation. This was established by the hydrographers of the Coast and Geodetic Survey Division of the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) during a survey mission conducted in 1997. They spent several days in the area as part of the effort to identify basepoints for the Philippine archipelagic baseline system which was enacted into law in 2009 through RA 9522. Bajo de Masinloc is one of the oldest known fishing grounds of the Philippines, from its awakening as an independent nation-state. Previously, it was known as Scarborough Shoal, and published maps of the Commonwealth Period even included Scarborough Shoal among the natural resources of the Philippine Islands, particularly in its inventory of fishing banks. Today, Bajo de Masinloc is known for its significant contributions to sustaining marine life in the West Philippine Sea, and the entire South China Sea. Philippine academic institutions like the Marine Science Institute have conducted studies and carried out projects on the shoal since the late 1980s. As more scientific data became available, they realized the importance of Scarborough Shoal as an offshore shelter, regeneration area, migration path, and food supply for the fisheries in, as well as around, the South China Sea. Its importance can be plainly seen in satellite images of chlorophyll concentrations in the water. Chlorophyll represents plankton, the base of the marine food chain; where the plankton go, the fish follow. One satellite image demonstrates the biological linkage between Bajo de Masinloc and the archipelago very clearly, showing a plume of plankton connecting the reef to the country’s waters. (Figure 2) It is important to clarify that the Philippines’ interests in Bajo de Masinloc are not anchored on petroleum potential. Data from petroleum exploration and international marine scientific research activities have thus far convinced petroleum exploration companies that if any petroleum is to be found in the South China Sea, it will be in areas closer to the coasts. The US Energy Information Administration has identified the sedimentary basins that are of interest in the region, and these are located around and immediately west of Palawan, particularly Recto (Reed) Bank. But in the middle part of the South China Sea, including the area around Scarborough Shoal, the petroleum potential is nil. Contrary to popular perception, current Philippine interests in resources there are not about petroleum, but rather about more limited fishing interests. (Figure 3) However, we do share a broader interest with the international community, in the freedom of navigation and full and free passage through the sea lanes of communication around Bajo de Masinloc, as well as the air passage routes of commercial aircraft. Bajo de Masinloc is strategically positioned as a vantage point from which to surveil shipping and air traffic in the South China Sea. Data from Automatic Identification Systems on board ships trace major routes; every day, hundreds of ships pass through the areas west and east of Bajo de Masinloc. Ships give it wide berth to avoid the risk of groundings and collisions. At the same time, hundreds of commercial aircraft, especially those that transit into or out of the Philippines, pass by or through the airspace of Bajo de Masinloc. The fact that Bajo de Masinloc also lies directly adjacent to Manila and Subic emphasizes its strategic importance for air and sea navigation. (Figure 4) For these reasons, Bajo de Masinloc is the focal point of Philippine national interests on matters of environmental security, food security, and defense. It has an influence that is so disproportionately greater than the diminutive and barren rocks awash on its surface. It is for this reason that the Philippines views China’s blockade of Bajo de Masinloc with serious concern. Though technically not a military or naval action, it has the same effect. China’s Coast Guard has been maintaining a presence 24 hours per day, 7 days a week that actively keeps Philippine private and government ships from coming near the shoal. Filipino fishing vessels are sometimes able to come near, thus resulting in the reported water-cannon incident last […]

RI to strengthen defense in South China Sea

To increase its military defenses in the South China Sea, the government is preparing to establish an F16 fighter jet squadron in Pekanbaru, Riau Islands, and an Apache helicopter squadron near the South China Sea. Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said the government had decided upon the measure to safeguard Asia’s largest gas field exploration at Riau Islands’ East Natuna field, formerly known as the Natuna-D Alpha block, which is set for development in the near future. “Oil and gas production in the South China Sea is immense and we are about to develop the biggest gas field in Asia. We need to secure it as a national strategic object,” Purnomo said Saturday on the sidelines of the launch of five attack missile boats and one fast patrol boat at the Batu Ampar container port in Batam, Riau Islands. During the event, Purnomo said investment in the country’s defense system had been extensive over the past five years, adding that the amount was three times larger than the investment during the 2005-2009 government administration and five times larger than the 2000-2004 administration.   Read more:

Lawyer Anne Marie Corominas’ old maps help PH case vs China

Palace lawyer Anne Marie Corominas knows exactly where to find every ancient map of the Philippines and Asia that she has collected more than 20 years in her Makati City home. Whether these maps are kept in acid-free binders, picture frames or tube containers usually used by architects to store their works, Corominas, who has never made an inventory of her collection, can find them in a flash. And as typical of serious map or even art collectors, she also knows every bit of the details in each of her original maps—their design elements and all—but more important, the story that they tell of the history of the Philippines and Asia. Who would have thought that one day her treasured map collection would be handy for the government in its territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea? Read more: Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

