THE strongman Ferdinand Marcos ordered secret military operations in 1970 to 1971, and in 1978 to take over the entire now hotly disputed Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea.
Marcos apparently decided to undertake the military operations after being alerted of the area’s existence by fishing-industry businessman Tomas Cloma, a seafaring adventurer from Batangas. Cloma with his crew of over 40 men had wandered into the Spratly islands in 1956. He subsequently issued a “Proclamation to the Whole World” that announced the creation of a new state he called “The Free Territory of Freedomland,” made up of most of the island group.
Marines announcing our property in the Spratlys, circa 1970-1971. Photo by Capt. Tucay
The Philippine Navy and its marines though were thwarted from accomplishing fully the mission ordered by Marcos by South Vietnamese and Taiwanese ships, as they decided not to engage militarily what were, after all, forces from friendly nations.
Still though, in 1978 Marcos formalized through Presidential Decree 1596 the incorporation of all of the 14 islands and 13 reefs into our territory as the Kalayaan Group of Islands, designated as a municipality of Palawan. This was despite the occupation by the Vietnamese of nine islands and reefs in the area, by the Taiwanese of the largest island Taiping, and by Malaysia of the Layang-layang reef on which it has reclaimed land to turn it into a dive resort.
Our entire holdings in the Spratlys to this day consist of these features Marcos ordered grabbed, which altogether have an area of 84 hectares, making us the biggest real-estate “magnate” in the disputed area. The next biggest property-holder is Vietnam with its nine islands and seven reefs having a total hectarage of 50. Our Pag-Asa island with 37 hectares is the second biggest island in the area, next to Taiwan’s 46-hectareTaiping island.
However, the massive land reclamation since the last decade by China on the seven reefs it occupied starting in 1988 have created a territory far bigger than the area of all of the natural islands.
First raising of the flag on Kalayaan island, circa 1970 -71. PHOTO BY CAPT. TUCAY.
Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, who has made a second career of demonizing China as a bully in the South China Sea, demonstrated his intellectual dishonesty when in his 90,000-word e-book on the territorial dispute, he devotes just one sentence to explain this very audacious move of Marcos that got for us our properties in the South China Sea.
He couldn’t even mention the word “Marcos” in the one single sentence he wrote to explain why we are in the Spratlys: “Presidential Decree No. 1596 dated 11 June 1978 incorporated the Kalayaan Island Group into Philippine national territory ‘on legal, historical and equitable grounds’.”
However, Marcos’ move to grab the Spratlys for us was far from being a staid issuance of a presidential decree.
I have stumbled in the world wide web on a narrative that reveals to us with some vivid detail Marcos’ secret operation starting in 1970 to take over all of the islands in the Spratlys.
The narrative is undoubtedly authentic as it was an interview—accompanied by photos—of Navy and Marine officers who actually undertook the operation, and who had migrated to the US. The account was in a 2012 posting in the blog bonginvirginia.blogspot.com of Filipino Americans living in Virginia. Continue reading