15th-century ‘boundary settlement’ instructive
After watching the third presidential debate where a fisherman from Pangasinan, asked about the presidential aspirants’ stand on the sea dispute between the Philippines and China, I was motivated to read up again on the 15th-century “imaginary line” dispute between Portugal and Spain.
Rodrigo Duterte replied that, if elected president he would order the Philippine Navy to bring him there and he would personally plant a Philippine flag on one of the disputed islets. The Philippine flag symbolizes Philippine sovereignty. Defending our country’s sovereignty is a duty of every Filipino, a duty of which we are reminded every time we recite the panunumpa sa watawat and sing our national anthem during flag-raising ceremonies.
Teodoro A. Agoncillo, Filipino historian and author of the “History of the Filipino People,” narrated the root of the 15th-century rift between Portugal and Spain, the two world powers at that time. The rift started from an imaginary demarcation line drawn from the north to the south poles of the world. The demarcation line, measured in leguas (or leagues, where a single legua is equal to 5.57 kilometers), designated the sphere of influence of each: the west of the demarcation line starting from Cape Verde Island now part of Senegal to the western tip of Africa was Spain’s, while the territories lying to the east of the line was Portugal’s.
Spain dispatched Christopher Columbus to find a shorter route to India, but his voyage took him to San Guanahani and to the coast of Cuba. The voyage was seen by King John (Jono) of Portugal as an incursion into the sphere of influence of Portugal. The rift between Spain and Portugal was, however, settled when Pope Alexander VI mediated an adjustment of the imaginary demarcation line to 370 leagues farther west, thus assigning Brazil to Portugal. The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas formalized the adjustment of the imaginary line.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims to the South China Sea. The traditional fishing ground described by the fishermen from Pangasinan is within the 200-kilometer exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. China’s encroachment on the Philippines’ EEC prompted Philippine officials into filing an arbitration case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague. However, Chinese leaders have openly said that any decision by the arbitration court will not be honored by China. That creates a dilemma.
The role played by Pope Alexander VI in resolving the Spanish-Portuguese dispute is instructive in the search for a solution to today’s maritime dispute among the above-mentioned Asian countries. The effects of China’s enforcement of the nine-dash line are already being felt as made clear by the fisherman who probably understands the significance of the panunumpa sa watawat and “Lupang Hinirang” better than the presidential aspirants.
—CLARO Q. ESOEN, [email protected]
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