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Scarborough Shoal, Forever!


"Scarborough Shoal, Forever!” Let this be our people’s rallying cry as we face up to China’s growing belligerence in claiming that Shoal (Huangyan Island on its map) as part of its national territory, despite the fact that it is within our country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The suggested slogan is inspired by “Scarborough Fair Forever,” the title of an English folk song that emerged soon after the opening of that renowned Fair in the latter part of the Middle Ages (or about the year 1300).

Necessarily therefore, a brief review of some relevant historical facts (with WIKIPEDIA, The Free Encyclopedia as main source) would be in order. The town of Scarborough was founded as a Viking settlement more than a thousand years ago by Skartha, a Norseman chief from Scandinavia, who had named it Skarthabourg. Located on the northeastern coast of England, it was a vibrant, prosperous, and bustling hub of economic, social, and cultural exchanges during the Fair’s medieval heyday.

Scarborough Fair was a 45-day trading event that originated from a charter granted by King Henry III of England on January 22, 1253. The charter decreed thus:  “The Burgesses and their heirs forever may have a yearly fair in the Borough, to continue from the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary until the Feast of St. Michael next following.

”  (The modern Roman Catholic calendar dates that period from August 15th to September 29th.)  The Fair attracted countless merchants, entertainment and food vendors, and pleasure-seekers from all areas of England, Norway, Denmark, the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in northeastern Europe), and the Byzantine Empire (with Constantinople [now Istanbul] as seat of power, it was composed of the kingdoms on the eastern and southern parts of the Mediterranean Sea – Thessalonia, Antioch, Jerusalem, Anatolia, Egypt, Alexandria and other parts of North
Africa, and most of the Aegean Sea). 

Prices were based on supply and demand with goods often exchanged through the barter system.
However, in the 17th century the trading event at Scarborough collapsed owing to increased taxation and strong competition from the other towns’ markets and fairs. After repeated attempts to revive it in the 18th century failed, the Fair finally ended in 1788. Nonetheless, smaller trading events have since been held to commemorate the once renowned Scarborough Fair, such as the medieval jousting competitions and similar attractions the English Heritage organization had successfully held in July 2006. Present day Scarborough is a small, quiet seaside community advertised as an ideal spot for local as well as foreign vacationers and tourists. 

But amazingly, the song has survived; it even topped the chart of popular hits in the late 1960s! “Scarborough Fair Forever” first emerged as the anonymously written song about a brokenhearted lover who asked a traveler to convey his message to a maiden he once loved in Scarborough. The jilted lover wanted her to do certain impossible tasks before he would take her back. From Scarborough, bards and troubadours spread, adapted, modified and rewrote the song as they traveled to different parts of England and beyond. Thus, by the end of the 18th century, dozens of versions – including a female version – of the song existed.

In our time, “Scarborough Fair” gained worldwide popularity when American singers Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released their own version in 1968. Included in the soundtrack of the movie “The Graduate,” it became a pop hit as an anti-Vietnam war canticle. Then, it was “meant to remind the [US] government . . . that nothing can be gained from [that war and] that soldiers [were] fighting for a cause they have long ago forgotten and [were] into it for reasons not really clear to them.”  (Ej Lopez, “Are you going to Scarborough Fair [Shoal]?, April 17, 2012, The Manila
Its relevance to the on-going Scarborough Shoal dispute springs from its title’s aptness as a rallying cry and  its 1968 anti-war stance. (Incidentally, our Scarborough Shoal was named after the tea-trade ship “Scarborough” of the then British East India Company, which sunk on its rocks on September 12, 1784.)  But our anti-war position today is quite different because we have much to gain by facing up to the Chinese threat; besides, we know and understand the reasons for our adamant stance.

According to a Filipino lawyer who is a long-time member of the California Public Defenders Association, USA, and a prosecutor with the Los Angeles City Attorney under the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Panatag Shoal (its other name) was a traditional fishing ground of Filipinos as early as the Spanish colonization of our country. Official maps published by Spain and the United States in the 18th and 20th centuries showed the shoal as Philippine territory.

Furthermore, our national flag was raised there in 1965; in the same year, a small lighthouse was built and operated by our military, although this was no longer operational as of 2009.

Based on the principle of terra nullius (land previously unclaimed by a sovereign state), then President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1599 in June 1978, which claimed up to 200 nautical miles from the baselines measuring our country’s territorial sea as Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  PD 1599 was followed by the Philippine Baselines Law of  2009 (Republic Act No. 9522), which has classified both the Spratly Islands and the

Scarborough Shoal as parts of Philippine territory.
Relevantly, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)  has established the sovereign rights of coastal states like the Philippines to a 200-nautical mile EEZ with respect to natural resources, certain economic activities, marine science research, and environmental protection. Moreover, the UNCLOS has granted sovereign rights to such coastal states over the continental shelf (the national area of the seabed) for exploration and exploitation.

The continental shelf can be extended beyond 200 nautical miles from the shore under specified circumstances. (Roman P. Mosqueda, “Panatag [Scarborough] Shoal is within PH Exclusive Economic Zone,” May 12, 2012,
Nonetheless, while we may rightfully shout “Scarborough Shoal, Forever!” we must bear in mind that:
It is essential to keep the dispute in perspective. The bigger picture for China, the Philippines or ASEAN member states is political and economic
stability. China will not invade as long as the Philippines stands  its ground, with or without the US. But the Philippines must also desist from aggressive
moves unless forced into self-defence. Feeding nationalistic sentiments with Scarborough fare will only be self-defeating and set the region back.” (Kevin  H. R. Villanueva, “Are You Going to Scarborough Shoal?” May 11, 2012,

Furthermore, we must always remember that our country “renounces war as an instrument of national policy, adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations. (Article II, Section 2, Philippine Constitution). Significantly, Philippine domestic and various international news media have reported that Filipinos in different countries abroad have joined the protest against China’s growing belligerence in regard to the Scarborough Shoal dispute. With placards and megaphones, they have taken to the streets to express their patriotic sentiments and their support of our Government and our people’s rational-legal and sober stand on the controversy.

Therefore, like all of us here in their home country, the Filipinos abroad who staunchly support our lawful and peaceable defense of our national territory may well adopt the rallying cry “Scarborough Shoal, Forever!”

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