Crucial to PH case
Might this map give the Philippines the upper hand against China in the dispute over ownership of Scarborough Shoal and other islets in the West Philippine Sea?
Businessman Mel Velarde recently successfully bid for and acquired a certified true copy of what is known as the Murillo Velarde map, a cartographic sketch of the Philippine archipelago said to have been drawn by Jesuit priest Pedro Murillo Velarde and published in Manila in 1734. The World Digital Library, which carries a downloadable copy of the map, says “it is the first and most important scientific map of the Philippines.”
The site further describes the map (formally known as “Carta Hydrographica y Chorographica de las Yslas Filipinas,” Manila 1734, or A Hydrographical and Chorographical Chart of the Philippine Islands) thus: “The map is not only of great interest from the geographic point of view, but also as an ethnographic document. It is flanked by twelve engravings, six on each side, eight of which depict different ethnic groups living in the archipelago and four of which are cartographic descriptions of particular cities or islands. According to the labels, the engravings on the left show: Sangleyes (Chinese Philippinos) or Chinese; Kaffirs (a derogatory term for non-Muslims), a Camarin (from the Manila area), and a Lascar (from the Indian subcontinent, a British Raj term); mestizos, a Mardica (of Portuguese extraction), and a Japanese; and two local maps—one of Samboagan (a city on Mindanao), and the other of the port of Cavite.”
Velarde’s copy came by way of a curious provenance: It was among the possessions of a British lord—the Duke of Northumberland, Ralph George Algernon Percy—who, needing money to help residents living in his estate whose properties were damaged by a severe flood, auctioned off some 80 items from his family collection. The prestigious auction house Sotheby’s in London held two auctions of the Duke’s heirlooms; Velarde was able to get the map at the second auction held in November 2014, for £170,500 (around P12 million).
More than curious historical value, the map may prove crucial to the case the Philippines has filed against China in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in The Hague, which disputes China’s claim to over almost 90 percent of the South China Sea based on its so-called nine-dash line. China has said its ancient records show indisputable historical ownership of the region, an assertion that many international historians and scholars have questioned. The nine-dash-line claim was made by China only after 1947, and officially presented to the world in 2012. By then, the region had become an international flashpoint, with competing claims by countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia, and in the case of the Philippines, even actual occupation of a number of islands scattered in the area.
One tiny detail in the 18th-century Murillo Velarde map appears to debunk China’s position: It shows Scarborough Shoal, from which China drove away Philippine troops in 2012, as already part of Philippine territory at the time the map was drawn. Called “Panacot” in the map, the shoal came to be known as Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc in modern times.
In this, the map all but supports the masterly survey of 60 other ancient maps done by Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, which convincingly shows that China’s “historical ownership” of the area is a baseless claim. Even the oldest map, dating to 1136 under China’s Nan Song Dynasty, indicates that China’s southernmost territory was Hainan Island. “There is not a single Chinese map, whether made by Chinese or foreigners, showing that the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal were ever part of Chinese territory,” according to Carpio.
Peculiarly, the Philippine government has not made fuller use of Carpio’s presentation, to bring it to a wider audience and to get more Filipinos informed about their country’s crucial claim to an integral part of its territory, now under challenge by a giant neighbor with the economic and military means to bully its weaker coclaimants despite their historically more plausible positions.
The Murillo Velarde map, which Velarde has said he will donate to the Philippine government, can jump-start this education campaign. The map, along with other pertinent evidence presented by Carpio, should make their way to textbooks and instruction manuals. More Filipinos need to be rallied to this cause.
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