Posts Tagged ‘Benham Rise’

Philippines and Vietnam Have Legal Claims in the South China Sea; China Does Not — Philippine Supreme Court Senior Justice Has a Way To Follow The Law

August 4, 2017
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War never is an option. Diplomacy can fortify the UN ruling on Manila’s row with Beijing. Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio enumerates some diplomatic initiatives, in a presentation to the Stratbase-Albert del Rosario Institute. Third of four parts:

There is no world policeman or sheriff to enforce the arbitral ruling. However, states that ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea expressly bound themselves to comply in good faith with decisions of arbitral tribunals created under UNCLOS. China is reneging on this treaty obligation.

The option for the Philippines is not “talk or go to war with China.” This is a false option, and shows a dismal lack of understanding of international law and relations.

First, the Philippine Constitution prohibits war as instrument of national policy. Second, the UN Charter has outlawed war as a means of settling disputes between states. In resolving the SCS dispute, war is not and has never been an option. That is precisely why the Philippines filed the arbitration case against China.

If the Philippines starts a war against China, it would surely lose, and lose badly. If the Philippines is the aggressor, that will violate the Constitution and the UN Charter. The Philippines cannot invoke the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty because the treaty is only for defense, not for aggression. President Duterte’s oft-repeated question – whether the US will support and join the Philippines if we go to war against China – is a misguided question because the US is not bound by the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty to support any act of aggression by the Philippines. If the US joins the Philippines in a war of aggression, the US will also be in breach of the UN Charter.

China itself does not want to start a war because war will give the US an excuse to intervene in the SCS dispute, since to defend itself the Philippines will certainly invoke the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty. China’s strategy is to control the SCS without firing a shot. Those who raise the issue of war with China either do not understand the Three Warfares Strategy of China, or are scaring the Filipino people to submit to China’s designs in the SCS.

The real and practical option for the Philippines is to “talk with China while taking measures to fortify the arbitral ruling.” We should talk with China on the COC, on the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) for naval and coast guard vessels, on conservation of fish stocks, on preservation of maritime environment, and on how our fishermen can fish in Scarborough Shoal. There are many other things to talk with China on the SCS dispute even if China refuses to discuss the arbitral ruling.

As we talk with China, we can fortify the ruling in many ways:

(1) The Philippines can enter into a sea boundary agreement with Vietnam on our overlapping Extended Continental Shelves in the Spratlys, based on the ruling of the tribunal that no geologic feature in the Spratlys generates an EEZ. Such an agreement implements part of the arbitral ruling by state practice.

(2) The Philippines can enter into a sea boundary agreement with Malaysia on our overlapping EEZ and ECS in the Spratlys, again based on the ruling that no geologic feature in the Spratlys generates an EEZ. Such agreement also implements part of the ruling by state practice.

(3) The Philippines can file an ECS claim beyond our 200 NM EEZ in the West Philippine Sea off the coast of Luzon. If China does not oppose, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) will award the ECS to the Philippines, similar to our ECS claim in Benham Rise where there was no opposition. If China opposes our ECS claim, it will have a dilemma on what ground to invoke. If China invokes the nine-dashed lines again, the UNCLCS will reject the opposition because the UNCLCS is bound by the ruling of the arbitral tribunal which, like the UNCLCS, was created under UNCLOS. If China claims an overlapping ECS, then China will be admitting that the Philippines has a 200 NM EEZ from Luzon that negates the nine-dashed lines.

(4) The arbitral tribunal has ruled that no geologic feature in the Spratlys generates an EEZ. The Philippines can initiate an agreement among all ASEAN disputant states – Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Philippines – declaring that no geologic feature in the Spratlys generate an EEZ that could overlap with their respective EEZs. Even if only the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia will agree to this declaration, it will clearly remove any maritime delimitation dispute among them, leaving only the territorial disputes. This will isolate China as the only state claiming an EEZ from geologic features in the Spratlys.

(5) The Philippines can claim damages before an UNCLOS tribunal for the “severe, permanent harm” to the marine environment, as ruled by the arbitral tribunal, that China caused within Philippine EEZ in the Spratlys because of China’s dredging and its failure to stop Chinese fishermen from harvesting endangered species.

(6) In case China shows signs of reclaiming Scarborough Shoal, the Philippines can file a new case before an UNCLOS arbitral tribunal to stop the reclamation because any reclamation in Scarborough Shoal will destroy the traditional fishing ground common to fishermen from the Philippines, Vietnam and China as ruled by the tribunal.

The ruling involves only maritime, not territorial issues. Enforcing it does not mean forcibly evicting China from the islands and high-tide elevations it occupies in the SCS, as occupation of these geologic features is a territorial issue. There are still many commentators in media who fail to distinguish between territorial and maritime disputes, and thus wrongly conclude that enforcing the ruling means going to war with China on the territorial dispute. (More on Monday)

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China chose to ignore international law.


