Declare Scarborough Shoal as rocks not island

The Philippine government should ask the United Nations to declare Scarborough Shoal as rocks and not an island, in order not to lose major part of its entire exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, in case it loses to China which has virtually occupied the contested shoal with three ships, for the past seven months, an investigative news arm said.

This is one good option because China has already occupied Scarborough Shoal, and the Philippines has almost given it up since June, as attested to by several Philippine authorities, Vera Files said.

"(After a standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships near the Scarborough Shoal of Zambales in northern Luzon in April); when our ships withdrew from Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) in June; and now (we) could not access the area, the shoal became under virtual occupation by China," former foreign undersecretary and former Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations Lauro Baja told Vera Files.

"In a sub-ministerial consultation, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying had said to our people that China's presence was permanent and they had no intention of withdrawing their ships from the vicinity of Bajo de Masinloc," Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario also told Vera Files.

"We must act and interact before we lose the territory by default and/or estoppels," Baja said.
The Philippines should ask the United Nations International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the arbitration arm of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to declare Scarborough Shoal as a rock, not an island, Vera Files suggested.

Explaining why, Vera Files said the Philippines has classified Scarborough Shoal as a regime of islands, when it was included as part of the Philippine territory by Republic Act 9522. Under the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC), an island generates its own maritime regimes: 12 nautical miles (nm) for territorial sea, 24 nm for contiguous zone, 200 nm for exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and 200 nm continental shelf.

In contrast, LOSC has also said that "rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf."

In case the Philippines loses Scarborough Shoal following China's active occupation, the Philippines "risks losing not only the 120-square-kilometre strategically vital reef formation but also some 494,000 square kilometres EEZ, representing 38 per cent of the country's EEZ," Vera Files explained.

"It's a pragmatic approach, no doubt," Lawyer Romel Bagares, executive director of Centre for International Law (Philippines) told Vera Files.

This is also one way of showing that "ITLOS has jurisdiction" over the case being elevated by the Philippines to the UN, Vera Files added.

Critics were baffled when Foreign Affairs Secretary del Rosario announced plans on Monday to elevate the case to the UN even when it does not deal with sovereignty issues.

For his part, UN leader Ban Ki-moon reiterated on Tuesday, "It is important for those countries in the region to resolve all these issues through dialogue in a peaceful and amicable way."

In an editorial piece for GMA News, Efren Padilla said, "We need to acknowledge that we got beat; that at the moment, no one is really coming…we have no option but to deal with this matter on our own; that we are in the midst of a big fight."

Scarborough's rocks and reefs measure 120 square kilometres, located 467 nautical miles away from China's nearest area, and 124 nautical miles west of Masinloc town, Zambales, northern Luzon.

Filipinos call it Bajo de Masinloc and Panatag. The Chinese call it Huangyan Island. Scarborough was a British boat that sank near the shoal in 1784.

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