Text by Lloyd Reyes
Photos by Vincent Go
The tension between the Philippines and China continues to simmer as more than a hundred protesters gathered in front of the Chinese Consulate General in Makati Friday to denounce what they called as "China's continued bullying of the Philippines" over conflicting ownership claims of the Scarborough Shoal also known as Panatag shoal.
"China, Back off!" and "Soberanya, ipaglaban! (Fight for sovereignty)," read the protestors' placards in what is seen as the biggest protest action staged against China in the Philippines.
Carlo Aquino Vargas, AKBAYAN Party List media officer, said they joined the protest rally to pressure superpower China to stop using "might' against the Philippines and resolve territorial conflicts through international arbitration.
She said the protest was an idea of the US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) which is spearheading a global protest against China.
USP4GG, which has New York-based businesswoman Loida Nicolas-Lewis among its leaders, was formed to promote "good governance principles in the Philippines and encourage vigilance to protect the welfare of the Filipino people."
Vargas accused China of trying to intimidate the Philippines. "Hindi mo naman kailangang maging isang experto upang alamin na isang super power ang China at ang Pilipinas ay 'di hamak na maliit na bansa at di ganon kalakas ang kanyang pwersa. (You don't have to be an expert to know that China is a super power while the Philippines is very small and has little resources.)," he said.
The Philippines and China have conflicting territorial claims over islands in the Spratlys in the South China Sea, which the Philippine government now calls West Philippine Sea. China claims ownership of the whole South China Sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim ownership of some of the islands in the area.
China also claims ownership of Scarborough shoal, which is not located in the South China Sea. The shoal, which is 124 nautical miles away from Zambales in Northern Philippines, is about 1,000 nautical miles from China.
Through the years, there have been several cases of arrests by the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard of Chinese fishermen in the vicinity of Scarborough shoal. The latest was last April 9 when the Philippine Navy warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar found eight Chinese fishing vessels in the area. Before the Chinese fishermen were apprehended, Chinese Marine Surveillance ships came which outnumbered the Philippine ship.
BRP del Pilar had been pulled out of the Scarborough area and replaced by a Philippine Coast Guard vessel in consonance with the government's policy of "White to white"( civilian ships are to deal only with civilian ships, in this case the Philippine Coast Guard to the Chinese Marine Surveillance) and "Gray to gray", meaning navy to navy.
The standoff in Scarborough shoal has reached the cyberspace where hacking of government websites of both sides has occurred.
The Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, has asked China to settle the conflict at the United Nations International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). China refused.
Vargas echoed that challenge to China bring the issue to ITLOS.The same sentiments were raised by Jackson Gan, a 58-year old Filipino of Chinese descent and president of Federated Associations of Manepower Exporters Inc (FAME).
Gan said, "The Scarborough Shoal is a property that can be discussed. We don't have to fight and bully everybody." He said that there is a proper venue for this matter, "Hindi natin kailangang mapunta sa away. (We don't have to fight.)"
If worse comes to worst, Gan said that the Philippines stands no chance against China's military might. "We are underdogs in this, economically, militarily," he said.
Another Filipino of foreign roots, Ramon Carrion, founding director of Spirit of EDSA Foundation, said "I am here to stand together with the rest of the Filipino people in the indignation against all this bullying going on by China."
Carrion said China claims that Scarborough Shoal has been part of their territory since 1279, the Yuan Dynasty. "With the logic that China is using, they could have claimed the moon to be theirs had they sent the first man there. Italy could claim the entirety of Europe because of the scale of the Roman Empire's reign."
"We are here to embarrass China, that's all we can do", he said.
In a statement former Akbayan representative Risa Hontiveros said "through a common sensical computation" they want to prove that Zambales and Palawan are Philippine territory. They are pushing for a diplomatic and political solution on the Scarborough issue.
(Lloyd Reyes is a journalism student of the University of the Philippines who is writing for VERA Files as part of his internship. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")