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Philippine Lawmakers Want To Drill For Oil In The South China Sea — A Move Likely To Anger China, Upset President Duterte — Some say “skirt the issue of sovereignty”

May 23, 2017

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Richard Gordon, in separate interviews, said the country has the sovereign right to exploit resources within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Senate PRIB/Joseph Vidal/ File

MANILA, Philippines – With or without a threat of war from China, the Duterte administration should pursue its plan to drill for oil and exploit other resources in areas in the West Philippine Sea being claimed by the Chinese, senators said yesterday.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Richard Gordon, in separate interviews, said the country has the sovereign right to exploit resources within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“We must continue to assert our rights over our territory… including drilling (for oil), because that’s within our territory,” Drilon said. “Exploitation of natural resources is the right of the state within its territory.”

Sen. Sonny Angara said the country should start exploring for oil in the South China Sea but that it should “proceed carefully.”

He said the natural gas reserves from the Malampaya complex near Palawan would soon be depleted.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the government should consider joint exploration as the country does not have the financial resources to undertake such investment-heavy endeavors alone.

“The challenge is how to skirt the issue of sovereignty. Can we (claimant nations) set aside the issue temporarily and focus on the economic benefits?” Recto said.

He said the government must try to secure a better deal than the one for the Malampaya program – or one that ensures bigger share of profit for the country.

Last week, President Duterte disclosed that Chinese President Xi Jinping had threatened war if the Philippines would insist on drilling for oil in the West Philippine Sea.

Beijing, however, appeared to have sidestepped the war threat claimed by Duterte.

“I said it is ours and I will drill the oil. And I tell them do not do it because it is ours. But I have the arbitral ruling. But they said that if you force the issue, we will go to war,” Duterte said, quoting Xi.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, for his part, said the government should now focus on building naval and research facilities near Benham Rise – renamed Philippine Rise – to hasten exploration activities in the area.

Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate committees on energy and on economic affairs, made the call after President Duterte signed Executive Order No. 25, renaming Benham Rise to Philippine Rise.

“There is an urgent need for us to hasten the conduct of extensive research so we can map out strategies on how to develop the area and use its rich natural resources to enrich the lives of the Filipino people,” he said.

“Changing its name has put emphasis on our sovereign jurisdiction over this vast mass of underwater plateau. Now that we have done that, government must now shift its attention to how to utilize its natural resources before our neighbors discover its hidden treasures,” he added.

The Senate economic affairs committee is finalizing its recommendations for the creation of the Benham Rise Development Authority (BRDA), as proposed by Angara, to spearhead research and development efforts for the resource-rich area.

The Philippine Rise is a 24-million-hectare underwater plateau located about 250 kilometers east of Northern Luzon. It is within the Philippine EEZ and continental shelf, based on recommendations of the UN Commission on Limits of the Continental Shelf issued on April 2012.


FILE - Vietnam People's Navy personnel carry their country's national flag.

 (Contains links to several earlier related stories)

FILE photo p rovided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac —  A Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. China says it is happy to control fishing in the South China Sea. Credit: Renato Etac

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For about five years China has been loudly proclaiming “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea.” China has said, everything north of the “nine dash line” shown here, essentially, belongs to China.  On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China chose to ignore international law.

The Philippines, China and the South China Sea: Corruption, Tricky Deals and Failure to Follow International Law

May 12, 2017

There should be a military unit exclusively to protect the resource-rich Benham Rise off Luzon’s Pacific coast. Former President Fidel Ramos proposed such sea-air-land force amid reports of foreign trespass in the 13 million-hectare undersea plateau.

Teeming with fish and believed to hold oil and minerals, Benham is within the Philippines’ extended continental shelf. Ramos, who once headed the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said an “Eastern Command” should be formed to guard it. The defense department could assign the task to the Navy, he said during the latter’s forum on ASEAN maritime security last Wednesday.

Chinese exploration vessels were sighted crisscrossing Benham waters for three months starting last Nov. One even stayed for a month in one spot, leaving only to hospitalize an injured sailor in Surigao City, northern Mindanao. Beijing alibied that the vessels merely were on innocent passage. But a southern China newspaper later reported the return of one vessel from a “special mission” to gather seabed sediment samples. Such specimens were to determine mineral presence and suitable submarine parking.

An Eastern Command could be based in an existing Cagayan naval station that also has airstrips, sources said. The station is half a day’s sailing time to Benham. It would be equivalent to the Western Command, based in Palawan, also under the Navy, guarding the exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

Foreign fishers long have been poaching in the unguarded Benham seas. A coast guard patrol confirmed their presence last week. Ramos said the Eastern Command would protect maritime interests granted by the United Nations exclusively to the Philippines.

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Beijing’s narrative in the South China Sea is that it is only trying to retrieve historic territorial waters. And it supposedly is doing so legally and peacefully. But what’s the truth, based on ancient maps, historical records, and modern maritime laws?

Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio Carpio extensively has researched the issues, presented in the e-book “Philippine Sovereign Rights and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea: The South China Sea Dispute.” Download and share it for free from the following websites:

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There’s blood in the hands of those who procured dilapidated Air Force combat-utility helicopters during the Aquino administration. There would be more if present officials ignore the P1.2-billion scam.

