NATIONAL papers talk about the Spratly Islands as belonging to us, well and good. What’s then all the protests about?
The Spratly Islands were, in the past, coral islets mostly inhabited by seabirds. They consist of 18 islands but, according to Chinese sources, the Spratlys consist of 14 islands or islets, 6 banks, 113 submerged reefs, 35 underwater banks and 21 underwater shoals.
After so many claims and disputes of nearby surrounding countries, the international courts decided in favor of the Philippines. So, the Spratly Islands belong to us. However, claims and counter claims as to which country these islands belong to have not waned.
Aside from us, China insists on its historical rights over the islands, and so do Brunei, the People's Republic of China (PRC), Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. This is now what we call the South China Sea Disputes involving island and maritime claims.
What’s there to fight about? The Philippines, Malaysia and other countries began referring to the Spratly Islands as included in their own territory as far back as the 1970s. The Philippines started exploring the area in 1976 until gas was discovered. However, China complained and its protests halted the exploration. President Ferdinand Marcos then in 1978 issued Presidential decree No. 1596, declaring the north-western part of the Spratly Islands or the Kalayaan Island Group as Philippine territory.
The first Philippine oil company discovered an oil field off Palawan in 1984, which is an island province bordering the Sulu Sea and the South China Sea. These oil fields supply 15 percent of annual oil consumption in the Philippines.
The whole contested area seems to parallel the crude oil output of Kuwait in case it undergoes serious exploration and production. It has been speculated to be the new Persia related to oil production. In addition, the abundant fishing opportunities in the area are strong incentives for the disputes. The South China Sea is believed to have accounted for ten percent of fishing harvests worth billions of dollars in the world resulting in clashes between Philippine and foreign vessels. China seems to believe that fishing and oil industries from the South China Sea may amount to trillions of dollars.
Aside from these, the region is also one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. Crude oil transported by sea passes through this sea way and accounts for more than half the tonnage of the world’s transported crude oil. It is claimed that the traffic here is three times bigger than that passing through the Suez canal and greater too than the business traffic in the Panama Canal. Oh oh, no wonder the scramble for ownership?
To add, the US and China are at odds over the area because of international rights to free access. The USA’s free access to this region is good for its economic and geopolitical interests.
So that’s the picture! The claims of six other sovereign nations will go on despite the Philippines’ being bestowed ownership by international courts. Vietnam is aggressive on this and so are several of the other nations. Now, we have protesters urging our government to fight China and all other nations expecting ownership of the Spratlys despite the international court’s decision.
Should we fight for our rights over the islands that have been naturally inhabited by birds since the beginning of our knowledge, or should we opt for peace by sharing the bounty of the South China Sea with all the nations aggressively fighting for this area too? In other words, should we opt for peace...or WAR?
I love you Baguio!