A sellout of our sovereign rights | Inquirer Opinion

A sellout of our sovereign rights


There are undisputed facts that must be at the front and core of the ongoing debate over our conflict with China on the Ayungin Shoal. These incontrovertible facts should also be at the center of the ongoing word war between the Marcos and Duterte camps on the issue.

Among these undisputed facts include the narrative that follows: Ayungin Shoal (also known as Second Thomas Shoal) is inside our 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In fact, it’s only about 100 nautical miles from Palawan while, in contrast, it’s about 600 miles from China. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) which established the EEZ rights of coastal countries, the Philippines has “sovereign rights” to explore and exploit all living and nonliving resources in the Ayungin Shoal. This gives us the sovereign rights to harvest fish resources, exploit oil and gas reserves, and produce energy from the water, currents, and winds in the area. In addition, we have jurisdiction to establish and use “artificial islands, installations, and structures” in the shoal.

It is also undisputed that, like the Philippines, China ratified the Unclos in 1996. Thus, China is treaty-bound to respect our sovereign rights in the Ayungin shoal. The Permanent Court of Arbitration, which decided the South China Sea arbitration case between the Philippines and China, ruled that the Ayungin Shoal is within our country’s EEZ, and that China committed violations of our sovereign rights over the shoal.


Against these undisputed facts, China has failed to present any credible factual or legal basis in support of its claim that it is the state that has sovereign rights over the Ayungin Shoal. Because it lacks any internationally acceptable basis for its claims, China has used brute force to impose its will. It has resorted to illegal occupation by building artificial islands on at least six areas inside our EEZ. It has swarmed our EEZ with hundreds of its vessels to intimidate and drive away Philippine ships. It has even rammed and damaged Philippine vessels, and has used water cannons and blinding laser light to physically harass our fishermen and military personnel.

In 1999, the Philippine Navy ran aground on Ayungin Shoal, one of its vessels, the BRP Sierra Madre, in order to assert and maintain Philippine sovereign rights in the area. The navy vessel was beached on Ayungin Shoal at a time when China had started building artificial structures on nearby Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) and asserting exclusive rights for its fishermen inside our EEZ. Since then, the Sierra Madre has been manned by a small contingent of Philippine marines who are regularly supplied with provisions. The supply of provisions, and efforts by our government to repair and maintain the navy vessel into habitable conditions, has been regularly harassed by Chinese forces. It is obvious that China wants Sierra Madre to deteriorate beyond habitable conditions so that it can either occupy or exclusively exploit Ayungin Shoal to the exclusion of the Philippines. If the navy vessel will not be repaired, it will naturally crumble and disintegrate, a fate that China obviously wants to happen.

Recently, former president Rodrigo Duterte confirmed that he had a handshake deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping, to maintain the “status quo” over the Ayungin Shoal. From Duterte’s account, status quo meant that the Philippines may only deliver water and food to Sierra Madre, but not materials for the maintenance and repair of the vessel. For all intents and purposes, Duterte meekly agreed that Sierra Madre will be allowed to disintegrate. Our country gains no benefit or advantage from the agreement because our forces will only be provided food and water as they are reduced to functioning as virtual funeral honor guards watching over our vessel’s slow death. The agreement is a brazen sellout of our sovereign rights on Ayungin Shoal.

Duterte and his allies claim that the status quo agreement is beneficial to the Philippines because it averts an unwinnable war with China. The Duterte camp wants us to believe that we are only limited to either of two choices: 1. We surrender to what China wants, or 2. We go to war with China. And since we cannot win a war with China, we should accede to what China wants, goes the threat-laced choice.


We have been able to maintain the Sierra Madre as a habitable outpost for a quarter of a century now. We have won an international arbitration that has shamed and exposed China as a rogue state on the West Philippine Sea issue. We have been able to gather other countries, not only to express support, but to even commit military assistance, in our defense of our sovereign rights over the entire West Philippine Sea. Despite cat-and-mouse maneuvers, our fishermen still manage to fish in our EEZ.

We have accomplished all these without having gone to war with China. All these show that our fate as a nation is not limited to a choice between fawning surrender and an outright war.



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TAGS: Ayungin Shoal, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Unclos

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