One of the 19 choppers crashed in Tanay, Rizal, last week, killing three airmen. Another crash-landed in clear weather in Sarangani last Nov. No one perished there, but danger signs already showed.

The defective aircraft already hit the headlines about this time two years ago. A Filipino broker blew the whistle on her estranged American partner who sold the units under suspicious circumstances. Exposed was that two biddings had been rigged three years earlier to suit one party. Better suppliers either walked out or were disqualified on flimsy technicalities. The biddings were declared failures. That paved the way for negotiated purchase from the favored American. Sixty-year-old UH-1D helicopters, double the age of the pilots who would fly them, were indented. Components from junkyards were assembled in an ill-equipped California factory. Signing the contract were the defense secretary, an undersecretary, an assistant secretary. Two generals endorsed and accepted the units – delayed, decrepit, and mostly inoperative.

In his 2012 State of the Nation, then-President Noynoy Aquino announced that nine of the choppers were en route to Manila. They arrived three-and-a-half years later. Some of the aircraft were displayed during the Air Force anniversary; none were flown because the motors wouldn’t start. A Senate inquiry ensued; warnings were aired about deaths and injuries from the unfit choppers; there was no final report. What stood out was the badmouthing by Internet trolls of the whistleblower and the few newsmen who reported on the issue.

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Chinese ships’ passage off Samar ‘innocent’ – PCG

PCG spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said that based on information received by the PCG, the Chinese ship seen in the waters off Guiuan, Eastern Samar between January and March was a research vessel. File

MANILA, Philippines – A Chinese research vessel spotted off Eastern Samar was only making “innocent passage,” the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said yesterday.

PCG spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said that based on information received by the PCG, the Chinese ship seen in the waters off Guiuan, Eastern Samar between January and March was a research vessel.

“For as long as the Chinese ship was only passing through, then there is no problem… The Chinese ship was also monitored more than 200 nautical miles away from the shoreline,” Balilo said.

He said they have not received any report of irregularity in the activities of the unnamed Chinese vessel, like illegal fishing or dumping of waste into the water.

The PCG spokesman stressed there were other foreign ships in the area – including US and Japanese vessels.

On Wednesday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported sightings of three Chinese ships in different parts of the country.

The AFP told the House committee on national defense that the Chinese research ship Xiang Yang Hong 03 stayed for nine days northwest of Vigan City in Ilocos Sur, while the Xiang Yang Hong 06 stayed for 19 days at 226 nautical miles northeast of Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

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Xiang Yang Hong 06

Another Chinese vessel Jiangkai, with bow number 525, was allegedly seen in Mindoro last April 23. It was reportedly following US Navy ship USS Stethem that was on routine operations in the area.

Balilo said that they have no information about the Chinese ships reportedly seen in Mindoro and Ilocos Sur.

Amid reports of increasing Chinese activities in Philippine waters, the military has started moving personnel and construction materials to Pag-Asa Island in the disputed Spratlys archipelago, in preparation for the construction of a beaching ramp and the concreting of the Rancudo Airfield.

A beaching ramp is needed so that ships could unload construction materials and equipment on the island.

Puerto Princesa City-based Western Command (Wescom) commander Lt. Gen. Raul del Rosario said units involved in the projects have left the Palawan mainland for their journey to Pag-Asa.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the administration has allotted P1.6 billion for the development of all nine military outposts in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).

“Our personnel along with some construction materials have already moved. They moved last week but they have to wait for more construction materials,” Del Rosario said.

But he could not say yet when the actual spadework would begin.

Building a beaching ramp requires dredging a shallow portion of the shoreline. At present, cargo or supplies for the island are unloaded from ships and ferried on small boats to the shore some 500 meters away. The procedure takes days or even weeks to complete.

Pag-Asa Island, which is also the seat of Palawan’s farthest fifth-class municipality, is located just 14 nautical miles from Zamora (Subi) Reef, which has been transformed into an island fortress by the Chinese.

Meanwhile, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Fortunato de la Peña is pushing for more scientific studies on the resources in Benham Rise, also known as the Benham Plateau.

Dela Peña, in an address before the recent National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) regional scientific meeting in Cebu, said Benham Rise carries tremendous potential that could help the government realize its vision of reducing economic inequality.

Aside from its rich marine and aquatic resources, Benham Rise is believed to contain huge gas and oil deposits.

Benham Rise is a seismically active undersea region estimated to cover an area of about 13 million hectares located east of Luzon. It is 35 meters underwater with the shallowest point located off the provinces of Aurora and Isabela.

In April 2012, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea recognized Benham Rise as part of the Philippines’ continental shelf and territory.

“The Department of Science and Technology is focusing on strengthening research and development initiatives in various fields, including the fisheries sector because this will provide more opportunities for our marginalized fishermen in the regions and will help them uplift their economic condition,” Dela Pena said.  – Jaime Laude, Rainier Allan Ronda


 (The authors say, China prefers places with lots of poverty and corruption and not too much interest in rule of law or human rights…)


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For about five years China has been loudly proclaiming “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea.” China has said, everything north of the “nine dash line” shown here, essentially, belongs to China.  On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China chose to ignore international law and nobody has even complained.

