Checkmate: PH has lost West PH Sea to China, analysts say

By Chiara Zambrano,

Posted at Mar 26 2015 04:36 PM | Updated as of Mar 27 2015 12:36 AM

MANILA - It's a checkmate. The Philippines has lost the West Philippine Sea to China, according to analysts.

In light of recent intelligence photographs that show massive and extensive construction and reclamation activities by China in the West Philippine Sea, Congressman Ashley Acedillo and military historian Jose Custodio both believe that it is a veritable "game over" for the Philippines in its fight to retain its maritime rights to the West Philippine Sea.

Speaking before the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), Acedillo showed a slide presentation detailing the military facilities being constructed by China on various reefs and shoals, including airstrips, multi-story command structures, and docks for warships.

There are now large-scale construction and expansion activities by China in Chigua Reef, Calderon Reef, Kagitingan Reef, Mabini Reef, Gaven Reef, Zamora Reef, and Panganiban Reef.

While he sees nothing wrong in the Philippines taking the diplomatic approach by filing an arbitration case before the United Nations (UN), Acedillo said the Philippines should not just have depended on this alone.

Even if the UN rules in favor of the Philippines and declares China's nine-dash line claim invalid, the ruling cannot be enforced and no entity can force China to retreat from the West Philippine Sea, he said.

Acedillo believes that at the rate China is going, the Philippines will lose the Kalayaan Group of Islands in one or two years.

Custodio shares the same sentiment, but gives a more conservative estimate. He believes the country will lose anything from 50% or the entire Kalayaan island group in the next ten years, an estimate which he calls conservative and highly optimistic.

But Custodio is sure about one thing - in a year or so, even if China does not force the Philippine military out of the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines will lose control of its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, rendering the 9 Philippine military outposts useless and impossible to support.

The arbitral tribunal is set to hold oral hearings on the Philippines versus China case on July 8. The resolution is estimated to be ready 6 months later.

When asked what good the arbitration case would still be for the Philippines if China has already seized control, Assistant Foreign Affairs Secretary Henry Bensurto says this gave the Philippines a fighting chance in its battle against the economic superpower.
Bensurto says it is better than doing nothing.

Given the way China has accelerated its construction activities even after the Philippines filed its case, Bensurto believes that even China thinks the arbitration will change the dynamics in the West Philippine Sea, even if it says otherwise.

Custodio calls the situation "way more than a checkmate."

Acedillo says the day we lose the Kalayaan island group, there will be no one to blame but ourselves, because the Philippines did very little to strengthen its position.