MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Friday said he believes the Philippines has a strong case in claiming ownership of Scarborough shoal.
Enrile said the Philippines has a strong case against China. He said that in his studies on Philippine territories, both the Scarborough shoal and the Recto Bank, otherwise known as the Reed Bank, could actually be part of the country’s continental shelf.
“We have a good case over Scarborough Shoal over China as well as over the Reed Bank.I could not believe that a nation almost 1,000 nautical miles away from the Scarborough Shoal and the Reed Bank could overwhelm the rights of the nearest sovereign state like the Republic of the Philippines in these places,” he said at the hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
The senator ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs and all concerned government agencies to disclose how they intend to prove ownership of Scarborough shoal before an international court.
He said the arguments for the Philippines should be consolidated in one confidential document, which will then be submitted to the Senate for review. He said the paper should contain inputs from the academe.
“I could not believe that simply because the South China Sea was named after China,
as well as the North China Sea, that all the islands embraced by it, including the Republic of the Philippines would be owned by China,” he said during Friday’s hearing.
“Otherwise if that argument is correct, then the whole Indian Ocean named after India…
India could claim all the islands embraced by the Indian Ocean,” he added.
History of occupation
Prof. Rommel Banlaoi backed Enrile’s statement, saying that historical records of territorial disputes settled peacefully “show that the main decision of the historical body is to establish effective occupation like in the case of Indonesia and Malaysia on claims over Sipadan.”
The International Court of Justice awarded Sipadan to Malaysia due to its effective occupation of the island.
Banlaoi said Scarborough shoal or Bajo de Masinloc was used as an exercise area of parties involved in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization in 1954.
He said that when the United States had military bases in the Philippines, the shoal was used as a gunnery range by Philippine and US soldiers.
He said the Philippines also erected a lighthouse on the shoal to establish the country’s occupation.
“Before the US bases agreement was terminated in 1991, we issued a notice to mariners in 1990 that we have a lighthouse in Bajo de Masinloc and told the international community about its exact coordinates,” he said.
In 1995, the lighthouse was removed from the shoal probably due to weather. A year later, China put a stone marker in Scarborough, which was removed by the Philippines in 1997.
“I am telling this in order to tell our audience that in the basis of the Philippines’ claim, we are trying to claim our effective occupation,” he said.
‘Why not internationalize issue?’
'China won't dare attack PH'
During the hearing, Enrile also took exception to Beijing’s statement that the Philippines must not “internationalize” the issue by bringing in other states that have no claim over the disputed territory.
“In this issue if South China Sea escalates, we cannot avoid internationalizing this. This is one reason why China will not dare fire on any military vessel in that area because we have an alliance with an equal superpower in the world,” he said.
“If China makes the error of firing at us, it will come under the ambit of the Mutual Defense Treaty,” he added, referring to the US-Philippines defense treaty.
The Senate president said the Philippine government must assert its claim over Scarborough shoal not through military means but politically in the field of world public opinion.
Bring dispute to ITLOS
He lauded the Department of Foreign Affairs for seeking a resolution of the sea dispute before the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
“Why the call not to internationalize the issue? Because politically, China will lose in this particular game. It shows it is not willing to submit itself to international conventions and customary international law in resolving its disputes. It will in time exert a pressure on China. We have to fight it politically,” he said.
“The move of the Philippine government is a good move to bring it to the highest international forum or the International Court of Justice to show that we abide by the rules of civilized international relations in settling international disputes,” he added.
“Let China show its real nature, if it does, of an expansionist government or society. I don’t think they would want that image in the world.”