Updated: Jul 24
In grade school, we were taught that the Philippines has 7,107 islands. But that was before Duterte. In this article, E examines the West Philippine Sea and looks at the islands and natural resources that China, with Duterte's blessing, has stolen from the country.
I remember when I was sitting in my Hekasi class in grade school. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Mariano, taught us that the Philippines has 7,107 islands. "Ang Pilipinas ay isang arkipelago," she said. ("The Philippines is an archipelago.")
Since then, I have been fortunate enough to travel around the country and see some of our gorgeous islands. I have also learned that the Philippine archipelago actually has 7,641 islands and not 7,107 like we were taught in school. But that figure was before Duterte "sold" some of our land and water resources to China.
The PH-China relationship is, uh, toxic to say the least. Imagine a couple. Let's call them Chip and Philippa.
Chip showers Philippa with gifts while also emotionally and physically abusing her. Chip's exes (Taiwan, Thailand and Hong Kong) left him because of his pattern of abusive behavior, and they've publicly called him out because of it. They tried to warn Philippa, but her own father is forcing her to stay in the relationship because Chip comes from money.
If you were Philippa's father, wouldn't you want to save your daughter from this kind of relationship? So why does Duterte still welcome China with open arms?
The dispute over the West Philippine Sea and its abundant resources is not a new problem for the country. In fact, back in elementary school, we were taught that the West Philippine Sea is called the South China Sea. China insists that these waters are theirs. However, based on the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), we rightfully own the West Philippine Sea.
Former President Benigno Aquino, Jr. actually filed a case against China regarding this dispute, and the Philippines won the case. However, after President Rodrigo Duterte won the 2016 election, that victory went down the drain.
I could probably write an entire book about the many ways that President Duterte has betrayed the country by allowing China to steal our islands. However, let me just give you a highlight reel.
The Debt Trap
China is known to lend money to poorer nations for infrastructure projects so they can have some sort of control over their economy and natural resources.
Some examples include Sri Lanka (who borrowed $1 billion from China to build their Hambantota Port, failed to pay their loan, and ended up leasing the port to China for 99 years) and Ecuador (who borrowed $1.68 billion to build a hydroelectric dam, failed to pay their loan, and is now giving 80% of its oil resources to China).
According to a 2018 study by the Center for Global Development, there are eight other countries in the world that could soon fall into this Chinese debt trap. The Philippines wasn't included on that list. However, based on what's happening in the country right now, it seems like we're already neck-deep into it.
Chinese POGOs (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) are rampant in the country. They are given special considerations by the government despite the numerous illegal activities (like human and sex trafficking) that are linked to them. Duterte also signed a 60-40 oil deal with China, which means 40% of revenues from our country's oil resources will go to them.
The Covid-19 Crisis
When the outbreak began in China and people asked the president to declare a travel ban, he said that there's no need to panic. Francisco Duque, secretary of the Department of Health (DOH), even said that it's unfair to China if we're going to impose a travel ban.
"If we do this, then the concerned country – China in this case – might question why we’re not doing the same for all other countries that have reported cases of the new coronavirus. It’s very tricky… but we commit to take this into consideration."
Remember that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the country is a Chinese woman from Wuhan who traveled to multiple cities before getting diagnosed. She arrived in the country on January 21, three weeks after China alerted WHO of the outbreak. If the travel ban was imposed earlier, we could have avoided this crisis altogether.
(Yes, I know that a lot of other countries downplayed the outbreak as well. However, we do not live in those countries, we are not governed by their leaders, and we have not entrusted our safety to them. The simple fact of the matter here is that our government—the Duterte administration—has failed to protect our people.)
The Stolen Islands
While the whole world is in quarantine, China has taken advantage of the situation and built illegal research facilities in the West Philippine Sea. They've damaged reef ecosystems at Panatag Shoal and the Spratly Islands, and these damages amount to P33.1 billion a year. Even before the pandemic, China has also threatened and shot at Filipino fishermen whose livelihoods come from the West Philippine Sea.
What is Duterte doing? Nothing. In fact, during his last State of the Nation Address, he said:
“I cannot go there even to bring the Coast Guard to drive them away. China also claims the property and he is in possession. ‘Yan ang problema. Sila yung in possession and claiming all the resources there as an owner. We are claiming the same but we are not in the position because of that fiasco noong dalawang nag-standoff doon during the time of my predecessor si Albert, ambassador. If I’m correct. I do not know his real name. Tayo ang umatras. Pagsabi niya umatras, that was a kind of a compromise. Tayo ang umatras. Noong umatras tayo, pumasok sila. Marami na. That day, we lost the Spratly and the Panganiban Island. Iyan ang totoo. Walang bolahan ‘yan."
With this kind of leniency, how can we protect our islands and seas? Not only is China stealing the West Philippine Sea, they have also invaded other islands in the country.
In Eastern Samar, for example, the Chinese are destroying nature just to mine chromite ore. The locals are protesting, but they can't fight it if the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) don't see this as an invasion. Undersecretary Benny Antiporda even said that this operation is not illegal.
If you would just open your eyes, you would see that the Philippine government has repeatedly chosen to side with China over its own people. With the country's debt and the favors our leaders owe Xi Jinping, we will never be able to protect and reclaim our islands and seas.
In 2022, Filipinos are electing a president again. My hope for this nation is that we choose a leader who is willing to fight for our country. We, the Filipinos, deserve better. This country is ours. The Philippines belong to Filipinos, not the Chinese.
This post is sponsored by Simula PH.