When Scarborough was ‘Panacot’


Common sense, as we all know, is far from common. Then there are the things we hold to be true without question. When we take the trouble to give these a second look, sometimes we are surprised to find the opposite to be true. People who have followed this column for many years know how curious I am, how I continually ask questions about things we think we know, and being rewarded with what T.S. Eliot described as going on a long journey and returning to the place you started and knowing it like it was the first time you saw it.

Sometimes, I fall into a trap and regret it—big-time. Some years ago, a friend from the Department of Foreign Affairs proposed that I spend a few months in Spain to dig up old maps and charts of the Philippines involving Scarborough Shoal aka Scarborough Reef aka Democracy Reef aka Bajo de Masinloc aka Huangyan Island aka Panatag Shoal depending on which map, source, or national interest is concerned. It was an opportunity too good to resist: Imagine being paid to go abroad, to do something you truly enjoy. However, I declined and told my friend that we could not counter China’s historical claim because the oldest map with the name “Filipinas” or “Islas de San Lazaro” would date to the 16th century, and China can surely trump us with something older. History, in this issue, was not the way to go.

Last week, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio delivered a lecture titled “Historical Truths and Lies: Scarborough Shoal in ancient Maps” at Ateneo de Manila Rizal Library with a slide show showing that Scarborough Shoal was consistently depicted in ancient Philippine maps from 1636 to 1940. We can also presume that long before the first map with this shoal was charted, Filipino fishermen had known about it and considered it part of our territory.

Chinese maps, on the other hand, beginning with “Hua Yi Tu” engraved in stone in the 12th century to another in 1933, all show Hainan as the southernmost territory of China. The constitutions of China also state that its southernmost territory is Hainan Island, which most people associate with a tasty boiled chicken dish. Hainan is very far from Scarborough Shoal, which does not appear in any of the ancient Chinese maps. Scarborough Shoal only appears in recent Chinese maps within a nine-dash line drawn to assert China’s claim.