Islands, islands

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By Erma M. Cuizon

Sun.Star Essay

Saturday, May 24, 2014


IT WAS 20 years ago when the Philippines and Indonesia first decided to talk about their claims of islands in the Mindanao Sea and Celebes Sea.

Within this month, the two countries have set new maritime boundary lines in the areas with unclear sovereignty. This includes rich fishing grounds, trading routes and sources of oil or natural gas. And the agreement, set for signing, is called “Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of Indonesia Concerning the Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone Boundary.”

That's what the Philippines has asked for in its claim of the Spratly Islands over which China claims authority. China is also claiming the South China Sea islands that Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, also Brunei, believe are theirs.

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The agreement between the Philippines and Indonesia over some islands show the intent of both countries to stay as friends and keep the regional community firm according to Asean’s international laws. It could serve as example of steps towards real world peace.

In the early years of the world, there weren’t people quarreling over islands since there were few people in a big world, each prehistoric clan could own one and more of an archipelago, except that the travel from one island to another would lead to the people's preference of vast land in its natural flourish.

But through the years and today, man has found the importance of small islands, as rich fishing grounds, also as sources of oil and natural gas reserves in reefs, atolls, and coral islands. Most of the world's plants and animals are endemic and indigenous species, mostly found only in some islands.

The islands in total the world over---of land and the water---is sixth of the world's total area and home to a big portion of the world's animals and plants.

Over these islands are the disputes of territorial ownership, like the South China Sea. In the Philippines, the islands in dispute are found in the west, in Vietnam found in the east. The area is called the South China Sea which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea and Vietnam calls the East Sea. Japan and China are in dispute over seven islands in East China Sea which Japan calls the Senkaku and China, Diaoyu.

And the quarrel over these islands are referred to as a “sea row” among Asian countries, or territorial issues, or disputes, with tensions running high.

There is the 2002 Declaration among Asean countries on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. But is China looking? It’s looking towards a claim of about a 90-percent of the sea and islands in the area.

The Spratly Islands that the Philippines claims as its territory in the South China Sea has many names---Nansha islands to the Chinese, Quan dao Truong Sa to the Vietnamese, and Kapuluan ng Kalayaan to Filipinos. The Philippines is the only country near the Spratly Islands group.

Discovered by a British explorer and named after him, the total of 30,000 islands and reefs are in the South China Sea in three archipelagos, one of them the Spratly Islands just off the coast of the Philippines and Vietnam in Southeast Asia.

The Sultanate State of Sulu, legal owner of the Spratly Islands, turned over its territorial and proprietary right to the Republic of the Philippines, and this includes Palawan and the Spratlys. Sultan Kiram in 1960 turned over the archipelago to the Philippines.

Among the thousands of islands, 45 in total are being occupied by a small number of military forces from the People's Republic of China, Republic of China (Taiwan), Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. Brunei also claims ownership of one reef.

At the time of this writing, the 2-day World Economic Forum in East Asia summit in Manila is ongoing. The Philippines and Vietnam---as claimants of some islands in South China Sea--- are expected to bring up the row with China over islands. But China hasn't sent a delegate to the forum.
As for the row over the sovereignty of Sabah between the Philippines and Malaysia, that's another story.

No, islands aren't small things. (ecuizon@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 25, 2014.

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