Opinion

Trespassers

Trespassers

This is what happens when one bends over backwards at the expense of national sovereignty. After Chinese coast guard ships bombarded with water cannon two Philippine boats bringing supplies to troops in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal last Tuesday, Beijing said the Filipinos had “trespassed” into Chinese waters.

Beijing said the blockade and bombardment upheld “China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime order” and its coast guard was performing “official duties in accordance with the law.”

Undoubtedly, that is not international law. Guided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which places Ayungin within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague awarded the country sovereign rights over the shoal. In the same ruling in 2016, the PCA invalidated China’s imaginary nine-dash-line claim over nearly the entire South China China.

While the PCA cannot compel parties to abide by the ruling, other countries including the United States and its allies have called for compliance. In contrast, for several years the Philippines played down its victory in the PCA. The government pursued a policy of appeasement with China instead of mustering international action to press Beijing to abide by the ruling and stop its construction of artificial islands in disputed waters.

It was only about two years ago that President Duterte began publicly asserting the country’s sovereign rights and urging China to respect the PCA ruling. His proffered hand of friendship has been rebuffed in that aspect of bilateral relations.

The Chinese coast guard, now under their military, as well as militia vessels have not only routinely challenged Philippine presence but have also harassed and prevented Filipinos from fishing in the West Philippine Sea. In 2019, a Chinese vessel rammed and sank a fishing boat at Recto (Reed) Bank off Palawan, leaving the 22 Filipino fishermen floundering in the water until their rescue by a Vietnamese boat crew. The PCA specifically awarded the Philippines sovereign rights over Recto Bank.

Since 1999, the World War II-vintage Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre has been grounded on Ayungin Shoal, 109 nautical miles west of Palawan, serving as a Philippine military outpost. Last Tuesday, the two boats were on their way to the ship to bring supplies to the troops when bombarded by the Chinese coast guard. The boats were forced to turn back.

This is what bending over backwards has achieved: we have become trespassers in our own waters.