Philippines completes an 18-day scientific survey in the South China Sea

April 28, 2017


MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines has completed an 18-day scientific survey in the South China Sea to assess the condition of coral reefs and draw a nautical map of disputed area, a top security official said on Thursday.

Two survey ships, including an advanced research vessel acquired from the United States, conducted surveys around Scarborough Shoal and on three islands, including Thitu, in the Spratly group, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said.

“This purely scientific and environmental undertaking was pursued in line with Philippine responsibilities under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea to protect the marine biodiversity and ensure the safety of navigation within the Philippines’ EEZ,” Esperon said in a statement.

He gave no details of the findings from the reef assessments and nautical mapping of the area done from April 7-25.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, but it appeared to have allowed the survey. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the strategic waterway.

Other countries in the region were regularly making scientific surveys in the area, said a navy official who declined to be named.

The navy official told Reuters the Philippines also conducts marine survey from time to time, but this was its first major undertaking since 2011, when a Chinese patrol boat harassed a survey ship hired by an Anglo-Filipino company to explore for oil and gas in the Reed Bank.

Esperon said researchers from the environment ministry, the country’s premier university and the navy took part in the expedition.

“This is the first leg of the expedition,” he said, adding the government also plans to conduct research in Benham Rise, part of the Philippines’ continental shelf, in the Pacific Ocean.

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Larry King)

South China Sea: Defense Secretary’s visit in islands “just routine” for the Philippines — But China was “gravely concerned about and dissatisfied” with the trip

April 23, 2017
Pag-asa Island, part of Palawan province, in the disputed West Philippine Sea is controlled by the Philippines despite Chinese claims of sovereignty over it. STAR/File photo

MANILA, Philippines — The visit of security officials to Pag-asa Island was routine and was in line with international law, Malacañang said Sunday after China expressed alarm over their trip to the island in the disputed Spratly chain.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and top military officials visited Pag-asa Island in Palawan province on Friday to inspect the facilities in the area, which is inhabited by about 200 people.
The visit was meant to enable officials to assess what improvements can be done in the island, the second largest in the Spratlys.
The government has earmarked around P1.6 billion to develop Pag-asa and is planning to build a beaching ramp, fish port, radio station, ice plant, water desalination facility, sewage facility and houses for soldiers.
The visit did not sit well with China, which claims historical rights over almost 90 percent of areas in the South China Sea, including Pag-asa.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said China was “gravely concerned about and dissatisfied” with the trip, which he claimed went against the consensus reached by Manila and Beijing “to properly deal with the South China Sea issue.”
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Lu Kang — File Photo
Lu also urged the Philippines to “faithfully follow the consensus” between the two countries, “maintain general peace and stability in the South China Sea” and “promote the sound and steady development of China-Philippine relations.”

Routine patrol

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Lorenzana’s visit to Pag-asa was just part of a “routine” patrol in the South China Sea, which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea.
“The Philippines has long been undertaking customary and routine maritime patrol and overflight in the West Philippine Sea which are lawful activities under international law. Such flights will likewise enable us to reach our municipality,” Abella said in a statement.
Abella said the visit was also in line with the government’s aim to improve the quality of life of Filipinos in the island.
“The visit of the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to Pag-asa Island is part of the efforts to improve the safety, welfare, livelihood of Filipinos residing and living in the municipality of Kalayaan which is part of the province of Palawan,” the presidential spokesman said.
China has used a similar argument to justify reclamation activities in the South China Sea.

China challenges PAF planes

While on its way to Pag-asa, the military plane carrying Lorenzana and military officials were warned by Chinese forces to leave the area but the pilot insisted that they were in Philippine airspace.
Lorenzana has downplayed the incident, saying Philippine air assets conducting resupply operations usually receive warnings from Chinese forces.
During President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to China last October, Manila and Beijing agreed to hold dialogues on the South China Sea dispute, a move that Chinese officials claimed signaled the “full recovery” of the friendship between the two countries.
The Duterte administration’s decision to hold dialogues with China on the dispute is a departure from the policy of former President Benigno Aquino III, who preferred that the issue be tackled through multilateral channels.
In 2013, the Philippines challenged the legality of China’s expansive claim in the South China Sea before an international arbitral tribunal in Hague.
The court decided in favor of the Philippines last year, ruling that China’s maritime claim has no legal basis.
China has refused to recognize the ruling, dismissing it as a “mere piece of paper” that would not affect its territorial rights.
Duterte has said he is ready to set aside the arbitral ruling to enhance the Philippines’ ties with China. He stressed, though, that he would not bargain away the Philippines’ maritime claims and that there would be a time when he would bring up the arbitral ruling before the Chinese government.

 (The problem of Islamic rebels in the Philippines — Real or Not?)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

What is China so passionate about in the Philippine Seas?

April 23, 2017

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Philippine soldier stands guard over the South China Sea.

By: Artemio V. Panganiban – @inquirerdotnet — Philippine Daily Inquirer / 12:20 AM April 23, 2017

Why is China so passionate in owning Scarborough Shoal and several maritime features in the Spratlys in the South China Sea (SCS)? And yet, so easily conceded the Philippines’ rights over Benham Rise?

