The Provincial Board of Palawan is urging the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) to act quickly on ratifying the treaties to which the country is expected to be a signatory, adopting a protocol on what to do in the event that debris from rockets launched by any country enters international airspace.
It said that in light of what occurred on November 20 on Pag-asa Island in Kalayaan municipality, where China Coast Guard forcibly took its metal rocket debris from a Philippine Navy team that was towing it to land, the Philippines through PhilSA must react fast to ratify and adhere to the five UN treaties on outer space.
Board member Winston Arzaga stated that the treaties address among others the liability for damage caused by space objects if they fall on land, water, or innocent civilians along their path.
He stated, however, that the country’s participation appears to be on hold for an extended period of time because it was initially deemed unnecessary.
“But with this development, perhaps it is timely for the provincial board to pass a resolution encouraging [the Department of Foreign Affairs] and the Philippine Space Agency to guide us in many of the responses that our municipalities can adopt when confronted with a problem,” Arzaga said.
He proposed that such legislation be passed, and the board agreed. It states that the PhilSA should develop protocols to instruct residents and local government officials on what to do if they come across rocket debris or they injure anyone standing innocently in designated drop zones.
Arzaga’s views are consistent with those of Dr. Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines and a maritime law expert, who stated that the country “urgently needs to ratify the outer space treaties to ensure both the strict liability of China for its space objects and a clear process for compensation in case of damage or injury arising therefrom.”
The most recent incident in Kalayaan and Busuanga in Palawan serves as proof of the rising risks.
“The fact that these discarded rocket parts keep falling around the PH, and into the WPS, also shows CN’s continuing failure to act responsibly to control its rocket launches to ensure that discarded stages do not fall upon neighboring countries’ territories and jurisdictions,” Batongbacal said in a series of Twitter posts recently.
He stated that while other spacefaring nations control the descent of their discarded stages to ensure that they do not fall on populated or well-used areas, it appears that China does not care that they fall on anyone’s head.
Diplomatic protest sought
The Provincial Board also called on the national government, in particular the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), to take the necessary actions regarding the most recent case of harassment in the West Philippine Sea made by the China Coast Guard, which involved personnel of the Philippine Navy being on the receiving end of the bullying.
Board members were particularly concerned about the CCG twice blocking a Philippine Navy rubber boat towing the Chinese rocket debris, eventually cutting the tow line and forcibly seizing it.
The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines, on the other hand, has denied that the incident occurred and has stated that the rocket debris was handed over to the CCG in a peaceful manner following negotiations.
“Apparently, another harassment case na naman ang nangyari sa West Philippine Sea, ito ay dagdag na naman sa mga kaso ng pangha-harass ng China, marami na,” board member Juan Antonio Alvarez said.
Alvarez made a motion to file a resolution urging the DFA to file a diplomatic protest against China with an attachment of an itemized list of cases of harassment.
He explained that even if the object that was retrieved does indeed belong to China, it is not a reason to harass Filipinos on Pag-asa Island.
“I-clarify ko lang na itong diplomatic protest ay hindi sa debris kundi sa harassment sa mga kasamahan natin sa WPS,” he said, adding that with a new DFA secretary in place, it’s about time to file another protest as long as such instances continue to occur.
Board member Ryan Maminta added that it appeared to be a one-sided statement when President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and Chinese leader Xi Jinping recently denounced bullying in WPS.
In a statement issued after Marcos and Xi’s first meeting in Bangkok, the Chinese foreign ministry said the Philippines and China should avoid “acts of bullying” and instead engage in “friendly consultation” when they disagree.
“Kapag sinabing bullying ay parang may ibang perspective ang dalawang bansa. Tayo bilang maliit na bansa ay patuloy na tinatapakan sa ating mga karapatan sa WPS, at patuloy ang ginagawang expansion doon… nakakalungkot,” he said.