China does not possess the WPS
President Duterte’s mantra is “China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea (WPS).” The President made this declaration on several occasions: the November 2018 Asean-India Summit in Singapore, his July 2019 and 2020 State of the Nation Addresses, and his late night TV addresses on April 19, 2021 and April 29, 2021. The reason for this extraordinary concession is the President’s professed love for President Xi Jinping, who has promised to protect President Duterte from mutinies by the Philippine military. Ironically, President Xi is the acknowledged architect of China’s invasion of the WPS.
Under Administrative Order No. 29 dated Sept. 5, 2012 (AO29), the WPS refers to a vast body of water facing the South China Sea. AO29 provides: “The maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago are hereby named as the West Philippine Sea. These areas include the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo De Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.” The WPS includes the Philippines’ territorial sea and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) measured from our archipelagic baselines, a maritime area larger than the total land area of the Philippines.
The President’s mantra has grave ramifications on Philippine national interest. First, the President is even conceding that China is in possession of our territorial sea in the WPS. China does not claim our territorial sea because China’s nine-dash line does not overlap our territorial sea measured from our archipelagic baselines. The President is generously giving to China far more than what China wants.
Second, the WPS includes our entire EEZ facing the South China Sea. The Arbitral Award of July 12, 2016 affirmed that the Philippines has an EEZ facing the South China Sea unimpaired by China’s nine-dash line. The Philippines has exclusive right to exploit all the living and non-living resources in this EEZ—all the fish, oil, gas, and other mineral resources found in this EEZ. By conceding to China possession of the WPS, the President is sending a message to Filipino fishermen that it is not safe to fish in the WPS because another state with a powerful navy is already in possession of the WPS. Since the President has allowed Chinese fishermen to fish in the WPS, the Chinese fishermen, with their huge trawlers in the hundreds, practically have the WPS all to themselves. Filipinos now import expensive galunggong from China, whose fishermen scoop the galunggong from what under international law is our exclusive fishing grounds in the WPS.
The President is also sending a message to oil and gas companies with Service Contracts from the Philippine government that China is in possession of the areas covered by their service contracts. Thus, these companies assume the risk of being fired upon by Chinese coast guard vessels under China’s new coast guard law. No company will now exploit oil and gas in the WPS under a Philippine Service Contract. Since Malampaya will run out of gas in the next two to three years, we will have to import expensive liquified natural gas to feed our gas-fired plants in Batangas which provide 40 percent of the energy requirement of Luzon. This will result in higher electricity cost to consumers and businesses.
Third, by conceding that China is in possession of the WPS, the President, who is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, is discouraging the Philippine Navy and the Coast Guard from patrolling the WPS. This is a violation of the Constitutional mandate that the “State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its xxx exclusive economic zone.”
The President’s mantra that “China is in possession of the WPS” is totally false. First, China is physically in possession of only eight geologic features in the Spratlys plus Scarborough Shoal. The total area of all these features is less than seven percent of the WPS. Second, the navies of the US, UK, France, Japan, and Australia regularly conduct naval drills in our EEZ in the WPS, powerfully exposing as a blatant lie the President’s mantra. All Filipinos must now demand that the President retract his false mantra that “China is in possession of the WPS.”
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