Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Editorial: Where the buoys are

Editorial Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan

What should buoy Philippine sovereignty, and what should sink it?

Over two hundred kilometers off the Isabela coast in Luzon towards the Pacific Ocean is the 13-million-hectare Philippines Rise (imagine it bigger than the island of Luzon), erstwhile called Benham Rise before President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 25, which declared it a protected food supply zone where mining and oil explorations are prohibited.

The Philippine claim to this underwater plateau is one reward for decades of joint efforts among government agencies, scholars and international technical experts. It sets the record as the country’s first validated claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). The rich biodiversity that thrives on this submerged volcanic ridge hosts unexplored marine life and rare ecosystem.

This claim will be marked signifcantly when the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) deploys lighted ocean buoys in the Rise. This should help the PCG navigate the area in routine monitoring and safeguard it from unauthorized activities.

Not to be missed in the simplicity of the rite of mooring these buoys in the Philippine Rise is the solemn symbolism of asserting our sovereignty on this side of the archipelago. Almost like a routine gesture it seems, but it’s in the confidence that we exude as we lay claim over what is rightfully ours. Power has always been a construct that thrives on symbolism.

That precisely is what crumbles in so many embarassing ways when you have the leader of the land gushing forth a statement that our Hague victory that defined our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) over the West Philippine Sea is nothing but a “piece of paper.” Never mind the physical losses we have as China fortifies its hold on some of the WPS islands, just don’t devalue in loudest terms a hard-fought document that still commands respect in a community of nations.

The next blow comes after the President plays dirty old trickster over his jet ski campaign rhetoric, another insult against the gravity of the matter on sovereignty. The joke incidentally would cost billions in resources and damages to the WPS marine environment. You have a President that just humored his Beijing counterparts who are by now secretly laughing over what sounds like a lackey soundbite.

Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who had been in a verbal skirmish with the President over the WPS issue had called on the Filipinos to demand that the President retract his scratch paper statement. And only rightfully so.

The archipelago seems to tip toward one side, to the Philippine Rise where our symbolic claim to sovereignty had been clearly asserted. The west side floats, loses gravity over contrasting and tactless statements by the President himself. His word war with Carpio unwittingly puts the nation into a position of weakness.


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