IN a recent interview over Radio Veritas, Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes suggested that the best way to resolve the impasse over Scarborough Shoal (Panatag for Filipinos, Huangyan for the Chinese), is to make it and the whole stretch of the Spratly Islands an international marine reserve that will be under the auspices of an international instrumentally such as the United Nations.
At first blush, the suggestion seems off tangent. But given a more serious thought, there seems to be a lot of sense in initiating a discussion in favor of a campaign to make the entire West Philippine Sea—which has been traditionally called the South China Sea—and the Spratly Islands an International Marine Reserve and a UN World Heritage Site. This would make the Philippines on the forefront of environmental campaign not only in the region but even in the whole world.
Quite interestingly, there are a lot of people who share the same wave-length. For instance, Antonio Oposo, Jr, who is a counselor-at-environmental law, thinks that this proposal if heeded would elevate the issue to “a very high moral plane.” In his open letter to President Benigno Aquino III, he opines very sensibly: “By doing that, we will not directly antagonize any of the claimant countries. Instead, the Philippines will be taking a high road, and thereby earn the respect of the world that is increasingly more environmentally aware. Rather than fight with the claiming countries in competition to use resources for the present, we will bring the countries together in cooperation to reserve resources for the future.”
In the face of this, the military solution such as the one propounded by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile who advocated the buying of arms in the inevitability of an armed conflict with China, becomes farfetched. In the first place, equipping the Philippine armory amidst poverty and hunger of a multitude of its citizens is not ethically healthy. In the second place, war is not a good option especially if it is to be waged against a demographic and an economic giant.
But of course the diplomatic and legal routes are the best recourse. There is, for instance, the International Court of Justice, the UN Security Council and the General Assembly, and the International Tribunal for Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Issues like territorial integrity, historical sovereignty and relative legal disputes should be addressed more appropriately in these international tribunals.
Still the idea of international cooperation is fresh and enticing. Oposo even explores further: “As a matter of fact, the Spratly Island can even be an international observation center for the adverse effects of global warming on coral reefs and marine life. Together with the claimant countries and other concerned international agencies and civil society organizations, we can propose the establishment of an international Marine Station, much like the International Space Station. There is no limit to the benefits of cooperation when people understand that no one really owns anything, and that we are just passing through.” True, indeed.