Raphael’s Hand

I wrote this story as a partial requirement for a class back in college. I’m not exactly too proud of it, with its movie cliches, awkward storytelling and common plot, but you can judge yourself. Haha.

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“Sir? Is that you? Come in, come in. Please excuse the mess.”

Francis waved his hand and ushered a tall man in a black suit into his room. It was 1984, and like any other freelance, unorthodox scientist in the Philippines, his room consisted nothing more than a roll-away bed, a black and white TV with big black knobs on one side of its face, and a long table that took most of the remaining space. Beside the table, an uninteresting stool; on the table itself, the poor man’s life work. After a quick scan, the tall man smiled at Francis and sat on the stool. The man was carrying a black briefcase, and after a moment’s hesitation of whether he should place the case beside his seat or on his lap, the man opted for the latter.

Francis sat on the roll-away bed and shook his guest’s hand with enthusiasm. “Jesus Christ. I thought you will never come!”

The man chuckled. “Are you kidding? Good gracious, Mr. Torres. If what you said on the phone was true – imagine the possibilities! This will revolutionize the entire world, nay, the future of humanity!”

Francis laughed but shook his head at the same time. “The credits are not mine, not at all. I only found it. It was God all along, see? The cure has been right under our noses!”

“I do not believe in God, but off to business, shall we? May I see this cure you have talked on the phone? If it were any scientist who talked to us like you did, we would have scoffed – but it was you, and our records told us that you are an amazing scientist.”

Francis smiled and procured a small vial from the breast pocket of his lab coat. The liquid inside was blue and had almost the same texture as a gel. Francis stared at the vial for a moment, mouth etched into a small smile, before turning it on his guest’s open hand.

“It’s beautiful,” said the man, raising the small vial into the air to check its luminosity. It glimmered like a precious diamond under the pale, yellow light of the fluorescent light. “How, Mr. Torres? How did you ever find this… this thing?”

Francis sat at his bed once again, looked outside the window and racked his mind for the details. “Well, everything started when my professor for my masters, the French biologist de Nauvellite, asked me go with him on his research in one of the remote forests of Davao del Sur. While I was there, I stumbled on this very unusual flower. I called de Nauvellite’s attention, but he said that it was only a field of flower-bearing clovers. Christ! I know de Nauvellite has always thought that I’m kind of daft and stupid, but I’m sure that flower ain’t no clover. It was new, and since de Nauvellite won’t have my protest, I took a few samples and left it at my backpack for the duration of the trip.”

Francis cleared his throat, and continued: “After my expedition with de Nauvellite, I went back here and experimented with the flowers. Really, even though he was bad, I don’t blame de Nauvellite when he said that the damn flower looks like a clover. It does; it might even be a deformed family line of clovers if not for its pink bud. de Nauvellite missed that, and missed his chance entirely!”

The man in the black suit interrupted. “Wait, sir. Where in Davao did you find this flower again?”

“A small glade, a few miles north of Digos, near some abandoned Coke factory.”

The man smiled and twirled his fingers, opting Francis to continue.

“So, there I was, experimenting with the extracts of the limited flowers that I have, when one day, out of the blue, I found something amazing under my microscope. It was the pinkness of the bud all along! The bud is pink because the entire flower is packed with siccusalba!”

The tall man took another glance at the small vial on his hands. “Siccusalba. You found a rich source of siccusalba.”

Francis struck a fist on his bed. “Right! Of course, it took a long time to get a pure form of the chemical with only myself, but I did able to make one sample eventually. You’re holding it now.”

The tall man looked behind him and pointed his long finger at a small pile of dry flowers lying idly at one end of the table. “Are those the flowers?”

Francis stood up and checked the crushed flowers on the table. “Yes. They’re beautiful, aren’t they? I’m going to name them Raphael’s Hand if the committee will give me the chance.”

“Did you tell anyone about this?”

“Never! I know the business around this kind of things. That’s why I made sure to call you guys first.”

At this, The tall man opened his briefcase and removed an object underneath a small pile of papers.

It was a revolver.

“W-What’s with the gun?” Francis asked, stammering.

Siccusalba. Do you know that you are not the first man to discover that flower?” the tall man asked. He was not looking at Francis. He was looking at his gun.

Francis stepped back again and felt the wall on his back. He tried to look for an escape route. There was none. The tall man blocked the path toward both door and window.

“Hey,” the man said, and this time, he turned his head back at Francis. His cold stare was far from the warm pleasantry that he showed earlier. “I’m asking you a question. Do you know?”