No controversy. The short answer is that Benham Rise is outside the so-called nine-dash line under which China claims historic title and sovereignty over almost the entire SCS.

But unlike the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal, Benham Rise is totally submerged in water ranging from 50 to 5,000 meters in depth. This submarine status makes the exploitation of its vast resources extremely expensive and difficult to undertake.

On the other hand, the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal are located in much shallower waters; in fact, China has enlarged some of the isles and rocks therein, not only to extract mineral resources but also, more visibly, to construct airports, seaports, buildings and other structures.

Mendoza’s primer. Superlawyer Estelito P. Mendoza recently wrote a primer on this subject, published by the UP Law Center. As one of the two vice chairs of the Philippine delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which convened during martial law in December 1973, he had an insider view of the negotiations.

(The other vice chair was then Foreign Undersecretary Jose Ingles. Alternating as chairs were then Sen. Arturo Tolentino and then Justice Secretary Vicente Abad Santos. All are now deceased.)

In 1982, the UN finally adopted the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) that came into force in 1994. Mendoza related that our delegation was able to include the “archipelagic principles” in the Unclos, and eventually the “ultimate compromise … to have a 12-mile territorial sea and an exclusive economic zone of 200 miles…”

On March 10, 2009, Republic Act No. 9522 was approved. It defined the baselines from which to measure our 1) 12-nautical-mile (NM) territorial sea, 2) 24-NM contiguous zone, 3) 200-NM exclusive economic zone, and 4) 350-NM continental shelf. (See my column on 4/2/17 for details.)

Thereafter, the Philippines notified the UN Secretary General (UNSG) of the baselines defined under RA 9522. It claimed the status of an “archipelagic state,” composed of the “Philippine archipelago” (Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao) plus two “regimes of islands,” the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal (or Bajo de Masinloc).

Soon after, China submitted to the UNSG a “Note” dated April 13, 2009, alleging that RA 9522 “illegally claims Huangyan Island (referred to as ‘Bajo de Masinloc’ in the Act) and some islands and reefs of Nansha Islands (referred to as ‘The Kalayaan Island Group’ in the Act) of China… The Chinese Government hereby reiterates that Huangyan Island and Nansha Islands have been part of the territory of China since ancient time.”

Notably, it did not contest our rights over the “Philippine archipelago” and implicitly its corresponding territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf including Benham Rise.

No ruling on land. Mendoza opined, “Considering that … China had taken possession and occupied several of the islands (or features) within the Kalayaan Group of Islands and over Bajo de Masinloc,” the Philippines should have initiated a proceeding “in regard to these matters.”

As it is, however, our arbitral claim and the arbitral award itself did not settle the issue of Chinese occupation and sovereignty over these islands or features. In fact, the arbitral tribunal had no jurisdiction to award title or sovereignty over land territory. Consequently, China cannot be expected to surrender its occupation or sovereignty over them.

Mendoza recalled that in a conversation with then President Ferdinand Marcos, then Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, during a state visit here in June 1975, advised that negotiation is the only solution. And if no agreement is reached, how should the matter be resolved? His answer was simply “to talk some more, and more until agreement is reached.”

Consistent with this “talk, talk, talk” approach is the Duterte administration’s pursuit of the proposed Code of Conduct between Asean and China, spoken about by Acting Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo in a recent Inquirer Forum. Is this a better strategy to resolve the impasse in the SCS? (To be continued.)

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 (The problem of Islamic rebels in the Philippines — Real or Not?)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

Philippines President Deterte: Where Is He Taking His People in The South China Sea?

April 12, 2017

“Duterte’s embarrassing to and fro on South China Sea”

Confusing pronouncements on the South China Sea and mounting international condemnation of the bloody crackdown on illegal drugs could lead the Philippines into a foreign policy crisis. Ana P. Santos reports from Manila.

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Last week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte alarmed regional neighbors when he ordered troops to occupy all South China Sea reefs.
“It looks like everybody is making a grab for the islands there, so we better live on those that are still vacant. At least, let us get what is ours now and make a strong point that it is ours,” Duterte said.
The president further said he may go to the islands himself and plant a Philippine flag there in June, in time for the Philippine Independence Day on June 12.
The statement was interpreted as the Philippines asserting its claim on the disputed South China Sea, a resource-rich area and major maritime highway where an estimated $5 trillion worth of goods pass through every year. It was also an about-face to Duterte’s earlier moves to forge warmer relations with China through bilateral trade and cooperation.
Damage control
The Department of Defense (DND) later clarified the president’s statement.
“The Philippines is currently occupying nine reefs and atolls in the region. There are no plans to construct new structures. We will only upgrade the facilities for our personnel there,” DND public affairs chief, Arsenio Andolong, told DW.
Inselstreit im Südchinesischen Meer (picture-alliance/dpa/R.B. Tongo)
Duterte’s statement was interpreted as the Philippines asserting its claim on the disputed South China Sea
This kind of U-turn and follow up explanations to clarify the president’s pronouncements is not unusual for the Duterte administration. In March, the Philippines requested that China explain the presence of its ships in Benham Rise. Beijing responded by saying the Philippines could not claim the area as its own. The United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) awarded Benham Rise to the Philippines in 2012.
Later, at a press conference, Duterte confused Benham Rise with the South China Sea, which is located on the opposite side of the archipelago.
“I think the president needs a primer on the South China Sea,” Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the Philippines College of Law, told DW. “All places in the area that could be occupied are already occupied by the Philippines, Vietnam and China,” the expert said.
Under this scenario, an order by Duterte to occupy the reefs could be taken as intent to build new artificial reefs in the area or spark conflict by occupying the reefs and atolls claimed by other countries.
Either way, such pronouncements are befuddling.
“It happens when the chief architect of the country’s foreign policy is not fully informed about the region,” Batongbacal said.

