Reading Obama

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By Erma M. Cuizon

Sun.Star Essay

Saturday, May 3, 2014


UNITED States President Barack Obama came and left a picture of himself lacking candor on the US stand regarding the Philippines’ territorial claim of some islands in the South China Sea.

Is the People’s Republic of China watching closely? The Philippine's claim of some islands in the South China Sea is based on public international law on sovereignty over a territory. This is why the government has taken the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. In 18th and 20th century maps published by Spain and the US are identified the Scarborough Shoal as Philippine territory, the islands called Bajo de Masinloc under the province of Zambales.

In 2012, President Benigno Aquino signed an administrative order calling the sea territory “West Philippine Sea,” not South China Sea. This refers to the islands in the Spratlys and the Scarborough Shoal. And it probably made China look twice, and carefully now.

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As for the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) last Monday, some groups see it as a “reaffirmation of colonial and neocolonial relations” with them asking if we’re back to the American regime. But others see it as a promise from the US to be there when the country needs a friend, it’s just being careful in dealing with international hot heads.

The news after Obama left was about the act of the government doing a “cozy-up” to the Americans even as the US seems to take more time to fully speak for the Philippines regarding the latter’s claim of some South China Sea islands.

In the day after the visit, the issue of Super Balita had a banner which read, “Obama miiway.” The word “miiway” was enclosed in quotation, as though to say this was how it seemed, the way headlines in the Philippine Star, Business World, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Manila Standard Today and other papers also seemed to say, quoting politicians and militants: no firm commitment from the US to defend the Philippines in a fight with China over the islands.

During Obama’s visit, militants looked for a “direct answer” about how the US truly takes the South China Sea issue.

Yes, the big fuss, which could be a fight, is about small islands, as some people see it.

The place out at sea that some nations are fighting for is archipelagic. These are clusters of islands, some hundreds of them mostly without anyone living there as natives. Some of the islands get covered with sea water during high tide and seem to disappear; others are submerged.

Countries to the east, west, north, and south of the clusters are fighting for the island groups so that they have different names, depending on who is talking. South China Sea of the People’s Republic of China is West Philippine Sea to Filipinos.

In the 16th century, European traders of China called the archipelago “China Sea”(Mar da China) until countries had to differentiate the name from other islands, thus, the name became South China Sea.

The fight could be worth it—the islands rich in minerals, natural gas, oil deposits, besides sea animals and vegetation. And the area is a good route through which the Chinese trade with Europe and Asian countries has been facilitated through the years.

The fight over the islands is a border issue. The claimants of the Spratly Islands are the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Vietnam, even as the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim part of the archipelago. There’s also an embankment claimed by the two Chinas, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The islands in issue between China and Japan are called by China as the Diaoyu Islands while Japan calls the same island groups as Senkaku Islands.

Besides the other issues in the world set to shake off the present sense of peace, this issue about small islands could be global, a small thing could blow up into a huge blast. Obama has a tough job all right.
(ecuizon@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 04, 2014.

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