Manila, Philippines – THE ongoing dispute between the Philippines and China involving Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal, is an issue that transcends political and other differences among Filipinos.
The government has established that the shoal is part of Philippine territory, and has been administered as part of the town of Masinloc in Zambales since the Spanish colonial times.
According to the official statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Bajo de Masinloc is a ringshaped 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.
Obviously, Bajo de Masinloc is also within the 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and 200-nautical-mile Continental Shelf (CS) of the Philippines.
President Aquino has also declared that we will defend our right to Bajo de Masinloc as part of our sovereignty.
My position is that all Filipinos should rally behind the President. We have to be united behind our leader in the face of the intrusions being committed by China in our territory, in violation of our sovereignty and of international law.
Last April 10, two Chinese surveillance ships prevented the Philippine Navy from apprehending eight Chinese fishing boats for poaching marine life in the waters around Panatag Shoal.
Newspaper reports on May 3 cited a report from the Armed Forces of the Philippines that there were already 14 Chinese ships in the shoal, consisting of 10 fishing boats and four maritime ships the Chinese Maritime Surveillance vessels 71, 75 and 81 and the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command 310, said to be China’s most modern and most powerful maritime ship.
On the Philippine side were the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel MCS 3008 and the BRP Edsa II, a Coast Guard search and rescue vessel 002.
It is lamentable that China, which was once among the most impoverished nations in the world, is using its economic and military power to bully a small and poor country like the Philippines.
I am sure that it would not be forcing its position on us if the Philippines has a comparable economic and military might.
Unfortunately, the sad reality stares us in the face. An estimated 11.1 million Filipino households co ns idered the mse lve s poor in March, up from 9.1 million households in December, according to a recent survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS).
The survey found 55 percent of respondents rating their households poor, 10 points higher than the 45 percent three months earlier.
Those who said they were poor in terms of food accounted for 45 percent, which translates to approximately 9.1 million families, a rise of nine points from the 36 percent or 7.2 million families recorded in the previous quarter.
I have always believed that poverty is directly related to economic growth. Thus, the current stage of the poverty problem, as shown in the SWS survey, is not surprising, given the very low (3.7 percent) growth of our economy in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) last year.
This year, the World Bank has projected our economy to grow by 4.2 percent, and by 5 percent next year.
I agree with the economists’ position that our economy should grow by at least 7 percent a year continuously for several years to be able to reduce poverty.
Continues growth of our economy will also provide us with resources to improve our defense systems to protect our borders (our coastline is among the longest in the world) and prevent intrusions in our territories.
The Philippines, as a member of the United Nations, is committed to resolving disputes with other nations through peaceful means.
That commitment, however, should not stop us from establishing and maintaining adequate capability to protect our sovereignty, particularly from nation-bullies that want to treat us as weaklings.
So, let us work together in improving the growth of our economy. In the meantime, let us also put a united stand behind the President to protect our sovereignty in Bajo de Masinloc or in any part of the Philippines.
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