A lot of hullaballoo in mainstream media ensued about the alleged "ramming" of a Philippine fishing boat vessel by a Chinese vessel at the Recto Bank which is part of the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone left us with facts conflated into a protest against the Chinese government that is conveniently blamed and painted as an aggressor- its fishing boat accused of illegal fishing within territorial waters.
But other facts conveniently forgotten in the media maelstrom have come to light: The Vietnamese fishing so gracefully congratulated and thanked for saving the 22 fishermen- was also fishing in the same area.
Accounts from other fishermen and our own Navy point to Vietnam's frequent fishing activity in the area, as well as its forays into other territorial waters of Indonesia.
Are they all "illegally fishing" as well?
This question becomes valid when we consider our own rights and entitlements.
Being an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and bearing sovereign rights over these is not the same as sovereignty over territorial waters. Our rights therefore must be understood in the UNCLOS context.
Often, these EEZs exist on the borders with other States. in our case, these include China, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Let us not confuse Recto Bank with, say, the Mactan Channel. It is unwise to confuse it with an invasion of territory that muckrackers mislead us into believing.
This is where the UNCLOS perspective comes in, and it prescribes cooperation and mutual understanding, rather then teritorial conflict. UNCLOS Article 58 ought to give the proper guidance:
Rights and duties of other States in the exclusive economic zone
1. In the exclusive economic zone, all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy, subject to the relevant provisions of this Convention, the freedoms referred to in article 87 of navigation and overflight and of the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms, such as those associated with the operation of ships, aircraft and submarine cables and pipelines, and compatible with the other provisions of this Convention.
2. Articles 88 to 115 and other pertinent rules of international law apply to the exclusive economic zone in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.
3. In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part."
With this, we need to stress that the premise over EEZs is that the spirit of cooperation, and not conflict, should prevail.