The scientist replied with a reluctant shake of his head.

“Ah-ha.” The tall man stood up and shook his own head. “Of course. You know why?”

Another shake of the head from the other party.

“You never heard of it because she was killed.”

“K-Killed?” Francis repeated.

The tall man noticed the perplexed look on the scientist’s eyes. “You have a question and I think I know what it is. You’re wondering why, aren’t you?”

Francis mustered the courage to speak. “Why? The government, I thought—”

“Well, you thought wrong,” the tall man interrupted, “The government is a business, Mr. Torres. It is one hell of an all-encompassing enterprise. We run profits from everything. It’s just what we are and what we do. Cancer – well, you might as well say that we profit from that too. When people stay in the hospital, we get a cut. It doesn’t matter if it’s private or public, we always get a cut. Pharmaceuticals, however, that’s a totally different ball game. The underlying network of the whole thing is risky. Your drug, well – it’s bad for the business. It’s too… revolutionary. We can’t get a cut from it. We’ll lose some of our profits it that thing goes public. Siccusalba is too easy to replicate if you only know how. Believe me, Mr. Torres, when I say that I’m sorry. It’s just how the world works.”

Francis closed his eyes and knelt in front of the tall man. He was lost for words.

The last thing that Francis saw was the flowers on the table. Raphael’s Hand. He tried to smile but it was too late. A pink flash of light – after that, there was nothing more.

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Philippine Law 101

Although the primer is far from perfect, I absolutely enjoyed myself when I scoured, researched, and wrote about the territorial dispute. It has been two years, I believe, since I last did a proper research, and five years since I last enjoyed doing research. This is unfortunate because as a law student, I must know how to do good research. Law is a very complex process. Thus, a good lawyer should be able to sift through hundreds if not thousands of materials to be able to support his ideas. An unsupported idea is similar to the TV series Lost – all air but no action.

Anyway, as I said, the ability to research is not one of my strengths. This entry is an attempt to change that. Also, given the fun I had with the Spratly Islands primer and this entry, I decided to make these so-called educational entries as one of the features of this blog. Hell, I might even write about chi-squares in the future! Who knows? Haha. This is as much a learning experience with me as it is with you. I decided, however, to stick with Law first. This is my home turf, so I hope this will be going to be a great start. Anyway, let’s get this thing going! Let’s do Law!

I decided the first topic to be simple: Where does our laws come from?

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Disclaimer

Wait. Before you continue, let us agree on three things – the world is dark place, there are a whole lot of stupid and opportunistic persons, and lawsuits are bad. The following disclaimer has been copied from my earlier post regarding the Spratlys dispute, modified slightly to fit the theme of this entry. Read it and we will all be fine.

First of all, the Reader has to understand that I am not a lawyer, a politician, a government official, or a genius of Law. I am only a law student, and although that has little merit, I am here not as a law student but a layman. Second, although I claim all words below is mine unless said otherwise, I did not conduct serious research on the topic as to pass academic standards. All facts that you are going to read are derived from various Internet and print sources which are referenced at the end of the article.  Third. Although I checked every information below to be true, there will be always that tragic flaw which I undoubtedly missed.

Anyway, you can always contact me if anything is amiss. I will make sure to reply quickly. Thank you!

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Definition of Terms

First, let us tell apart a law from a statute. First, law refers to all rules governing the state in general. This may take in several forms. The President may declare proclamations which are binding to the entire State. The municipality may promulgate ordinances, such as a complete ban on cigarette smoking or punishment for littering, which are binding to its constituents. The Supreme Court may interpret laws that are binding on the lower courts. These are all laws that need to be followed or obeyed at risk of being punished. The term law, therefore, is a vast concept which comprises all legitimate rules of action.

A statute, on the other hand, is only one form of a law. The primary difference between a statute, an ordinance, a court decision and a presidential issuance is that a statute is always promulgated by the Legislature. The Revised Penal Code is a statute. So is the Civil Code of the Philippines. The Republic Acts that you constantly being referred in TV are also statutes. Any act made by Congress according to procedure, therefore, is a statute.

This entry will only refer to statutes.

If you’re asking what the Legislature is, well, aren’t you the nifty curious scholar. Haha. Anyway, the Legislature is that branch of the government that makes, appeals or repeals laws. The word legislature is derived from the word legislator which, in turn, is derived from the Latin phrase legis lator – meaning law’s bringer. On the other hand, the words parliamentary and congress are another names for the Legislature. I will not delve into the difference of the two because that would be too complex, but we adopted the word ‘Congress’ here because it was the word that our colonial masters then, the United States of America, used to refer to their Legislature.

