PEOPLE—especially Filipinos—should refrain from using the term “South China Sea” when discussing the maritime expanse known as the West Philippine Sea (WPS). The Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) legal ruling has definitively established the Philippines’ sovereignty over the WPS. Any claims to the contrary by China are in direct violation of these rights. The indisputable truth is that the WPS falls squarely under our jurisdiction.
I am not referring to the entirety of the South China Sea but only to a particular segment along the country’s western coast, which is comfortably situated within our Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf.
Allow me to refresh your memory. In light of the heightened tensions surrounding the Spratly Islands in 2011, President Benigno Aquino III took decisive action on September 5, 2012 by signing Administrative Order No. 29, which mandated all governmental bodies to use the term “West Philippine Sea” when referring to the parts of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ EEZ. NAMRIA was tasked with incorporating this term into official maps. Consequently, “West Philippine Sea” became an integral part of the official vocabulary for Philippine government agencies.
On July 12, 2016, the PCA tribunal convened in The Hague, Netherlands and issued a decisive verdict starkly contradicting China’s claims of historical rights within the “nine-dash line,” a boundary China historically employed to assert control over a substantial part of the South China Sea. The tribunal deemed these claims inconsistent with UNCLOS, further concluding that China had overstepped its bounds into the Philippines’ sovereign territory.
Specific transgressions included interference with fishing and oil exploration in the disputed waters. The tribunal also negated the classification of any land formations in the South China Sea as islands entitled to their own EEZs, thereby impacting the maritime claims of multiple parties involved.
The significance of accurate terminology in regional discourse cannot be overstated. Employing the term “West Philippine Sea” rather than “South China Sea” serves to reinforce the Philippines’ well-founded claim to the area’s EEZ, a stance solidified by the PCA ruling. While China’s opposition may persist, the unequivocal judgment of the PCA remains unshaken.
It is also incumbent upon media outlets to exercise prudence in their choice of language, thus aptly reflecting the complex dynamics at play.