Moving forward on Panatag Shoal
There have, of late, been encouraging reports of Filipino fishers off the contested Panatag Shoal regaining their old grounds as large volumes of fish have filled their nets once again. Perhaps the hiatus allowed the stocks to grow. For how long this will take place, however, remains to be seen.
The fact is, the legal issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea have already been settled with the issuance of the arbitral ruling at the Hague. These belong to the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of the Philippines. What that means is that we have exclusive rights to these areas, and that no one else has the same rights as we have. Anyone else who wants to use these areas can do so only with our permission or partnership.
But as anyone who has owned property in remote areas know, while one may have a title in hand, actual possession may be retained by someone else. The moment you file an ejectment case against the illegal occupant, it only buys time and opportunity to strengthen your occupancy, since the decision to eject them may take time.
Thus, the issue that remains are the large reclaimed structures built by the People’s Republic of China on our Exclusive Economic Zone. These were built while we were all busy arguing our case at the Hague.
Did the Chinese deliberately take advantage of the case to proceed with the structures? Didn’t the previous government do anything to prevent Beijing from building them? These will be the questions that will haunt President Aquino and former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario.
Without doubt, with the return of the fishers we have moved forward. The lowering of tensions has also helped many waiting on the sidelines contemplate on how to better deal with China. The fisherfolk are the most affected and vulnerable to China’s incursion.
Our return to Panatag enables us to proceed to build an arrangement that will enable us to obtain greater right to utilize the exclusive zone as elucidated in the benefit provided by the arbitral ruling.
While the case further caused bad blood between regional neighbors—and perhaps it was good to reaffirm the claim on paper—it establishes another fact: how these zones are to be used will depend on us first.
Having said that, we also recall the need to encourage investments in things that create jobs. Can these structures function as such? Again, it is the Philippines that will say so. Not China, not the US.
It behooves us to remain hopeful of better things ahead.
Naysayers prefer conflict. We don’t.