The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday reiterated that Scarborough Shoal, which is a coral reef, belongs to the Philippine territory since time immemorial.
Based on a position paper released by the DFA, the coral reef was first called Bajo de Masinloc in Spanish, which means “under Masinloc” in the province of Zambales.
The DFA stressed that it’s very clear that the disputed is an integral part of the Philippine territory as established under the Treaty of Paris.
The Philippine-China standoff began on April 8 when a Philippine Navy Surveillance aircraft monitored eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored inside the Scarborough Shoal while conducting maritime patrols and enforcing the Philippine Fisheries Code and marine environment laws.
On 10 April, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar warship, in accordance with the established Rules of Engagement, dispatched an inspection team that reported that large amounts of illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks were found in the compartments of the Chinese fishing vessels.
“The actions of the Chinese fishing vessels are a serious violation of the Philippines’ sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction. The poaching of endangered marine resources is in violation of the Fisheries Code and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES),” the position paper said.
Scarborough Shoal is a ring-shaped coral reef, which has several rocks encircling a lagoon. About five of these rocks are above water during high tide. Of these five rocks, some are about three meters high above water. The rest of the rocks and reefs are below water during high tide.
The position paper said the rocks of Scarborough Shoal are also within the 200 NM Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and 200 NM Continental Shelf (CS) of the Philippines.
It said a distinction has to be made between the rock features of Scarborough Shoal and the larger body of water and continental shelf where the said geological features are situated.
The rights or nature of rights of the Philippines over the rock features of Scarborough Shoal is different from that which it exercises over the larger body of water and continental shelf.
Scarborough Shoal is a chain of reefs and rocks about 124 NM from the nearest coast of Luzon and approximately 472 NM from the nearest coast of China. It is located approximately along latitude 15⁰08’ N and longitude 117⁰45’E. The rocks of Scarborough Shoal are situated north of the disputed Spratly group of islands.
Aside from historical arguments that Scarborough Shoal has been discovered by the Yuan Dynasty, China is also claiming that the disputed area has been reflected on various official Chinese Maps and has been named by China in various official documents.
“Chinese assertion based on historical claims must be substantiated by a clear historic title. It should be noted that under public international law, historical claims are not historical titles. A claim by itself, including historical claim, could not be a basis for acquiring a territory,” the position paper further stressed.
On China’s claim that Scarborough Shoal is traditional fishing waters of Chinese fishermen, the position paper said that under international law, fishing rights is not a mode of acquiring sovereignty (or even sovereign rights) over an area. Neither could it be construed that the act of fishing by Chinese fishermen is a sovereign act of a State nor can be considered as a display of State authority. Fishing is an economic activity done by private individuals.
“For occupation to be effective there has to be clear demonstration of the intention and will of a state to act as sovereign and there has to be peaceful and continuous display of state authority, which the Philippines has consistently demonstrated,” it said, adding that it’s not an island or part of the Spratlys.
In 2009, when the Philippines’ passed an amended Archipelagic Baselines Law fully consistent with the law of the Sea, Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal was classified under the “Regime of Islands” consistent with the Law of the Sea.
Section 2 states that the baseline in the Kalayaan Island Group as constituted under Presidential Decree No. 1596; and Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal, over which the Philippines likewise exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction shall be determined as "Regime of Islands" under the Republic of the Philippines consistent with Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“The Philippines is committed to the process of consultations with China towards a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the situation. As the DFA works towards a diplomatic solution, the Philippine Coast Guard is present in the area and is continuing to enforce relevant Philippine laws,” the position paper said.