Our, not China’s, Kalayaan Islands

by: Jose Ma. Montelibano

Jose Ma. Montelibano is a well-respected opinion writer for the Inquirer. This piece on our Kalayaan Islands Group was published on his column, ‘Glimpses’ , last May 23.

In several articles I have written, and group discussions I have joined, I keep repeating a message that should be part of our national psyche already but sadly is not. And I mean our land and our seas, the motherland, our home and the first source of our identity. I do not see myself stopping from giving the same message over and over again either, in many ways, to many audiences – especially the majority poor of our population who have never tasted that truth.

I have much to be grateful to China’s bullying. This giant of a country is making a ridiculous claim on land and seas that our forefathers have regarded, and used, as their own, as our own. A quick look at the map of Asia, especially Southeast Asia, shows how islands so near to our mainlands, and so far from their Chinese claimants, would be unquestionably part of the Philippines. Even China, if it were not the giant it is, the military and economic power it is, would feel embarrassed about its 9-dash line. It is not about history. It is not about vision. It is about expansion by force. It is about arrogance.

Chinese arrogance on full display. (cnn.com)

Most Filipinos have never felt a deep connection with their land and their seas. How can they when they have been told in words and deeds that these land and seas did not belong to them. For a few centuries, the sense of ownership and intimacy between motherland and her children was cut off, by force first, then by force of circumstance thereafter, as is happening today.

Because the Filipino leaderships that followed Spanish, American and Japanese rule forgot history and apparently enjoyed authority and resources that were never theirs, it remains convenient to maintain that historical amnesia. The historical truth is a dangerous memory if revived because those in power and holding great wealth will realize that they inherited an unjust system and actually perpetuated it. The end result is not only massive poverty that has no place in a motherland so blessed with abundance of everything. Worse is the absence of a collective and reflective intimacy with whom we belong to and what belongs to us.

We are Filipinos who have only an instinctive relationship with our land and seas, forced by physical reality to feel the most shallow of kinship to them, not really loving country, just having no choice to be anywhere else. Inheriting poverty and living lifetimes of the same would surely prevent poor, landless Filipinos from developing an appreciative relationship with their own country. As such, few will readily want to fight and die for a motherland that has orphaned them.

But China’s bullying is starting to change sentiments a little bit. Today’s communication facilities spread the news at ultra high speeds and even the poor know that China is land-grabbing (as in Scarborough Shoal) and wants to landgrab even more (Ayungin et al). What is, at best, an instinctual bond with our territory and race can develop to be much more if the right provocation from an external enemy happens. And I am sure that the national leadership, in a face-off with China, will do its utmost to woo its own citizens to be rabid sympathizers.

China scorns the international courts. (zamoracartoons.blogspot.com)

Meanwhile, as the corrective measures to a lukewarm attachment to lands and seas they never knew was theirs have yet to be made, the Philippine government and the more passionate patriots around can begin to deepen our stake in our Kalayaan Islands. It is less for the suspected oil and gas beneath the sea but to assert our very identity which is absolutely anchored on our land and seas.

How do we do that? For one, if the Kalayaan Islands are truly ours and our government believes in that, then we have the obligation to develop our communities and facilities in all the inhabited areas. When other countries are so eager to risk everything for islets or reefs, we cannot show our own people, especially those living in the Kalayaan Islands, that our own government is incapable of strengthening and expanding Filipino life there.

China has one sure formula, and that is to build structures and facilities in every land mass it grabs in contested territory, including what is ours. It matters little not whether these are inhabited or not; the China will build as it becomes next to impossible, whatever legal outcome the world may come out with, to take Chinese presence out. There is no reason why we cannot show even greater commitment and determination for our own territory when China is more than willing to do so.

Disputed reef in the South China Sea
China plans to develop an airport here at the Mabini (South Johnson) Reef. (Johnib.wordpress.com)

In fact, the aggression of China has already enflamed many a patriot’s heart. I am aware that many citizens are more than willing to handle the strengthening and expansion of communities and facilities in the inhabited parts of the Kalayaan Island. The Code of Conduct governing claimants of the concerned islands and reefs to which we are a signatory says no one can occupy and build on uninhabited territory but does not prohibit the same activity on already inhabited islands. We have communities in several of these islands, and we should pour our resources, and our patriotism, on them.

The municipality of Kalayaan. (globalnation.inquirer.com)

Developing our inhabited islands in the West Philippine Sea can mean putting up airstrips and ports. We can also connect the dots by establishing commerce and tourism between them, and them as a cluster with the rest of the Philippines. If we believe that these islands are ours, if we value their inseparability to the Philippines as a whole, then we must affirm that value by embracing the development and expansion of the Kalayaan islands. And I know many die-hard Filipinos will.

From the national leadership, from the Philippine government, we need only for them to appreciate what many Filipinos want to do, and bless their courage and love for country.

For more on the South China Sea/Western Philippine Sea dispute, pls read:

What the Typhoon Revealed (Apr 2014)

Historical Fiction: China’s South China Sea Claims (May 2014)

Can the Philippines Really Bully China? (May 2014)

(Pictures courtesy of titsertitser.wordpress.com, cultureinasia.blogspot.com, Defenders of Philippine Sovereignty, panoramio.com, globalnation.inquirer.com, thelastcolumnist.com, timawa.net, onlinewsj.com, ucanews.com)


    1. It may or it may not. Our quarrel is not with the Chinese people, but its ill-advised leaders. A lot of the Chinese people, particularly the academe, agree with us that the Chinese claim is clearly unfounded, pre.


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