In a Troubled Sea: Reed Bank, Kalayaan, Lumbay, Galit, and Panacot

MANILA, Philippines -- With rising population and increased food and energy needs, attention is again focused on China Sea resources, claimed principally by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and us.

In 1947, Tomas Cloma, Filipino fishing magnate, staked out islands 200-250 miles west of Palawan and called these Freedomland. Cloma's claim was eventually transferred to government and in 1978, President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued PD No. 1599 declaring the area part of Philippine territory and constituting seven islets and a reef into Kalayaan, a Palawan municipality.

Some 150 miles west of Zambales is Scarborough Shoal (also called Bajo de Masinloc and Panatag), shallow waters with reefs and rocks where Filipinos have been since time immemorial. We have raised the flag, built a lighthouse, and studied its marine life and topography.

Old maps support territorial claims, including ours over Reed Bank, Kalayaan and Scarborough Shoal.

Ancient Chinese maps include islands they say are the Spratlys. Similarly, the Vietnamese have maps including one dated 1834 that they maintain includes the Spratlys.

The earliest maps of the Philippines were drawn by European explorers. These became more and more accurate as expeditions reached more places. Pigafetta (chronicler of Magellan's 1521 voyage) sketched just a few misshapen and misplaced islands. The 1563 Ramusio-Gastaldi map still did not show Luzon but had the name Filipena. Mercator's Southeast Asia map (1595) included a fairly accurate drawing of the archipelago and a collection of islands in the China Sea labeled Pracel.

Maps entirely of the Philippines began to be drawn in the 1600s. Focus was on the main islands but the Frenchman Sanson de Abbeville included groups of islands west of Palawan in his 1652 Les Isles Philippines.

The earliest most accurate Philippine map was that of Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde, SJ, Carta hydrographica y chorographica de las Islas Filipinas published 1734. It included three groups of islands in the China Sea off Palawan (called Paragua), collectively called Los Bajos de Paragua where Reed Bank and the Kalayaan are. Island groups west of the Zambales and Pangasinan coast were also identified-Lumbay, Panacot and Galit (Tagalog for sorrow, threat and anger, respectively, doubtless so baptized by weary seafarers). The Manila Galleon's Cape Bojeador route went past all three and indeed, west of Galit.

Mapa General. Islas Filipinas, Observatorio de Manila, published in 1900 by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, included Bajo de Masinloc.

The Philippine Baselines Law of 2009 (RA No. 9522) classified both Kalayaan and Bajo de Masinloc under ''Regime of Islands,'' a lesser category in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Article No. 121).

From his detention cell, Senator Antonio F. Trillanes objected. Columnist Ellen Tordesillas quoted him as insisting that Scarborough Shoal was already part of the Philippine baseline and that classifying it under Regime of Islands meant the loss of 15,000 square nautical miles.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed the Bill into Law on March 10, 2009, evidently loosening our grip and strengthening a competing foreign claimant's over our ancestors' lumbay, panacot and galit.

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to walalang@mb.com.ph.

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