Thus, to summarize, although statutes are always laws, not all laws are statutes because only the Legislature can make statutes. Hell yeah!

The next thing you need to know is the difference between a bill and a law. A bill is only a draft or proposal of the law and not binding until approved. A bill can only become law when it has followed definite procedure outlined in the Constitution.

Another point of discussion is the difference between a unicameral and bicameral system of Legislature. A unicameral Legislature only has one House whereas a bicameral Legislature has two chambers which are commonly referred to as the Upper and Lower Houses. Under a unicameral Legislature, any bill approved by its constituents directly becomes a law or goes to the President for approval; whereas in a bicameral Legislature, both Houses must agree to the bill before it can proceed to the next step. It is therefore easier for a unicameral Legislature to pass a bill into a law but it is more democratic in a bicameral Legislature as it effectively allows checking of powers between the different chambers before any law can be passed.

An interesting note – there were countries before that had tricameral and even tetracameral (three and four Houses, respectively) systems of Legislature! Isn’t that awesome? I think it’s cool, really.

As a final note, although I know you know this, but only to cover all bases, a Constitution is the fundamental law of the land. All laws and acts of Men must always conform to the Constitution. It is better to think of it as the sturdy trunk which supports the entire country.

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The History of the Legislative Branch of the Philippines

During the Spanish Era, because Philippines then was only but a colony, we had to follow the laws promulgated by the Cortes Generales or General Court. The Cortes was based in Spain and its structure was almost the same as our current bicameral Congress. There was the lower house, the Court of Deputies, and a higher house called the Senate. Anyway, during the first hundred years of our colonization, Philippines did not have any representative in the Cortes, whether a Peninsular, Insular, Creole, or native. If you have read Rizal’s books or his rich history, you may know now that this was one of his pleas to Spain, aside from the secularization of priests. Jose Rizal never intended to be liberated from Spain. He only intended equality, a cause which culminated on his death.

Although they certainly did not intend it, the works of Rizal and his fellow Ilustrados to fight for equality became one of the contributing factors of the creation of the Revolution. This is not to say that the Revolution started with Rizal. It started well before his time, but it was Rizal’s thoughts and subsequent death that became that certain spark that turned the wheels of fate.

On June 12, 1898, the leader of the Revolution, Emilio Aguinaldo, proclaimed the independence of the Philippines and established the Malolos Congress. This independence, however, is short-lived. The Americans, though our allies against Spain, never intended the Philippines to be free. Aguinaldo was branded a criminal and subsequently captured on 1901, essentially ending the Malolos Congress.

As the Americans never recognized Aguinaldo’s proclamation of independence and government, America established a new government in the country with the Philippine Commission as Legislature. Although only Americans comprised the Philippine Commission during its early ages, the adoption of the Philippine Organic Law on 1902 allowed us to delegate two Filipinos as Resident Commissioners. This changed on 1907, when the Americans allowed Filipinos to create a Philippine Assembly which will form part of a bicameral Legislature with the Philippine Commission as the Upper House and the Philippine Assembly as the Lower House. Although a liberal move, this resulted on a constant clash between the American-ruled Philippine Commission and the Filipino-made Philippine Assembly. This setup, however, changed again on 1916, when the United States finally decided to abolish the Commission and allowed the establishment of a new bicameral Philippine Legislature consisting of the House of Representatives and a Senate.

On 1935, the President of the United States approved a new Constitution of the Philippines which established the Commonwealth of the Philippines and paved the way for eventual independence. The 1935 Constitution as it is then provided for a unicameral Legislature, but was subsequently amended in 1941 as to create a bicameral Congress.

Fate, however, will not allow us to have our independence. On 1939, World War II broke out and Philippines fell to Japanese hands on 1942. Although Japan declared the Philippines independent on 1943, this proved to be a folly of the highest order. They established a puppet government with Jose Laurel as President and a unicameral Congress as Legislature. They also promulgated the 1943 Constitution, also known as the Japanese Constitution, during this time.

Fortunately, Japan lost the war which finally led to the United States proclaiming Philippines independent on July 4, 1946.