FILE — In this Dec. 24, 2015, photo, provided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac, a Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. Renato Etac

‘The Philippines is currently occupying nine reefs and atolls in the region,’ said DND public affairs chief Arsenio Andolong
Increasing isolation
“China’s strategic ambition is to become a dominant power in the region. Its movements in the region are not economic, they are geopolitical,” Jose Antonio Custodio, a maritime historian and international security expert, told DW.
The flip-flopping on the South China Sea coupled with Duterte’s dismissal of calls from the international community to end his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs could further isolate the Philippines from its traditional allies like the United States and Europe.
The European Parliament was the latest international body to call for an international investigation into “unlawful killings and other violations” linked to President Duterte’s controversial war on drugs.
“The US and the EU continue to criticize our human rights violations which could have economic implications. This is the most serious foreign policy crisis that we have experienced in the last 30 years,” Custodio told DW.
Losing traditional trade partners like the US and other allies could lead to the Philippines increasing its economic dependence on China.
“That would further invalidate our claim to the West Philippine Sea and Benham Rise. It neutralizes the Philippines and allows China to project further into the region,” Custodio added.
But Charles Jose, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, told DW “there is no inconsistency in our policy on the South China Sea.”
On Monday, Duterte clarified his own statements and said, “China can relax. We will not go to war with you.”
Duterte is scheduled to visit China in May to continue talks that he started during his state visit to Beijing in October last year.
 (The problem of Islamic rebels in the Philippines — Real or Not?)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.



A man suspected of dealing drugs shot dead after a “buy and bust” operation in Quezon City, the Philippines, in September 2016. Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

South China Sea dispute: Can Rodrigo Duterte be taken seriously?

April 8, 2017

By Lindsay Murdoch

Sydney Morning Herald

Bangkok: At first glance Rodrigo Duterte’s order to deploy Philippine troops to 10 small islands and reefs in the flashpoint waters of the South China Sea is a serious escalation of a dispute that could engulf the world’s major powers.

But like so many comments made by the 72-year-old firebrand President since he took office last June, it is unclear whether he is joking, stirring patriotic sentiments at home or is serious.

Taken at his word, sending the troops to build permanent structures like barracks and water desalination plants on the islands is a surprising reversal of his policy not to antagonise China. China in October pledged to invest $24 billion in the Philippines where poverty is widespread.

Image result for Philippine President Duterte, photos, with china ambassador

President Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua. Photo by EPA

“It looks like everybody else is making a grab for the islands there, so we better live on those that are vacant,” the President told reporters during a visit to a military camp on the western island of Palawan on Thursday.


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“I have ordered the armed forces to occupy all… At least, let us get what is ours now and make a strong point there that it is ours,” he said.

The remarks are sure to provoke an angry response from China, which claims almost all the strategically important parts of the South China Sea where US$5.3 trillion in trade passes each year.

It is unclear how Mr Duterte’s order could be executed. Some of the islands would need expensive and logistically difficult reclamation work before structures could be built on them. China could block supplies to the islands by stationing its Coast Guard vessels in waters near islands it occupies.

Analysts trying to interpret Mr Duterte’s often expletive-ridden and inflammatory comments on many issues wonder whether he is making a policy statement or another of his high-stakes quips.

When he was campaigning for president he said he would ride a jet-ski to an island in the South China Sea and raise the Philippine flag.

He later mocked the media for taking his claim seriously.

On Thursday Mr Duterte told his troops that he may visit one of the islands on the Philippine Independence Day in June to raise the flag.

Asked about his plans for a rusty ship that serves as outpost in the South China Sea for a handful of Philippine marines, he said “I will replace it with a luxury liner. There will be waiters, food, swimming pool so the soldiers there can get fat.”

The man who likes to be called “The Punisher” also told the troops never to surrender to the enemy.

“On the last bullet, put the pistol to your head and tell the enemy ‘f— you.’ At least you will die with your dignity,” he said.

Carlyle Thayer, an expert on the South China Sea at the University of New South Wales’ Australian Defence Force Academy, said it was quite clear that China’s continued consolidation of control over and militarisation of islands in the disputed waters has unnerved Filipino defence officials and now the President.

