I was 16 when I first traveled to Europe on one of those silly tours that packed 12 countries in 30 days. Most of our time was spent sleeping in a bus by day and sleeping in small out-of-way hotels almost every night. I remember little from that trip except the times in London, Paris, and Madrid where we spent three days more focused on doing the laundry rather than seeing the sights.
During one restroom stop, I browsed in an antiquarian bookshop, blowing dust off leather-bound tomes and peering into stacks of medieval church manuscripts in the bargain bins. I ignored my father who nudged me to ask the shopkeeper if they had any old maps of the Philippines. Decades later, smarting from the prices of old Philippine maps at Gallery of Prints in Glorietta, I regretted thinking my father was stupid for asking about the Philippines in a small Bavarian town so obscure it wasn’t even on any map. Who knows what we would have found there, cheaply, if we just asked.
Then came the bigger regret. I declined a six-month grant to dig up old maps of the Philippines from libraries, archives, and museums abroad to bring home digital copies that would trump China’s so-called “historical claims” over the West Philippine Sea. This wouldn’t have been work at all, because I would have enjoyed the research. But I believed arguing against China’s historical claims that stretch back 2,000 years was futile. For every 16th-century map of Asia showing the Philippines, I presumed China had something way older. And if the Chinese didn’t have any at hand, they could easily forge one from the “New One Dynasty.”
Fortunately, then-Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio did what I was supposed to do, and presented 270 ancient maps to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague debunking China’s historical claims. Central to his argument is the 1734 map of the Philippines by the Jesuit Pedro Murillo Velarde, drawn by Francisco Suarez and engraved by Nicolas de la Cruz Bagay, two native artists who proudly signed and identified themselves as indios. I was fortunate to have met Carpio in the Ateneo when an original 1734 map was on display. He then pointed out to me the Spratlys, then labeled as Los Bajos de Paragua, and Scarborough Shoal, then called Panacot. It is remarkable that three shoals in the area, marked as dangers to navigation and travel, are aptly named Panacot (Threat), Galit (Anger), and Lumbay (Sorrow).
Carpio then explained that in the Chinese maps they surveyed, “…from the Song and fast forward to their last dynasty, the Qing dynasty, all their maps uniformly show that their southernmost territory is Hainan. So we presented this to the Tribunal. If you superimpose all the maps from the Song to the Qing dynasties to cover almost a thousand years, the southernmost territory of China was Hainan.”
And the Chinese have not been able to present a map older than the 1734 Murillo-Suarez-Bagay map that would assert their so-called historical claim to the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal. My Facebook post on the issue gained over 5,700 likes and over 600 comments, with some arguing that the Philippines in 1734 was a colony of Spain so we cannot use the map to support a historical claim in 2021. These commenters added that at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, the 1898 Treaty of Paris had the loser ceding, or should we say selling, the Philippines to the United States for the magnificent sum of $20 million. Based on the population at the time, that was 50 cents a head for the people, with land and seas (and all improvements) practically free.
Scarborough Shoal and the Spratlys were not included in the treaty, but Carpio dug up the amendment to the Treaty of Paris, signed in Washington in 1900, for an additional $100,000, to get these explanatory words: “Spain relinquishes to the United States all title and claim of title, which she may have had at the time of the conclusion of the Treaty of Peace of Paris, to any and all islands belonging to the Philippine Archipelago lying outside the lines described in Article III of that Treaty and particularly to the islands of Cagayan, Sulu, and Sibutu and their dependencies, and agrees that all such islands shall be comprehended in the cession of the Archipelago as fully as if they had been expressly included within those lines.”
With all these facts at Carpio’s fingertips, little wonder the President backed out of his own challenge for a debate. We missed a diversion from COVID-19.
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