Scarborough Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc and Panatag Shoal, is part of the Philippines and has never been a Chinese territory, according to numerous ancient maps made by Westerners and later by Philippine authorities from 1636 to 1940.
A substantial number of these maps – around 300 – are included in a Cartographic Exhibit on “Historical Truths and Lies: Scarborough Shoal in Ancient Maps,” based on the lecture of Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio delivered at the De La Salle University (DLSU) last June 6.
These maps are currently on display at the Henry Sy Sr. Hall of DLSU.
Located about 198 kilometers (123 miles) west of Subic Bay and 220 kilometers (137 miles) east of its nearest landmass Palauig in Zambales, Scarborough Shoal is a disputed territory claimed by both China and the Philippines.
The shoal’s status is often discussed in conjunction with other territorial disputes in the South China Sea such as those involving the Spratly Islands or the Paracel Islands. Since the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff, access to the territory has been restricted by China.
According to Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, this “well-documented” cartographic exhibit provides a “compelling argument” against China’s claim of indisputable sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea, as represented by its nine-dash line position, an excessive and expansive claim that is in gross violation of international law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“The exhibit is a laudable initiative to ferret out the truth from the fallacies, separate the wheat from the chaff, and present a factual counter-narrative to the propaganda,” said Del Rosario in his speech during the launching of the exhibit.
The exhibit also corroborates that Chinese maps failed to demonstrate its so-called “historic rights” claim over the waters, seabed and subsoil in the South China Sea.
“Contrary to its claims, China has not used or controlled the South China Sea ‘since time immemorial,’” the foreign affairs chief said.
The exhibit and the advocacies of the Philippine government on the South China Sea are best seen “in the context of the identity and history” of the country as both a maritime and archipelagic nation, Del Rosario pointed out.
He noted that the Philippines is the second largest archipelagic nation, with one of the longest coastlines in the world while pre-Hispanic Filipinos thrived with other Austronesian peoples in Southeast Asia’s maritime heartland.
“The South China Sea has always been part of this vast maritime realm,” said Del Rosario.
In remote antiquity, he explained, Southeast Asia was a region of inter-linked maritime economies with flourishing linkages to China, India, Persia and the Arabs in West Asia.
The spices from Southeast Asia reached the ancient Mediterranean world, largely by sea through the Middle East, though Europeans did not know of their true origin till the 15th Century.
Del Rosario said much of the region’s trade, including the long-distance trade, was carried on Southeast Asian vessels in the earliest times ahead of those of other civilizations. During the Spanish period from 1565 to 1815, Manila was the Asian hub in the first global trade route between Asia and the Americas – the Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade.
“Maritime interests are, indeed, fundamental to the Philippines’ past, present and future,” he stressed.
Del Rosario emphasized that, while the international courts and tribunals take a cautious approach in the use of maps or any cartographic evidence in their rulings, they have, nonetheless, used maps as secondary or corroborating evidence in establishing facts.
In fact, other South China Sea claimants have already mounted historical exhibits for this purpose.
“The Philippines, while doing the same, will certainly correct the historical errors of others,” said Del Rosario.
This meaningful exhibit, he added, strengthens the Philippine government’s resolve to pursue “not just any kind of resolution to our maritime dispute, but a just and lasting solution, grounded on international law.”
“The issue before us today is about our commitment to freedom and safety of navigation and commerce,” said Del Rosario. “It is about the preservation of a stable and secure environment in the region. It is about our national interest in protecting what is ours in the West Philippine Sea.”
Filipinos, he said, should continue to speak with one voice because “we have the moral high ground.”
“We have international law on our side,” Del Rosario stated. “We are in the right.”