China has recently fortified its three main islands with airfields, hangers for military jets and installed missile weapons systems and anti-aircraft guns.

Professor Thayer said the Philippines was spooked by reports, later denied by Beijing, that China was moving to install environmental monitoring equipment on to Scarborough Shoal seaized by China in 2012. The shoal sits only 12 nautical miles from the Philippine coast.

Manila also raised concerns when a Chinese oceanographic ship plied waters in the Benham Rise off Philippines’ east coast.

Richard Javad Heydarian, an assistant professor of political science at Manila’s De La Salle University, said Mr Duterte’s comments were meant to calm nerves within the Philippine defence establishment.

“He definitely felt the heat, so is now scrambling to build his patriotic credentials,” he said.

Professor Thayer pointed out the Philippines will violate a 2002 declaration among claimant nations in the South China Sea to exercise self-restraint if it does occupy the islands.

“Even more serious, China is likely to respond. Chinese officials have been quoted as saying ‘if you do one, we will do one and a half. If you do two, we will do two and a half,” he said.

Philippine City Bordering Disputed Sea Finding Fewer Fish, More Foreign Vessels

April 5, 2017

Voice of America

April 04, 2017 6:26 AM
By Ralph Jennings
FILE - In this May 7, 2013 photo, a fishing boat returns to their village in the coastal town of Masinloc, Zambales province, northwestern Philippines.

FILE – In this May 7, 2013 photo, a fishing boat returns to their village in the coastal town of Masinloc, Zambales province, northwestern Philippines.

Philippine fishermen along the front lines of a bitterly contested tract of the South China Sea say fishing stocks are declining partly because of unstoppable intrusions from Chinese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese competitors.
The number of fish has fallen about 50 percent since 2010 off the coast of Masinloc, the Philippine city closest to Scarborough Shoal, contested by Manila and Beijing since 2012, according to Franklin Cattigay, the local Philippine Coast Guard commander.Map showing location of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea

Map showing location of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea

The problems in an already poor archipelago dependent largely on the sea may add pressure on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to cement a new friendship with China, following Beijing’s pledge of $24 billion in aid and investment in October, or to invite the U.S. navy back to continue joint coastal patrols against foreign vessels.

China effectively controls access to the 150-square-kilometer shoal, a prime fishing ground 198 kilometers away from Masinloc.

Boats from China, Taiwan and Vietnam use “illegal” techniques such as explosives and bright nighttime lights to draw fish said Cattigay .

“Vessels from China are roaming there and they are not authorizing the Philippines to go there,” he said as he gestured into the South China Sea just west of his outdoor workspace next to the major Masinloc fish market. “Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, they are all there.

“Nowadays fish is not [like] before, it’s fairly limited because of so many people using illegal fishing, most especially the other countries using super lights,” he said.

Declining stocks plus pressure from China have prompted many of city’s roughly 3,000 registered fishermen to fan out along the Philippine coast or try to make it on catches of smaller fish. Nationwide, millions of people live off the sea.

Just three 40-person Philippine vessels from Masinloc, a city of 49,000 people, regularly trawl around Scarborough Shoal, said a city government fisheries staff person who did not want to be identified. The city doesn’t tell them to stay away from Scarborough Shoal but a lot avoid it anyway because of the risks, he said.

China has two patrol boats at the shoal and bars Filipinos from entry, fishermen say. China began occupying Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcropping visible above the waves, in 2012 after a tense standoff with the Philippines that soured relations until Duterte took office in June.

China claims more than 90 percent of the wider South China Sea. Some of that claim clashes with a Philippine exclusive economic zone from Masinloc’s Luzon Island south to Palawan.

Taiwan also calls the whole 3.5 million-square-kilometer resource-rich sea its own. Vietnam has a smaller claim, but like China has landfilled some of the sea’s islets near fisheries and undersea fossil fuel exploration sites.

South China Sea Territorial Claims

South China Sea Territorial Claims

Vietnamese fishing boats have been seen near the Philippine coast about 48 km offshore, the city staff person said.

“Two hours into the sea are Vietnamese, five boats finding octopus and fish, two hours, there,” said Roy Sevilla, 34, a Masinloc fisherman of 20 years as he pointed northwest from his boat moorage under a dilapidated pier.

Other people along the clear waters and mangrove tree-lined coasts of Masinloc work in groups to gut, dry and sell fish just a few inches long rather than prizes such as tuna or lapu lapu. On Tuesday, vendors at the public market were selling mainly small squid and eels.

Fishing closer to the coast of the city northwest of Manila fetches just three tons of fish per trip, down from the 10 to 15 tons he would expect from Scarborough Shoal, veteran fisherman Butch Ortega said.

“We have the Chinese patrol, so we cannot go,” said Ortega as he stood knee deep in the water tending to a boat.

Duterte’s engagement with China, he believes, has not covered access to Scarborough.

Last month the president said his country had no way of fighting China if it went ahead with plans reported by Chinese media to build a monitoring station on the shoal. He also has not moved on a proposal announced last year to declare the shoal a marine sanctuary.

