Scarborough Shoal-A A +A
Thursday, April 12, 2012
I WAS initially more amused than worried when I read the news about the standoff between Philippine and China troops at the Scarborough Shoal.
That amusement was not about the standoff but about âScarborough.â The word reminded me of a favorite âoldie but goodieâ song by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, âScarborough Fair.â I used to sing that without knowing what âScarborough,â or for that matter the entire lyrics, meant.
The songâs first line asks the question, âAre you going to Scarborough Fair?â Samot. I found out later that the Simon-Garfunkel hit is a reworking of a traditional ballad of Great Britain. But I wonât go farther than that because it will bring me away from Scarborough Shoal.
Wikipedia refers to the disputed area as a âshoalâ or a âreef.â The Chinese call it Huangyan Island, while the Philippines refers to it, aptly as Panatag Shoal.
Scarborough Shoal is nearer the Philippine province of Zambales than the Chinese mainland, thus our claim to it. China, however, based its claim to Scarborough to history (Huangyan is a Chinese word, so the shoal is a Chinese island, or something like that).
The word âScarboroughâ does not have any connection with the Simon-Garfunkel song or to Great Britainâs old ballad. It supposedly was the name of the ship that got wrecked on the shoal in the late 18th century. Everyone on board the ship perished. So the shoal, since then, got its name from the sunken ship.
Anyway, those who think that the shoal will end up being the site of a clash between Philippines and Chinese troops should calm down a bit. The standoff between the Philippine Navy ship Gregorio del Pilar and two Chinese surveillance ships has ended after our ship left the area yesterday for âoperationalâ reasons. Meaning, our Navy failed to arrest the 12 Chinese fishing vessels that strayed into âour territory.â
I donât know whether that is a victory for the Chinese or not, or whether it strengthened Chinaâs claim over the territory. Will we still be arresting Chinese fishermen once they stray into the shoal in the future? What if those fishermen will still be âescortedâ by their countryâs surveillance ships? Wonât that make us impotent as far as our territorial claim is concerned?
That is something that we will be monitoring with interest. For now, however, the incident should prod the administration of President Noynoy Aquino to find ways to prop up our defense of the disputed territory. Perhaps that Chinese surveillance ship wouldnât have been as daring had it confronted a more formidable battleship.
The Philippine government should know that diplomatic action has its limitations. And one cannot always rely on a âbig brother,â which is what we would like to view the US, to bail us out of a standoff. Part of our resources should now be used to prop up the air and naval capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Which brings me to the matter of principle. I always feel sad that many of us insist on heaping insults on ourselves for having a weak Navy. We laugh at the crew of BRP Gregorio del Pilar for standing its ground for two days at the Scarborough Shoal. But I would say that protecting our territory is no laughing matter. China may be a world power, but the Philippines should not back off when the Chinese bully us. That country wonât respect us that way.
Ang hulmigas gani, bisan gamay, mopahit man kun imong tumban.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 13, 2012.