Tiny Sandy Cay reveals the big lie

There is a tiny sandbar called Sandy Cay about two nautical miles from Pag-asa Island, which at about 37 hectares is the largest Philippine-occupied island in the Spratlys. Before 2017, Sandy Cay was a disappearing sandbar. Half of the year Sandy Cay would be above water at high tide when the action of the waves build up the sand on the cay. The other half of the year, when the storms disperse the sand, Sandy Cay would be submerged at high tide.

In early 2017, Sandy Cay became permanently above water at high-tide due to sand, from pulverized corals, that drifted into the cay from the submerged Subi Reef about 10 nautical miles away. China had pulverized the corals in Subi Reef to build an artificial island, more than seven times larger than Pag-asa Island. At this point, China decided to seize Sandy Cay to nullify the ruling in the July 12, 2016 Arbitral Award that Subi Reef is part of the territorial sea of Pag-asa Island. Subi Reef is now a Chinese naval base with an airstrip.

As a natural geologic feature permanently above water at high tide the whole year round, Sandy Cay indisputably became in 2017 an island territory entitled to its own 12 nautical mile territorial sea that includes Subi Reef. Sandy Cay sliced away one-third of the territorial sea of Pag-asa Island, which lost a territorial sea more than three times the land area of Quezon City. China’s seizure of Sandy Cay in 2017 was clearly a loss of a Philippine island territory during the Duterte administration.

However, the Duterte administration to this day denies that China had seized Sandy Cay in 2017. The Duterte administration is boasting that its friendly policy toward China has been rewarded with desistance by China from seizing more island territories from the Philippines. To admit the loss of Sandy Cay would expose to the nation the bankruptcy of the Duterte administration’s pro-China policy.

When I stated to media that the Philippines had lost Sandy Cay to China during the Duterte administration, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon issued a denial. Esperon declared: “’Yung sinasabi ni Justice Carpio na nawala natin ang Sandy Cay, hindi totoo ’yon. Mali si Justice Carpio, fake news, false news.” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque seconded, saying “No island in our country has been lost under President Duterte’s administration.”

However, all the residents in Pag-asa Island know that China had seized Sandy Cay from the Philippines in early 2017. Kalayaan Municipal Mayor Roberto del Mundo, who lives and holds office in Pag-asa Island, has an Inquirer interview in YouTube (“Chinese boats deny Pinoy access to sandbars”) that anyone can view any time. In this seven-minute video interview, Mayor Del Mundo narrates:

“Hindi na kami makalapit, ginagwardyahan na nila doon, nandoon na sila (Chinese Coast Guard vessels), hindi na umaalis, doon na sila umaga, maghapon, at gabi doon na sila, hindi na sila umaalis. Ibig sabihin kanila ’yun, hindi na umaalis, xxx d’yan na lahat sila naka pondo, araw gabi, d’yan na sila talaga.”

Clearly, China had seized Sandy Cay in 2017 during the Duterte administration in the same way that China seized Scarborough Shoal in 2012 during the Aquino administration, by surrounding Sandy Cay with Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels. The Department of Foreign Affairs should have filed a formal diplomatic protest against China for the seizure of Sandy Cay.

A diplomatic protest is necessary to prevent the Philippines from being bound by the doctrine of acquiescence. Unless the Philippines files a protest, it will be consenting to the seizure and will lose forever the legal right to recover Sandy Cay. Thus, I hope that the DFA did file a protest but is just keeping silent about it to prevent embarrassing the Duterte administration that its pro-China policy is an abject failure.

Tiny Sandy Cay has revealed the big lie of the Duterte administration that “No island in our country has been lost under President Duterte’s administration.” Undeniable proof of the loss of Sandy Cay to China during the Duterte administration is available in YouTube for the whole world to see every day.

acarpio@inquirer.com.ph

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