From May through August, Beijing is scheduled to declare a fishing moratorium over much of the sea. Masinloc locals say they’re unlikely to observe it and that China does not now turn their boats away from disputed tracts outside the shoal.

But Chinese naval, coast guard and fishing vessels may overwhelm the sea in ways that Southeast Asian claimants cannot “hope to match,” said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of American think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

FILE - Chinese Coast Guard members approach Filipino fishermen as they confront each other off Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, also called the West Philippine Sea, Sept. 23, 2015.

FILE – Chinese Coast Guard members approach Filipino fishermen as they confront each other off Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, also called the West Philippine Sea, Sept. 23, 2015.

The Philippines, the island of Borneo and the Natuna Islands of Indonesia would feel Chinese enforcement of the moratorium, Poling said. Malaysia and Brunei compete with China for rights to tracts of the sea north of Borneo.

“They’ll be swamping waters off the coast of Borneo and off the Natunas and then they’ll also presumably be pushing the Philippines out of places like the Scarborough Shoal,” he said. “What the Chinese want here is for the Southeast Asians to just stop resisting, just accept the new world order in Asia centered around China and China’s historic rights.”

An association of fishing boats from Zambales province, including Masinloc, have drafted a resolution to Duterte, the coast guard commander said. They want the president to let U.S. naval vessels resume helping the Philippines, which is militarily weaker than China, patrol the coastlines.

The coast guard alone lacks resources to patrol for foreign boats, he said, advocating more help from Washington. Filipino fisherman also use illegal techniques to catch fish, he added.

A stronger friendship with China may generate more aid and investment for the Philippines, analysts in Manila say, but may ultimately anger Filipinos who want their leader to safeguard national territory.


 (Philippine Star)

 — From March 25, 2017 with links to other related articles


 (National Geographic on the South China Sea)


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China’s Tian Jing Hao – Cutter suction dredger — Used to destroy South China Sea coral reefs to provide dredge material for new man made- islands — an environmental disaster

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The End of an era?  Fishermen work to unload a net full of anchovies during a fishing expedition in the Pacific Ocean. Photo AP

China, Asean make progress on sea code

April 4, 2017

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said Tuesday that China and southeast Asian nations had made progress in talks on a code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea although the issue on whether it would be legally binding was still pending. AP/Aaron Favila

MANILA, Philippines – China and Southeast Asian countries have made progress in talks on a code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea, although the issue on whether it is legally binding still remains pending, acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said yesterday.

Almost the entire waterway, through which about $5 trillion in sea-borne goods pass every year, is claimed by China while Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on some portions.

“We have made good progress on coming up with a framework for a code of conduct with China,” Manalo said, adding that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China were more than halfway through identifying the contents.

“From a scale of 1-10, we are at the upper level. Remember, we were starting from zero in January. There have been a number of elements agreed upon and we would definitely have a framework on which to embark on a serious negotiation on a code of conduct,” he said.

Negotiators from China and ASEAN have met in Indonesia and Cambodia in the last two months to try to come up with a final draft, which could be approved ahead of the August meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Manila.

Manalo said the code should be legally binding.

“I think China still believes, is still in the position that it shouldn’t be legally binding. Frankly, from a negotiating point of view, I think it’s a little bit early to say,” Manalo added.

As the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) works to complete the framework by June, talks with Beijing are set next month to tackle “issues of concern regarding the South China Sea,” including China’s militarization of several manmade islands in the Spratly Islands – which the Philippines, US and Vietnam have objected to.

The bilateral mechanism is one of two dialogues held by China with claimant states. The other is with Vietnam.

US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to discuss Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea when they meet tomorrow and Friday at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Research in Benham Rise

The Philippines approved the requests of the US and other countries to conduct marine scientific research in the Benham Rise area after compliance with requirements that include having a Filipino scientist on board, Manalo said yesterday during a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) at the Manila Diamond Hotel.

But he added that the requests from China for the same research were denied.

“Those are, of course, confidential but let’s just (say) they didn’t comply with all the requirements,” he said when asked the reason for the denial.

He declined to give the number of countries with approved research requests, saying, “I can’t answer the exact numbers but as long as the country complies with the requirements of the Philippines they will be allowed to conduct research in the area in question.”

Aside from the Filipino scientist requirement, he said researchers are also obligated to share the information they gathered.

“As long as they’re willing to do that, then we don’t see any reason why they can’t explore,” Manalo added.

Applications for research are usually declined after the concerned government agencies recommend it, citing the “non-involvement of Filipino scientists in the conduct of marine scientific research.”

The DFA Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office processes the applications “strictly for marine scientific research purposes and not for economic exploration.”

The Philippines had sent a note verbale to China, asking for explanation about Chinese vessels spotted in Benham Rise, after the Department of National Defense said that one vessel lingered there for three months from September to November.

“China reaffirmed that they recognize the sovereign rights of the Philippines over Benham Rise. That was clearly stated and was also mentioned that they have no dispute with the Philippines on that area,” Manalo said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said China fully respects the right of the Philippines to the continental shelf of Benham Rise and Beijing never challenged the relevant rights of Manila.

China also said the ship was carrying out “innocent” passage.