As the 1943 Constitution was never recognized by the now-independent Republic, the 1935 Constitution as amended on 1941 continued to take effect until 1973, when President Marcos decided to amend the Constitution, through his own machination of the Congress and the entire country during that time, to introduce a parliamentary system of government. On October 1976, the amendment was ratified through shadowy means, which resulted to the abolition of the Congress as it is of the old Constitution and the creation of a unicameral National Assembly. Although parliamentary in name, the system of government then was still only presidential with President Marcos holding all power of government. You know fate has been unkind to your country when a man of genius like Ferdinand Marcos turned into a greedy dictator.

The sands of fate, however, soon favored democracy and the President was forced to exile by the historic EDSA People Power Revolution on February 1986. The new President, Corazon Aquino, then abolished the highly unjust 1973 Constitution and created a transitional Constitution while a new Constitution was being drafted. During this transition, President Corazon Aquino was granted exceptional power and became the source of laws by decree.

On 1987, the new permanent Constitution was approved by President Aquino which led to the restoration of the old presidential system of government as it was before the 1973 Constitution, with some amendments as to prevent another Marcos from rising again. The 1987 Constitution continues to take effect until now, as of writing, although several Presidents after Corazon Aquino have tried their best to amend it with only some measure of success.

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The Making of a Law

Well, here we are at last. How exactly does our beloved and nefarious Congressmen make our laws?

Preparing the Bill

The first step of every legislative process is problem solving. During this step, there is no explicit rule to follow or procedure to be wary of. Every member of both Houses may deliberate in any circumstance that he or she so pleases, with person that he or she knows important, about any proposal that he or she believes worthwhile in the time frame that he or she considers convenient and efficient.

Once the Congressman has set his mind what law to create, amend or repeal, the next step is to put the proposal on paper. There are two rules that should be followed here. First, as mandated by Section 24 of Article VI of the Constitution, appropriation, revenue or tariff bills; bills authorizing increase of the public debt; bills of local application; and bills of local application must originate exclusively in the House of Representatives. Second, all bills must only embrace one subject which is expressed in the title thereof. This means that there should be no rider in the bill. A rider is any provision that has nothing to do with the subject of the bill. This is a constitutional mandate expressed in Section 26, paragraph 1, of Article VI of the Constitution. The Congressman must always remember these two rules when he drafts the bill or requests the Reference and Research Bureau to draft it for him.

As an additional note, it is common practice for several Members to band together to draft a single bill. This is known as a joint resolution.

Submitting the Bill

Once the bill is drafted, the authors must affix their signatures and submit it, together with an electronic copy, to the Secretary General of their respective House. The Secretary General will then assign the bill with a number and reproduce the same for First Reading.

First Reading

The First Reading does not involve any deliberation or voting. The Secretary General will simply read the number, title, and authors of the bill, followed by its referral of the House Speaker to the appropriate committee.

Committee Deliberations

The appointed Committee deliberates on the bill. They may approve the bill with or without amendments or act unfavorably on it. They may substitute the bill with a new one. They may consolidate existing bills under their command. This is a crucial process where the very identity and life of the bill hangs on the balance. Although the Constitution does not dictate some sort of a time limit for deliberations, under the House Rules, a Member of the House may file a motion to discharge the Committee if the latter fails to act on the bill after thirty days. The motion, however, needs to be voted favorably by the members of the House before it can be enforced.

If the Committee approves the bill, they send it back to the House for Second Reading.

Second Reading

During the Second Reading, the bill will be read in full unless final copies have been distributed to all the Members. The House will then conduct a debate regarding the bill. They may amend or remove provisions as they please. After the debate, the Members of the House must vote whether to approve or reject the bill. If it is approved, it is assigned a spot in the Calendar of Business for Third Reading.

Third Reading

During the Third Reading, the Constitution mandates that no further amendments is allowed. The Members of the House may only vote whether to finally pass or table the bill. If it is approved by the House, the bill is then sent to the other House for three readings as well.

It should be noted that the Constitution dictates two crucial rules – the three readings must occur in separate days and all the Members of the House must receive printed final copies of the bill at least three days before its passage. These two rules may be ignored if the President certifies to the necessity of its immediate enactment to meet a public calamity or emergency. It is, however, important that the bill must pass three readings even if the President certifies to its immediate necessity.

House Cycle

Once the other House receives the bill, that House must treat the bill as if it has been proposed by a Member of their own House. Thus, the bill receives no special treatment and must still pass three readings for a grand total of six readings. This is the reason why laws take forever to be enacted. Although this can be considered a bad thing, the long time also assures that no law is passed until it is scrutinized closely by our Congressmen. Hopefully.

It should be noted that the other House may amend or completely substitute the bill being passed by the originating House.

Anyway, if the other House approves the bill, it is sent to the originating House for approval. If the originating House approves of the changes made by the other House, a final copy of the bill is printed (known as the ‘enrolled’ bill) and signed by the Speakers and Secretary Generals of both Houses. This bill is then sent to the Office of the President for the President’s approval.

If, on the other hand, the originating House does not approve of the changes made by the other House, a Conference Committee may be called to settle the differences between the two. The Committee comprises representatives from both Houses. The Committee must finalize a report within sixty days (or more, if the Committee can provide an explanation) from the date of their organization. The report of the Committee will serve as another version of the bill and sent to both Houses for approval. If both Houses agree to that version of the bill, it is sent to the Office of the President for the President’s approval.

It is important to note that the Conference Committee may amend or substitute the bill being passed by its parent Houses.

Approval of the President

Every bill passed by Congress will be presented to the President. If he approves of the law, he shall sign it; if he does not, he returns it with his remarks to Congress. If he signs it, the bill becomes a law.

If the President does not sign or veto the bill within thirty days after receiving a copy of the bill, the bill becomes a law as if he has signed it. The concept of ‘pocket veto’, i.e., the bill dies if the President ignores it for some time, is not accepted in our country.

Override

If the President vetoes the bill, i.e., he rejects the bill, the Congress has the power to override the President’s veto with three-fourths vote of all the members of both Houses voting separately.  The bill then, though initially vetoed by the President, still becomes a law.

As you can see, the legislative process is quite complex. The Reader should note that I did not include here all the rules of each House. There are still intricacies that I left out – how the Members should vote, how they should deliberate, how they should protest if they something is wrong. I did, however, tried to include the most basic and important provisions, particularly those mentioned by the Constitution.

And that’s it, folks. I hope you learned something new again. As usual, if I missed something, you can always contact me and I will quickly correct it (or debate with you if I found your comment wanting, but it is all in good fun). Toodles, dear Reader, and I’ll see you when I see you.

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References:

As per tradition, I am not using any referencing standard. Read further, expand knowledge!

1. The Wikipedia pages about the History of the Philippines, Cortes Generales, Spanish Constitution of 1812, Philippine RevolutionFirst Philippine Republic, Philippine-American War, Philippine Commission, Philippine Assembly, World War II, Philippine Organic Act of 1902, Jones Law, Tydings-McDuffie Act, Legislature, Unicameralism, Multicameralism, United States Constitution, Act of Congress, Bill, and Conference Committee. Accessed 5-7 May 2012.

2. House Rules of the Senate of the Philippines. Accessed 6 May 2012. The relevant House Rules are Rules XXI-XXIII and XXV.

3. House Rules of the House of Representatives of the Philippines. Adopted 14 December 2010. The relevant House Rule is Rule X.

4. The Biak-na-Bato, Malolos, 1935, 1943, 1973, and Freedom Constitutions of the Philippines.

5. The 1987 (and currently used) Constitution of the Philippines. The relevant provisions can be found in Article VI, Sections 24, 26 and 27.

6. Statutory Construction by Ruben Agpalo. Published 1986. Revised 2009.

A Primer on the Spratly Islands Dispute

As a Filipino, I have always been proud of our race. Philippines may be one of the lower-tier countries in Southeast Asia, but we are proud of who we are and what we do. There are times, however, that this pride gets in the way of cool and rational thinking. A quick review of the history of the Philippines will show us the overwhelming insecurity of the Filipino race after years of abuse, slavery, and oppression from other nations. As a result, we rise our fists in impetuous rage at the slightest provocation. I believe that this is mob mentality and one of the many black spots on our otherwise beautiful culture.

The goal of this primer is to provide information, nothing more and nothing less, over the ongoing Spratly Islands dispute between China and the Philippines. I will not take sides. I will not attempt to solve the issue. I only want to take a little of your time to outline the information being provided to the public, hoping that this little project will divert what now appears to be a Cold War between the two countries to a battle of the mind. We should always remember that stupid wars have been fought over simple misunderstanding. I hope this dispute will not come into that.

This will not be a simple issue. I will try to explain everything in simple terms, referencing essential information when necessary, but terminology and research can only do much. The rest is up to you, Reader.

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Is there any disclaimer?

Yes, there is. First of all, the Reader has to understand that I am not a lawyer, a historian, a government official, or even someone with intricate knowledge of the Islands or the dispute. I am only a law student, and even that has no merit at all. Second, this is not an original research. All information that you are going to read are derived from various Internet and print sources which are referenced at the end of the article. I merely summarized the essential details for your easy reading. Third. Although I checked every information below to be true, there will be always that tragic flaw which I undoubtedly missed.

As a final note – yes, you may use the information below in any (legal) way possible. The purpose of the primer is to inspire rational thinking after all. However, if you are going to give a report or partake in formal debate using this information, be aware that that is a very bad idea and you should probably research more into the issue. Thank you.

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What are the Spratly Islands?

The Spratly Islands is an archipelago of more than 100 small islands, cays, and reefs. It spans over 410,000 square kilometers of central South China Sea and totals to over four square kilometers of land. The islands are thought to be volcanic in origin. Although the islands are not suitable for planting crops, research around the area has shown probability of a rich source of oil under the seabed. As of now, the main sources of trade in the area are fishery, shipping, and on a smaller degree, tourism.

Spratly Islands is only its English name. The other claimant countries also have their own name for the group of islands. Although it was originally known as ‘Horsburgh’s Storm Island’, the Admirality renamed it ‘Spratly Islands’ after Richard Spratly, master of British whaler Cyrus South Seaman, who sighted the scattered islands on 1843 and published it in The Nautical Magazine during the same year.

Spratly Islands is known as Kapuluang Kalayaan in the Philippines; Nansha Islands (南沙群島) by the Chinese; and Truong Sa by the Vietnamese.

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What is Scarborough Shoal?

Scarborough Shoal lies outside of the Spratly Islands. It is not exactly a shoal, i.e., a single mass of sandbank, but rather an archipelago of small islands and reefs on its own. Although Scarborough is almost similar to Spratly, it is significantly much smaller, occupying only 150 square kilometers of the South China Sea. I believe the comment made by Colonel Bayley – a South African colonial military commander commissioned under the British Army from 1877 to 1892 – of the archipelago best describes the beautiful yet terrifying landscape and history of the land mass:

The Scarborough shoal was seen about four miles distant, a high rock, abruptly rising from the sea some hundred feet high, with breakers dashing over it, foaming and roaring most terrifically. The wind had completely subsided, leaving an enormous swell mountains high, driving us toward the fatal rock, where a Chinaman named “Scarborough” had been wrecked some years before and every soul perished (parts of the wreck having been afterwards discovered by sloops sent in search of her), from whence the shoal derived its name.

Scarborough Shoal is known as Huangyan Island (黃岩島) by the Chinese.

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Why are the Spratly Islands important?

First, there is a rich economy to be had in the Islands. It is a prime fishing spot and can also serve as a trade route between mercantile countries. On top of that, there are also reports of vast natural gas and oil reserves deep in the seabed.  More than economy, however, is sovereignty. The country who controls a majority of the Islands also controls the South China Sea. The country can build naval forts, block enemy trades, and well, generally reign supreme over the other countries who need the optimum trade route most. It is a dangerous, terrible power which all the claimant countries seek to have.

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What is the history behind the Spratly Islands?

14th century: The ancient Chinese maps, Shengjiao guangbei tu and Hunyi jiangli tu, were dated to have been made around this century. The combined map shows a group of islands called ‘Thousand Li Stretch of Sands’ and ‘Ten-Thousand Li of Stone Pools’ which the Chinese alleges to be the Spratly Islands.

18th century: Le Quy Don, a Vietnamese polymath and government official, recorded that Truong Sa (an island west of Spratly) belongs to the Quang Ngãi District and that the Vietnamese did a shipping trade around the area.

early 19th century: Vietnamese maps record the Spratly Islands grouped with the Paracel Islands, a small archipelago of islets and reefs near Vietnam and China that is almost similar to the Spratlys. They called these islands Bai Cat Vang or the Golden Sandbanks.

1885: Vietnam became part of French Indochina, the French colonial empire in Southeast Asia.

1927: The Chinese Civil War started.

1933: France occupied part of the Spratly Islands, claiming them in behalf of Vietnam. The Republic of China challenged this move.

1939: World War II erupted. Japan occupied some of the islands in Spratly as a submarine base.

1940: Germany captured France. The management of French Indochina transferred from the French Third Republic to Vichy France.

1941: After the war in the Pacific, France gave up the entirety of French Indochina to the Japanese which, in turn, established the Empire of Vietnam.

1945: Japan surrenders to the Allied Powers, effectively ending the war. The Republic of China reasserts its claim to the entirety of Spratly.

1946: The First Indochina War started between French troops and the Viet Minh. The Republic of China seized Itu Alba Island, the largest island out of all the Spratly group of islands, and established permanent physical presence around the area.

1947: Tomás Cloma, a Filipino lawyer and fishing magnate, discovered some of the uninhabited Spratly Islands. He was aspiring to open a cannery and guano deposits in the Islands as part of his fishing enterprise.

1949: The Chinese Civil War ended with the split of China into two – Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China.

1950: The Republic of China withdraws its troops from Spratly as they retreat from the Communist Party of China to Taiwan.

1951: Japan signs the Treaty of San Francisco, where they renounced all claims to the Spratly Islands. During the treaty, the Soviet Union proposes that the Islands be given to China. This was overwhelmingly rejected. Afterwards, Vietnam declared that the islands be part of their territory. This was not contested by the other delegates.

1954: The First Indochina War ended, which resulted to the split of Vietnam into two – the North and the South. South Vietnam continued to exercise military presence over the majority of the Spratly Islands.

1956: Cloma and 40 of his men returned to formally claim the eastern portion of the Spratly Islands. He posted notices in each of the uninhabited islands where he claimed the islands as his own. He called the islands Freedomland. The Republic of China challenged this claim and returned their troops to the islands as defensive measure.

1958: The People’s Republic of China issued a declaration defining their territorial waters which included the Spratly Islands. Pham Vam Dong, prime minister of North Vietnam, accepted this declaration; however, international scholars argue that as the Spratly Islands is part of South Vietnam, Pham Van Dong has no legal right to accept or reject any declaration regarding the Spratly Islands.

1959: The Second Indochina War, known popularly as the Vietnam War, started between North and South Vietnam.

1968: The Philippines first sent troops to the Spratly Islands.

1974: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos imprisoned Cloma and forced him to cede his private claim to the Spratly Islands for one peso. Cloma submitted, thus transferring ownership of the islands to the Republic of the Philippines. Marcos changed the name of the islands to Kalayaan.

1975: The Vietnam War ended after the fall of Saigon and with the victory of North Vietnam.

1976: The North and South Vietnam is reunified to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

1979: Malaysia begins to annex the southern portion of the Spratly Islands.

1983: The Chinese Toponymy Committee publicized the approved names of the 159 islands, reefs, islets, and shoals in the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands.

1984: Brunei asserts that under the United Nations Law of the Sea, their Exclusive Economic Zone extends to some part of the Spratly Islands because they are under the same continental shelf as their country’s domain.

1999: A French oil company found ancient Chinese pottery and other treasures from the bottom of the South China Sea near the Spratlys. The pottery was dated to be from the 15th century.

2002: The Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) and the People’s Republic of China signed the ‘Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea’ which stipulates that the nations claiming sovereignty over the Spratly Islands must commit to the status quo. This means that no claimant nation should erect new structure over the disputed territories and thus can only maintain establishments already existing during the time of the declaration.

2004: The unified Vietnam state asserted its claim to the Spratly Islands.

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Who is claiming what and how?

People’s Republic of China and Taiwan

Both countries lay claim to all of the Spratly Islands as well as Scarborough Shoal. If you go back to the history of the Spratly Islands, you can see that the Republic of China (now Taiwan) has maintained physical presence on the Islands except a brief period from 1950 to 1956 where they have to retreat as result of the Chinese Civil War. This presence, together with tangible evidence that they have been on the Islands for hundreds of years dating back to the Yuan Dynasty, serves as the primary basis of their claims.

The Republic of the Philippines

The Republic of the Philippines has two grounds for their claim of the Spratly Islands – legal and geographical. It should be noted that the Republic does not seek to claim all of the islands but only the eastern portion of it.

Let us tackle the legal ground first. According to the Philippines, when Japan renounced their claim on the Islands in 1951, the islands became res nullius and thus open for acquisition. Res nullius is Latin for nobody’s property. If an object is res nullius, it can be validly acquired by whoever declares it as his or her own. In the case of the Spratly Islands, when Japan renounced their claim, the Islands became terra nullius, a specific kind of res nullius, which means  ‘no man’s land’. Thus, when Tomás Cloma declared the uninhabited islands as his own in 1956, he became the owner of these islands. When he sold the Islands to the Republic for one peso, the Republic of the Philippines became the owner of the disputed land.

The geographical ground is not as easy to explain but let me try, shall we? According to the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Land and the Sea or UNCLOS, a country has sole exploitation rights over external waters 200 nautical miles from the nearest baseline. This is the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ. As a general rule, the baseline is the low-water line, i.e., the farthest level that the seawater can reach during low tide. However, in cases where the country is an archipelago or deeply indented, straight baselines may be used. Think of it as some sort of a connect-the-dots game where the dots are the farthest low-water line of each indent reaching to the sea. If you apply the straight baselines rule, the EEZ of the Philippines extends well to the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal.

The problem, however, with both the legal and geographical claims is that they assume that the Islands are terra nullius in the first place. The UNCLOS cannot unjustly claim for one country what has already been claimed by another country.

Brunei and Malaysia

Brunei and Malaysia do not lay claim to all of the Islands but only the southern portion which their respective continental shelves can reach.

Like the Republic of the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia principally use the UNCLOS as ground for their claims. According to the UNCLOS, a country still has exclusive rights to harvest minerals in the subsoil (but not the creatures) even if it is well over the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, provided that it does not exceed 350 nautical miles and that the subsoil is part of the country’s continental shelf. Brunei and Malaysia claim that their respective continental shelves extend to the disputed Islands.

Vietnam

Vietnam does not lay claim to all but only a majority of the Islands.

Like Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam use historical fact as evidence that they occupied the Islands since the 17th century. The French, who annexed Vietnam in 1885 to be a part of their colonial empire, recognized this right and claimed the Islands in behalf of Vietnam. Moreover, during the peace treaty with Japan at San Francisco, the other delegates did not contest when Vietnam declared the Islands to be theirs. They are the only country to establish a communal district in the Islands.

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Who owns Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal?

Like I said in the Introduction, this primer does not mean to take sides. In my opinion, however, historical sovereignty reigns supreme more than geographical sovereignty. The problem with historical sovereignty, however, is how fickle history can be. For Vietnam, People’s Republic of China, and Taiwan to rightfully claim the Islands, they must be able to prove that (1) they occupied the Islands first, and (2) that they did not abandon or ceased to own the Islands which will give way for other countries to claim the Islands. It is only when these two requisites are proved not to exist that the other countries who allege the Islands to be terra nullius – the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia – can validly claim the Islands. This is a battle, therefore, not of arms but of conflicting evidences. I only hope that it stays that way.

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What’s next?

You’re next. Do not stop here. Do your research. Gather evidences. Engage in casual debate with family and friends. The most important advice that I can give, however, is to always respect your enemy. The recent ‘cyberwar’ between China and the Philippines is nothing but immaturity at its worst. The Islands may be a vital economic resource, but do we – not only the Philippines but also the other countries – need to sacrifice honor and go that low to defame the other country? Think about it. We are civilized people after all.

Anyway, for all that it’s worth, I hope that this primer helped some of you to obtain some information about the ongoing dispute. If there is a fact that I was able to miss, to credit, or to check as true, do not hesitate to send me a message at my Contact page. This primer will not go far with my skill. I need your help and I need it bad. Peace, brother!

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References:

APA? MLA? Nah. I have my own reference guide. Let’s be casual, okay? Good. Awesome. Cool.

1. The Wikipedia pages about the Spratly Islands, Scarborough Shoal, the Spratly Islands dispute, French IndochinaVichy France, Vietnam, China, Japan, the Republic of the Philippines, the First Indochina War, the Vietnam War, World War II, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Tomás Cloma, Richard Spratly, Res and terra nullius, and Treaty of San Francisco. Accessed 1 May 2012.

2. Diary of Colonel Bayly: 12th Regiment. 1796 – 1830. Published 1896. Colonel Bayly’s description of Scarborough Shoal can be found in page 108.

3. CIA – The World Factbook on its description of the Spratly Islands. Accessed 1 May 2012.

5. Historical Evidence to Support China’s Sovereignty over Nansha Islands. Posted 17 November 2000. Accessed 1 May 2012.

6. China’s War With Vietnam, 1979: Issues, Decisions, and Implications. Published 1987. The territorial dispute over Spratly Islands can be found in page 48.

7. China’s Criticism of the early Vietnamese maps. Posted 2004. Accessed 1 May 2012.

8. Spratly Islands History Timeline. Accessed 2 May 2012.

9. Asia-Pacific Undersea treasure chest stirs up tensions. Posted 29 April 1999. Accessed 1 May 2012.

10. Q&A: South China Sea dispute. Posted 19 July 2011. Accessed 2 May 2012.

11. The Spratly Islands Dispute: Why is this important?. Posted 13 October 2011. Accessed 2 May 2012.

12. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS. Promulgated 1982.

13. Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Promulgated 2002.