IT is ironic that the F/B Gem Ver was rammed by a Chinese vessel on June 9, the 44th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China. In fact, under Presidential Proclamation No. 148 issued by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2002, June 9 is celebrated as “Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day”.
No matter how the current administration tries to spin the story, and notwithstanding the abrupt volte-face of Captain Junel Insigne after meeting with Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol in a house surrounded by policemen in full battle gear, the fact remains that the F/B Gem Ver’s crew were abandoned by the Chinese vessel and left to die, contrary to the latter’s duty under international laws to rescue distressed and stranded persons at sea.
Contrast this with their rescuers, the Vietnamese fishermen who immediately came to the aid of the “hungry and quivering” Filipinos and gave them rice, noodles and warm clothing.
So much for “Chinese-Filipino” friendship!
Our otherwise cordial relations with China over the past four decades have been marred by its encroachment over our territory, prompting the filing in 2013 during the term of President Benigno Aquino III of an arbitration case against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
On 12 July 2016, the Philippines won a landmark victory against China, with an arbitral tribunal ruling that China’s so-called historic 9-dash line cannot serve as a legal basis to claim any part of the waters or resources of the South China Sea.
The tribunal also found that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, by constructing artificial islands and by failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.
As explained in many fora by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, one of the leading defenders of the West Philippine Sea, for the Philippines, the arbitral award means that the Philippines has a full 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, excluding the territorial seas of islands and high-tide rocks which remain in dispute.
The maritime area that the Philippines won in the arbitration is larger than the combined land area of all the islands of the Philippine archipelago. Consequently, all the fish, gas, oil and other natural resources in this huge maritime area belong exclusively to the Philippines.
Almost three years after the Philippines’ clear victory, the current administration remains lukewarm to enforcing the ruling, with President Duterte instead openly favoring securing loans and investments from China. It is therefore unsurprising, but nevertheless appalling, that he and his proxies have all but dismissed the ramming of the F/B Gem Ver as a mere maritime incident.
This weekend, leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are holding a summit in Bangkok to try to finalize a rules-based code of conduct to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea.
Whether such a code will prevent more “incidents” with China remains to be seen.
Heroic lives that uplift, enrich and inspire
On a more positive note, perhaps as a reflection of our yearning for heroes to look up to, two films have come to my attention. I have not seen either one, but have heard glowing praise for both.
First is “Quezon’s Game”, which tells the story of how President Manuel Quezon saved the lives of 1200 Jews fleeing the Holocaust by offering them safe haven here.
My family and I first heard this story when we visited Israel in 2010, where there is a poignant monument called “Open Doors” in the Tel-Aviv suburb of Rishon Lezion honoring MLQ and the Philippines. We wondered why this noble part of our history is not widely taught. I am glad that this film makes it possible for more people to learn this important yet little known chapter of our history.
Another film, “Honor: The Legacy of Jose Abad Santos”, is not being shown commercially but in public schools and smaller groups that sponsor screenings.
My daughter’s law firm, Cruz Marcelo & Tenefrancia, marked its 6th anniversary recently by inviting some clients and friends to join them to view this short (70 minutes) yet remarkable biopic.
Again, not many people know of Jose Abad Santos, who was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and cabinet secretary holding 3 portfolios (Finance, Agriculture and Commerce), who was executed by the Japanese for refusing to collaborate.
These films will never make the same money as the mindless drivel that we are sometimes fed, but I hope that there will remain enough filmmakers who will continue to bring us stories of heroic lives that uplift, enrich and inspire.
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