China expert expects better ties after 2016

HAIKOU CITY, China—Maybe after 2016. Wu Shicun, president of top state think tank National Institute for South China Sea Studies, is hopeful that relations between China and the Philippines will be better after the Aquino administration. Wu also says China is unlikely to accept the decision—expected “around January to March in 2016”—of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos) on the territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing, regardless of whether it is favorable or not. “[Our countries] used to enjoy a good relationship—economically, politically,” Wu told reporters here during the Philippine Media Southwest China Cultural and Economic Familiarization Tour. “I’m optimistic about the future. Maybe after 2016, China will enjoy relations with the Philippines as before.” “China has been enjoying the friendship of the Philippines at least before 2012, when the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) issue happened. We hope that the relationship between our two countries can return to normal,” Wu said. Read more: Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

We’re living in the most dangerous region in the world

When a world-renowned geopolitical risk analyst tells you you’re living in the world’s most dangerous place, what do you do? You blanch and blink. Ian Bremmer, 44, a political risk expert who founded the Eurasia Group, was sitting in a nondescript room with several newspaper editors from Singapore Press Holdings intent on picking his brains on hot spots in the world. He was talking about the Ukraine and Russia, which he considered a graver threat to world order than the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The western world’s mismanagement in Ukraine had led to Russia flexing its muscle, Nato displeasure and Russia cosying up to China. The latter was what worried Mr Bremmer, more than the mayhem being unleashed by the ISIS extremists in Syria and Iraq. But the most troubling conflict zone, the most dangerous place in the world long-term, is this region, he said. He meant Asia. In the media business, it’s easy to get caught up with the headlines of the week. These days, the news is all about ISIS. It was Scotland’s referendum last week, and Ukraine remains on and off for the past few months. China and disputes in the East and South China Seas have been knocked off the front-page headlines for a few weeks. But it remains the most worrying conflict zone in the world to this political scientist with a PhD from Stanford. – See more at:

Beijing to deploy live fish carrier to South China Sea

China is planning to deploy a live fish carrier to Mischief Reef in the South China Sea’s disputed Spratly Islands, according to the Beijing-based China Science Daily. The news comes just months after China removed the Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil platform from waters near the disputed Paracel islands, which had given rise to widespread protests and anti-China sentiment in Vietnam. Mischief Reef is claimed by Taiwan, China, the Philippines and Vietnam, although it is currently under Chinese administration. Likely in an attempt to solidify their control over the region, Beijing is planning to deploy a 200,000-ton live fish carrier to the waters around the reef. The paper stated that it is time for China to pay more attention to the natural resources beneath the South China Sea.   Read more:

South China Sea conundrum: US and China’s differing views

Last Friday, The Straits Times ran a commentary by Mark Valencia titled “Separating fact from fiction in South China Sea conundrum”. Mr Valencia, a maritime policy specialist, is an adjunct senior scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, China. In the article, he highlighted several oft-repeated statements on the South China Sea dispute between China and rival claimants, and gave his take on whether they were accurate or exaggerated. Today, we run a rejoinder from Robert Beckman, Director of the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore and head of the centre’s programme in ocean law and policy. Mark Valencia’s recent comment titled “Separating fact from fiction in South China Sea conundrum” has provided much food for thought. However, I believe that some of his points on international law warrant a reply in order to help clarify the facts, as well as fictions in the South China Sea. – See more at:

China looks to next PH govt for improved relations

The Chinese government does not see better relations with the Philippines under President Benigno Aquino III, saying it would rather wait for the next administration in 2016 amid territorial disputes in the region. Wu Shicun Top South China Sea expert Wu Shicun said the mainland will not abide by any decision of the United Nations International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea where Manila has lodged an arbitration case questioning China’s nine-dash line policy. “I am optimistic about the future. Maybe after 2016, China will enjoy relations with the Philippines as before,” said Wu, president of the state think-tank National Institute for South China Sea Studies. “To be honest, this (Aquino) administration has done little to improve our bilateral relations,” he added. He noted that bilateral relationship between Manila and Beijing was strong in the past, with both countries even entering into a trilateral agreement with Vietnam for joint seismic explorations in disputed territories in the region. Wu said the Philippines should consider withdrawing the case it has filed before the UN tribunal in The Hague since China will not recognize whatever judgment the court may reach. “China will not accept any compulsory arbitration. China will not follow or implement the judgment that will be awarded by the UN tribunal,” he said.   Read more:

South China Sea: Still no evidence of historical Chinese claims

Two scholars have responded to my call for supporters of Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea to provide verifiable evidence in support of their arguments. However the response of Dr Li Dexia and Tan Keng Tat ( shows just how difficult this task is likely to be. They are unable to prove any Chinese claim to any specific island made before 1909, and none of their assertions contain verifiable evidence. Some are demonstrably untrue. Where is the proof that any pre-modern Chinese officials laid any claim to any feature in the South China Sea? There is no evidence that Zheng He or any of the other Ming Dynasty admirals did so. The same is true of the Mongol expeditionary forces a century before. Some 500 years ago seafarers generally sailed around the edges of the Sea to avoid the dangers of uncharted reefs that lay at its centre. If the authors know of documents or other evidence that prove otherwise, this is the time to make the exact references public. Vagueness remains There are certainly old Chinese texts mentioning “islands” but they are vague in the extreme, unconnected to specific pieces of land and provide no proof of discovery or claim. Some are reports of accounts given by foreigners arriving in China, others refer to mystical places near the entrance to the underworld and others are copies of European maps.   Read more: