THE PHILIPPINES and China have hardened their positions in their raging territorial dispute, with the former invoking international law and the latter raising historical claims.

China and the Philippines have been fighting over various islands and reefs including the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough, Panatag and Ayungin Shoals.

The islands are located in an area that is traditionallyknown South China Sea but which Manila now calls the West Philippine Sea.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Spokesperson Charles Jose told the Varsitarian that the Philippines is entitled to a 370-kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in disputed sea as mandated by the United Nations Convention of Law of the Sea (UNCLOS.)

Established by Presidential Decree No. 1599 in 1978, the EEZ is an extension of the Philippines from the baselines of the archipelago. It gives the Philippines exclusive sovereign rights for the purpose of exploiting natural resources in the area.

Former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the extent of the Philippines’ EEZ is still around 680 kilometers away from China.

“The Philippines’ claims [based on documents] are valid. China has no right to say that [the territory] is theirs because many of the islands are still inside the Philippines’ EEZ,” Pimentel said.

Department of History Chairman Augusto De Viana echoed Pimentel's position, saying some of China’s claims are unacceptable.

“China is making dangerous [claims], because [they state] that sailing beyond 12 miles from Palawan is not allowed because it is already considered Chinese territory,” he said.

China’s ‘nine-dash line’

China claims the South China Sea based on its nine-dash line, a u-shaped map that originated from the Chinese Nationalist Government in 1947. Also known as the traditional maritime boundary line, the nine-dash line encompasses around 90 percent of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands.

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A study titled “Interpreting the U-shape Line in the South China Sea,” by researcher Hong Nong, stated that no country, particularly Southeast Asian countries, challenged the validity of the nine-dash line from the 1947 to 1970.

Jose, however, argued that China’s nine-dash line overlaps the Philippines’ EEZ, thus the Philippines is questioning the validity the line.

“We want to validate with UNCLOS whether or not China’s claim has any basis on international law,” Jose said. “If we do not challenge China, we will lose our EEZ.”

Jose said the UNCLOS is the Philippine’s only card when it comes to maritime entitlements.

“The UNCLOS does not recognize historical rights in claiming territories, he said. “[China’s] historical rites have no basis under UNCLOS,” he added

Last March, the Philippine government filed a 4,000-page memorandum, containing 40 maps and other evidence contesting China’s nine-dash line, before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.

Also called a “memorial” in international law, the memorandum is planned to be filed before the International Arbitral Tribunal of UNCLOS at The Hague in the Netherlands.

But China said it would not participate in any international arbitration and that the only way to resolve the dispute was through bilateral negotiations.

Pimentel said the Philippines did not have to go to war against China despite conflicting territorial claims.

“The only way to solve the problem peacefully, democratically and in a friendly manner is by using the tribunal of the United Nations (UN),” he said.

De Viana believes that if China gets an unfavorable ruling from the tribunal, it will not cooperate with UN.

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“They will try to muscle it out by means of military forces. [What China is doing] is pure and simple [territorial expansion] and civic [land] grabbing,” he said.

US intervention

In an effort to reaffirm the US’ oldest alliance in Asia, US President Barack Obama arrived in Manila last April 28 for a two-day state visit to discuss defense and security with President Aquino.

“Through our treaty alliance, the United States has an ironclad commitment to defend you, your security and your independence,” he told US and Philippine troops at Fort Bonifacio last April 29.

However, Obama said the United States did not have a specific position on any of the territorial disputes between the Philippines and China.

“Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure international rules and norms are respected, and that includes in the area of international disputes,” he said at a joint press conference with Aquino

Militant groups and politicians, however, criticized Obama’s visit, saying that there was no guarantee that the US would come to the Philippine’s aid in case of conflict with China.

Tension between the Philippines and China started in 1995, when China illegally occupied Mischief Reef inside the EEZ, Jose said.

In 2012, the tension resurfaced when a stand-off occurred between the two countries regarding Scarborough Shoal.

“We can see China’s aggressiveness in asserting its claims in South China Sea by occupying the reefs and shoals.” Jose said.


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