Monday, March 17, 2008

SPRATLY: This Land Is Mine

Spratly Islands are rich in oil and gas deposits. The latest estimates in press releases is that, it has more or less l8 billion tons of oil reserves greater than Kuwait which has 13 billion tons. Its ownership is being contested by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.
The group of Islands of Spratly consist of islets, lagoon, and reefs. Other islets disappeared during high tide. It is a known sanctuary of birds species and endangered amphibious reptiles, particularly, sea turtles -Pinoy called it "Pawikan." It is located in the Southeast Asian Region, being less than 200 miles (322 kilometers) west of the Philippines and some 500 miles (805 kilometers) east of Vietnam. All other claimant nations are too far away but insisting their sovereignty over the place.
As to geographical location, the Philippines appeared to have an edge in claiming the ownership of the islands as no other State can claim of being an "Archipelagic State." Under Article 46, Part IV of the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS), Archipelagic State is defined as: "A State constituted wholly by one or more archipelagos and may include other islands. Archipelago means a group of islands, including parts of islands, interconnecting waters, and other natural features ...." The Philippine Island is an archipelago, consisting of so many islands, islets, and reefs and the Kalayaan Island or Spratly are within its continental shelf.

Interest on the Islands of Spratly were heightened when the Philippines, in 1976, began to pump-out oil and natural gas through Malampaya wells in the west coast of Palawan Province. Other claimant-State began building structures in the area. These resulted to a conflicting claims and there were reports of naval clashes between Vietnam and China. The Philippines apprehended foreign fishermen encroaching in its jurisdiction. These lead to the creation of UNCLOS defining the baseline and territorial sea of every nations or coastal states.

The determination of ownership of Spratly Island was compounded by weird reasonings and refusal of other claimant-States to be bound by United Nations rules. Others cited ancient proofs why they owned the islands. They claimed that it is their fishing ground and their nationals have settled in the area. But there are foreign vessels which lost their way to Manila, stranded in the Spratly, dropped their belongings, and other perished during the early period of trading in the orient and these will explain the presence of foreign coins and other things found in the area. Granting as it may, event have changed. World Wars and warring States erased all covenants and agreements entered into by claiming States since l945. French, Dutch, British, and Japanese have all claimed and exercised sovereignty over the area but ceded to the winning States. And there were countries who just abandoned the territory without any signed agreement. Japan renounced her sovereignty over the islands in San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, thereby relinquishing her rights without beneficiary. This treaty came into effect on April 28, 1952, using the UN Charter extensively and officially ended World War II, (see Wikipedia). While Vietnam attended the peace treaty, China did not. Taiwan acknowledged the terms of the treaty on a separate treaty with Japan known as "The Treaty of Taipei," where Japan relinquished Formosa (Taiwan) and the Pescadores to the Republic of China or Taiwan. Spratly islands were explicitly excluded as to beneficiary of its sovereignty.

Spratly Island became idle or neglected as it cannot sustain human needs and habitations. Not until May l5, l956, when Tomas Cloma, a Filipino national, declared ownership of Spratly or the Kalayaan group of islands. He went to New York to inform the United Nations of his declarations and made it known the world over. This triggered a series of protests from prospective claimant-States to the United Nations although the move of Cloma was not yet sanctioned by the Philippine government.

In spite of the protests, Cloma proceeded with his claim as no structure or forms of ownership was found in the areas. He erected the Philippine Flag and established a community and later turned over to the Republic of the Philippines. Kalayaan Islands is now a municipality of Palawan Province where a "Parola" (Lighthouse), Smart Communication Tower, and other structures are existing.


Laibeus Lord said...

You forgot to take into consideration the "ASEAN". Under ASEAN, member nations are highly encouraged to solve territorial disputes in the pretense of "One ASEAN". That is the major reason why the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia stopped arguing about Sabah - "One ASEAN".

Problem with Spratlys, these ASEAN member nations are staking claims "individually". The major claimants are the Philippines, VietNam, and China. ASEAN once again must consider "One ASEAN" and stake claim on the islands as "ASEAN" to combat the China.

China knows this, and so they are doing everything they can to attack the Philippines and VietNam separately. If we unite, China will slowly lose authority over Spratlys.

Rmagin said...

Thanks Laibeus Lord,

Of course, we have to consult and invoke the built-in mechanism of ASEAN Charter in the settlement of territorial disputes within Asean member state. However, China is not an ASEAN and we have to make references of the UN Charter to settle territorial differences and within the context of friendship and goodwill.