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Pag-asa Island:The Next Flash Point?

February 21, 2009


The Philippine military is reporting “no unusual” movements” on Pag-asa Island in the disputed Spratlys “regime of islands” in the wake of the Chinese protest against the passage of the Philippine Territorial Baselines Bill (which is reportedly set to be signed into law as early as Tuesday by Pres. Arroyo).

If anything should take place militarily, this will this be the next flash point?

The heavens forbid that such an incident will come to pass ahead of a United Nations move to use its good offices to calm hawks in Manila and Beijing.

To be sure, the Philippines can ill afford a shooting war over a strip of land whose sole airstrip runs its full length of 1.2 kilometers.

The Philippine Baselines Bill all but scuttles the Ramos-era “win-win” solution of joint stewardship of the Spratlys by the six claimant nations: China, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

As chronicled by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism:

“Over the past two decades, such claims have resulted in military skirmishes, as well as drilling and exploration disputes, among claimants, often with China. Considered the most serious was China’s invasion and capture of Paracel Islands from Vietnam in 1974, and later in 1988, when the Chinese and Vietnamese naval forces clashed at Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands, which caused the sinking of several Vietnamese boats and deaths of over 70 sailors. In the case of the Philippines, the most significant clash with China happened in 1995 with the latter’s occupation of Mischief (Panganiban) Reef, which is well within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone as defined by UNCLOS. This was followed by its takeover of Scarborough Shoal in 2001. n 1999, the Sino-Filipino territorial conflict again flared up with the completion of construction on Mischief Reef — a five-story fortified, cement building alongside three octagonal structures on stilts. The Philippines saw this as proof that China is intending to establish military facilities in the area, although China has maintained that the structures are meant only as shelters for Chinese fishermen.”

Former President Fidel Ramos has so far not weighed in on the controversy but he should certainly speak up sooner than later, having also been AFP Chief of Staff during his long stay in government.

A nagging question that surfaces in all of this is just how comprehensive  the public consultations were before the Baselines Bill was passed?

Or were Filipinos largely left ‘unconsulted’ or were people disinterested despite the implications of a unilateral revision of the Philippines’s international treaty limits???

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