There are two groups of islands between Taiwan and Luzon Island in the Philippines. The Batan, or the Batanese, Islands, are located close to Taiwan at a distance of 190km, and the Babuyan Islands are located close to Luzon Island. The Batan Islands are comprised of 10 small islands, the largest being Itbayat, followed by Batan Island. \nThe Batan Islands cover an area of 210km2. Research has shown that the people living on the islands have unique traits. They say they belong to the Ivatan people, and the local language is also called Ivatan. According to one explanation, this people may have migrated from Taiwan and later mixed with the Spanish colonizers living there. \nBecause the Batan Islands are located near Taiwan, Taiwanese fishermen have traditionally fished in the area around the islands. As a result of regular contact, some Taiwanese fishermen have taken up residence on the islands, and there have been marriages with the local population, which has led to some locals understanding some Hoklo, commonly known as Taiwanese. \nAfter the Spanish were defeated by the US in 1898, one of the conditions of the peace treaty was that Spain cede the Philippines to the US. But a close reading of the US-Spanish Treaty of Paris is surprising: the northernmost part of the Philippine territory ceded by Spain to the US ends at the 20th parallel, or south of the Balintang Channel. This means that the Batan Islands fall outside the scope of the peace treaty. \nWhat does this mean? Was it a measurement mistake? Or was it due to other reasons? \nTo deal with these questions, we have to go back to 1895 and the maritime border agreement signed by Spain and Japan. \nOn Aug. 7, 1895, during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, Japan and Spain signed an agreement delineating the borders of Taiwan and the Philippines. The agreement defined "the middle of the navigable channel of Bashi parallel to the latitude as the Western Pacific border between Japan and Spain." \nBecause the agreement did not define borders in terms of latitude and longitude, and because there was no definition of what was meant by the Bashi Strait, the unclear geographical scope created problems in later talks between the US and Spain. \nIn June 1896, war broke out between the US and Spain. The US defeated the Spanish fleet in the Bay of Manila, thereby winning the war. Representatives of the US and Spain reached an agreement on Nov. 28, but did not reveal the contents. A newspaper therefore guessed at the scope of Philippine territory demanded by the US, writing: "It is believed that the definition of the limits of the Philippine group in the American demands will be as follows: From 5? 32' north latitude to 19? 38' north latitude, and from 117? east longitude to 126? east longitude, thus covering about 1,000 miles north and south and 600 miles east and west." \nThis report shows that the most northerly point of the Philippine group of islands as agreed to by Spain and accepted by the US was south of the 20th parallel. This rumor was later verified by the official agreement. \nThe US and Spain then signed a peace treaty in Paris on Dec.10, 1898. Article 3 of the treaty specifies that Spain should cede the Philippine islands it occupied to the US, as defined in terms of longitude and latitude. The text of Article 3 reads: "Spain hereby cedes to the United States the archipelago known as the Philippines Islands, and comprehending the islands lying within the following line: A line running from West to East along or near the Twentieth (20th) parallel of North latitude, and through the middle of the navigable channel of Bashi, from the one hundred and eighteenth (118th) to the one hundred and twenty-seventh (127th) degree meridian of longitude East of Greenwich, thence along the one hundred and twenty-seventh (127th) degree meridian of longitude East of Greenwich to the ..." \nIn 1895, Spain had not defined "the middle of the navigable channel of Bashi." The negotiations between Spain and the US in 1898 clearly specified that it was located on the "20th parallel of the North latitude" and officially recognized that the islands north of this line belonged to Japan. Spain's representatives during the negotiations insisted that the US' representatives only could take possession of the islands south of the 20th parallel. This was accepted by the US and the border was set at the 20th parallel. \nRegardless of how the Bashi Strait is defined, Spain said during the negotiations with the US that it could not cede to the US islands that did not belong to Spain. They insisted that the border be drawn along the 20th parallel. It is also important to recognize that when Spain and the US signed the peace treaty in Paris, Spain respected the regulations of the 1895 agreement between Spain and Japan. \nFurthermore, how is "the middle of the navigable channel of Bashi" related to the 20th parallel? As the Spanish negotiator at the time understood it, the Bashi Strait is the strait stretching from Taiwan to Luzon Island, which places the middle along the 20th parallel. The Spanish representative opposed the US representative's position that the area south of 21 degrees 30 minutes north latitude should be ceded to the US. \nFollowing navigation practice at the time, there were two navigable lanes in the Bashi Strait: one was the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Batan Islands, and the other was the Balintang Channel between the Batan Islands and the Babuyan Islands. At the time -- 1895 to 1898 -- the Bashi Channel was not the navigable sea lane normally used. Ships at the time were not as powerful, so boats and ships traveling to Taiwan or Japan would normally go through the Balintang Channel when passing west of Luzon. After reaching the Pacific, they would turn north and aim for the south of Taiwan or directly for Japan. \nThis sea lane follows the Japan Current, and was probably the main sea lane at the time. This is the case in sea lane charts in many books from that time. Boats would not cross the Balintang Channel into the Bashi Channel only to then cross the Bashi Channel to reach the Pacific, because such a route would encounter a powerful counter-current branching off the Japan Current which flows from the east to the west, making it an inappropriate route. \nBased on this, Spain probably conducted its negotiations with both Japan and the US based on the contemporary understanding of what constituted the navigable sea lane: "the middle of the navigable channel of Bashi" was the channel along the 20th parallel, which today is called the Balintang Channel. \nIn a letter to US Secretary of State John Hay on Jan. 12, 1899, John Bassett Moore, legal council to the US negotiation delegation, wrote that he believed the dispute regarding the Batan Islands located north of the 20th parallel could be discussed with Japan and resolved by reaching an agreement. The US government did not accept Moore's suggestion, and on Jan. 10, 1900, it sent troops to occupy the Batan Islands. \nWas that a rightful occupation? As explained above, the Batan Islands were not "no man's land," but should be considered as belong to Japan which, however, never had occupied them. It seems the US thus had no right to occupy them based on the claim that the islands were no man's land. The US occupation was tantamount to invasion. \nBy unilaterally extending Philippine territory from the 20th parallel to the 21st parallel without prior negotiations with Taiwan, the "Republic Act No. 3046: Act to define the baseline of the territorial sea of the Philippines" promulgated by the Philippine government on June 17, 1961 clearly conflicted with the Treaty of Paris between the US and Spain. \nRegardless, from the perspective of international law, the arrangement concerning the Batan Islands set up by the US and Spain in treaty form in 1898 confirmed that the islands were part of the territory of Taiwan, which at the time was under Japanese control. An international treaty should hold more binding power than the unclear 1895 agreement between Spain and Japan. \nThe Philippines' unilateral action in 1961 cannot invalidate the 1898 Paris Treaty between the US and Spain, because that treaty involves the territory of a third party. The Philippines cannot unilaterally define its northern border without consultations with that third party. From a juridical perspective, the legitimacy of the Philippine occupation of the Batan Islands is questionable. \nChen Hurng-yu is a professor of history at National Chengchi University. \nTranslated by Perry Svensson
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