Old maps dating back to Spanish colonial times may hold the key to the claim of the Philippines to Scarborough Shoal.
Known as “Bajo Scarburo,” the shoal now called Panatag by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), has been part of the known world since 1734, when European cartographers began to map the world in an age of conquest.
In fact, Bajo Scarburo appeared on a map of the “Archipelago Filipino” as a constituent part of Sambalez (Zambales province) in a topographic map of the country “drawn under the direction of Ildefonso de Aragon on April 15, 1820.”
Senator Edgardo J. Angara, who has a collection of ancient maps of the country, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Sunday that the maps would easily disprove the territorial claim of China to the shoal and its surrounding waters, which, he said, had no historical or legal grounds under the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (Unclos).
“It’s clear that Scarborough Shoal is part of our cartography during the Spanish colonial times,” he said. “We have maps (reproduced) from the original, which was made in 1734. During that time, Scarborough is already part of the Philippines.”
The DFA has asked Beijing to resolve the dispute through arbitration in the United Nations-backed International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, but China swiftly rejected this.
As in the dispute over the Spratly Islands involving six nations, including the Philippines and China, Beijing has always preferred bilateral, where it has a clear advantage over smaller nations, over a multilateral approach.
But the DFA is standing by its decision to seek international arbitration with or without China.
The manuscript maps can be found in full-color in the hardbound book titled, “Mapping the Philippines: The Spanish Period,” authored by Angara, Jose Ma. A. Cariño and Sonia P. Ner, and published by the Rural Empowerment Assistance and Development in September 2009.
The book contains another map, which was published in Madrid in 1875 and republished by the US Department of War in 1899, a year after the Philippines was ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. It bears the description: “This is a general map of the Philippine Archipelago arising from the work of the Hydrographic Commission of the Philippines under the command of Claudio Montero y Gray.”
‘Mother of all maps’
The 1875 map was the “product of the most comprehensive mapping and charting work in the Philippines lasting more than 20 years (1849-1870).”
Angara said the original maps were deposited at Spain’s Museo Naval de Madrid.
A Jesuit scholar, Pedro Morillo y Velarde, came up with the first “complete map of the Philippines,” said the senator. This was later known as the “Morillo Map,” which delineated the Philippine territory under Spanish rule, and which became the basis for the Treaty of Paris.
Three original copies of the Morillo Map are kept in Madrid, Paris and Washington, which were parties to the treaty.
For US$20 million, the treaty gave away the Philippines to the United States following the humiliating defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War, which ended Spain’s empire in the Americas and the Pacific and set the stage for US colonial hegemony.
“We have a historic title to it (Scarborough Shoal) as early as the 17th century. It’s already on our map. All the cartographic maps subsequent to 1734 were based on the Morillo Map. It was the mother of all maps,” Angara said.
“That should be a strong evidence of our ownership of Scarborough,” he said.
He noted that Scarborough Shoal’s “extreme proximity” to Zambales, 220 kilometers, compared to 840 km from the nearest coast of China in Hainan province.
Asked whether the maps would establish beyond any doubt the Philippine sovereignty over Scarborough, Angara said: “It’s one strong evidence, and we have other pieces of evidence.”
Angara, who coauthored Senate Bill No. 2181, which defines the baseline of the Philippine archipelago, said maps had always interested him.
“This fascination extends to collecting old maps. I think I was initially attracted to them out of curiosity and because of their age and rarity. Maps define our territory and our sense of nationhood. As a student of history, I realize how maps determine the fate of both the colonized and the colonizers, and how even to this day, the matter of geographic boundaries and the desire to expand or defend them underlie most of the turmoil in the world,” he said.