International Human Rights Day 2020

The Philippine Seas Dispute, Colonialism, and Philippine Sovereignty

Mildred German

December 10, 2020

Author Mildred German in a social distancing meet-and-greet with Canada’s Minister of National Defense, the Honorable Harjit Sajjan, in the summer 2020 to briefly discuss the Commonwealth’s role in the West Philippine Sea crisis and how colonial wars affect native Filipinos. (Provided)

Unceded Territories | The Philippines has been historically under colonial rule for nearly 500 years by numerous imperial powers such as Spain, Japan, USA, and other Western countries. Multinationals have occupied the country controlling its resources, and have left native Filipinos landless and displaced.

Over the years, multinationals and Canadian mining giants have their extraction operations in the Philippines, affecting indigenous communities in the country, their access to water, food, and livelihood. Thus, this ongoing plunder and violence in the Philippines has resulted in the forced migration of over 10 million Filipinos to over 170 countries as migrant workers. One of their destinations include Canada, whose economy has been hugely dependent on migrant labour.

In 2019, Canada has also stirred tension due to its garbage and toxic waste sent to the Philippines. The Philippines has dealt with disposing the earlier shipping containers filled with Canadian garbage but 69 containers remained stranded in the Philippine ports and were rotting there due to Canada’s negligence on dealing with this issue.

This Canadian garbage issue has angered Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the point that he declared war vs Canada. Only then did Canada take back the stranded garbage. This incident is not just a single issue; it has exposed how Canada has violated international laws in regards to sending garbage to other countries such as the Philippines. 

This incident has raised questions too on the foreign policies of Canada. This garbage exposition testifies to the failing efforts and use of funds allocated to green initiatives and climate change. Canada’s garbage and toxic waste invades and reeks from the Global North to the Global South. Yet, despite this expose of Canada’s international violation and environmental racism against the Philippines, no formal apologies have been made by Canada. Plus, Canada’s mining giants remain in the Philippines.

On a related note, colonial violence and environmental racism is not new in the Philippines. The Philippines, as a former colony of the US, has only been granted a de-facto independence.

In contrast, the US only has served its own interests in the Philippines—one example is for military and missile supremacy. The Philippines has been the most ideal geographical spot in the Pacific for the US, and has been referred to as the US’ “gateway” to Asia. The US has built military bases in the Philippines as its “fort” and “battleground” all-benefiting the US during the Spanish-American War, the Japanese-American War, the Cold War eras, the Vietnam War, and more invasions.

China, on the other hand, has also its interests in the Philippines. China has illegally entered Philippines seas and islands.

In 2013, the Philippines served China with notification and Statement of Claim, which China rejected. The Philippines has won against China at the arbitral tribunal at The Hague. Meanwhile, China has reportedly dug land and dirt from the mountains in the Philippines and built oil rigs, docks, and airports on the islands of the Philippine territorial waters. 

In 2016, a verdict claimed that China has no legal basis or historic claim on the 9-dash line on the Philippine seas, and stated that all nations, including China, should respect international laws. 

The Philippines has been hailed as the “Pearl of the Orient Seas”.

China has been adamant in rejecting the ruling on the Philippine Seas dispute. In addition, the extraction of resources in the Philippines has been abrupt and aggressive, including the archipelago’s giant clams (and pearls) China has reportedly stolen. 

In addition, US and Chinese military patrol in the Philippine territories. Chinese boats have reportedly sunk Filipino fisherfolks’ boats, causing harm and death, loss of livelihood for Filipinos, and tensions between countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Philippines too has large deposits of copper, which the world currently eyes on, as studies link copper to help reduce the transmission of the coronavirus.

As both the US and China claim “allyship” with the Philippines, what do all these allyships mean to the Philippines, the Filipino people, and the fight against the hazards of climate change, and violations of Philippine sovereignty?

As China still rejects the ruling to respect international laws in terms of the Philippine Seas, Canadian mining giants are still operating in the Philippines and exploiting Filipino migrant labour.

All these ongoing violations against Philippine sovereignty only tell us that the UN efforts and funds used to address climate are failing. 

Unless the Philippines becomes a sovereign nation free of capitalist greed and colonial rule and interests, solutions are very dire to solve climate change and the human rights crisis in the Philippines.

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