The Tales of the Pearl and the Dragon
Illustration by Karez Capa
In the mountainous outlands of Northern Luzon, there lay a village called Hannanga where a warrior by the name of Aliguyon was born. He was intelligent, skillful and eager to learn about warfare and magic. Aliguyon was crafted into a leader whom the villagers looked up to with awe, even as a child.
The Southeast region of Asia is home to the Pearl of the Orient seas — the Philippines. It is an archipelago with over 7,641 islands, 534 more from the previous figure reported, known for its rich biodiversity. With its tropical climate and wide array of flora and fauna, the Philippines is considered to be one of the most sought-after tourist destinations on the globe.
As Aliguyon departed from his youth, he took on the task of ending the long–standing territorial dissension between their tribe and Daligdigan, a village ruled by Pangaiwan. He challenged Pangaiwan to a duel to resolve their feud. However, it was the leader’s son, Pumbakhayon, who accepted the challenge, since his adeptness paralleled that of Aliguyon.
With the Philippines striving to progress as a country, it has also taken under its wing the responsibility of ensuring the protection of its territory. However, despite the provisions enshrined in its constitution and the support provided by international laws, its sovereignty over certain regions is often questioned.
Islands located within the vicinity of the South China Sea have been claimed by various countries such as Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and China. Among these countries, it was China that has been the Philippines’ toughest competition. Their feud dates back from as early as 1988 when China seized Subi Reef and consequently claimed Mischief Reef in 1995 through the erection of Chinese military facilities.
The territorial dispute between the Philippines and China toned down in the succeeding years, but flared up once more in 2011 in the Quirino Atoll when a Chinese frigate fired shots against Philippine fishing boats. With the Atoll as the last straw, the Philippines retaliated by increasing its military presence along its western borders and addressing these waters as the West Philippine Sea.
For over three years, the battle between Aliguyon and Pumbakhayon raged. There was no sign of a victor between the two, for neither was willing to show defeat. The battle was said to be tedious, and it only involved a single weapon: a spear Aliguyon missed hitting Pumbakhayon with.
Since then, the contest between the two countries has not rested. In 2012, China began to patrol the Scarborough Shoal, an area that is situated within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone. Because of the continuous standoff between their respective military forces, both parties decided to impose a fishing ban which was later renounced by China in 2014 unbeknownst to the Philippines.
It was in 2013 that the Philippines decided to file a case against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, backed by the United Nations. Although China refused to acknowledge the case, the Philippines persisted to fight for what they believe was theirs with the constitution and international laws as their bases.
China responded by adding a 10th dash to their controversial “nine-dash line” map which traverses the EEZs of other countries. However, the claims made by China remain to be plainly “historical” due to the absence of specific coordinates and a legal basis. As a result of their dismissiveness, the case remained at a deadlock.
As time flew by, Aliguyon and Pumbakhayon saw no point in continuing their brawl with both having grown to admire and respect the other. Instead, they drafted a treaty to uphold peace between the regions of Hannanga and Daligdigan, a decision their people readily supported.
In July 2016, the Philippines received the upper hand after being favored by the international tribunal as announced by the PCA. China, on the other hand, rejected the ruling and even referred to it as “ill-founded.” They believed that the verdict was prejudiced since one of the judges was from their rival country, Japan. Subsequently, they considered the decision null and void.
In spite of talks of a prospective war between them, the two countries resorted to a peaceful form of resolution. President Rodrigo Duterte, during a state visit to Beijing last October 2016, coordinated with the Chinese government to pave the way for bilateral dialogue mechanisms to prosper. During the same visit, both parties commenced the finalization of agreements and Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) which they hope would contribute in establishing stronger ties between states.
Aliguyon and Pumbakhayon became good friends. When the time came for both men to choose their mates, they opted to marry someone from each other’s lineage. Aliguyon took the latter’s younger sister, Bugan, into his household until she was old enough to marry him. Pumbakhayon, on the other hand, asked for Aliguyon’s sister’s hand in marriage.
As of today, how the Tale of Aliguyon ended could not speak the same for the current state of the Philippine-Chinese relations. The disagreement between these countries endures as of the time of writing. Despite the efforts to put a stop to these conflicts, it remains at an impasse. However, these efforts are a start. It is the beginning of what people aspire to be the last chapter of the territorial dispute existing between these countries.
At present, The Tale of Aliguyon is considered to be a “hudhud,” a long tale sung in moments of celebration. This one is specifically sung during harvest, a time for the natives to remember the hero they call Aliguyon.
Hopefully, time would come when the aforementioned events would falter into nothing more than text in history books or newspaper clippings stored in archives. Soon, people of both Filipino and Chinese descent might simply look back at them as a celebration of peace. These misfortunes would be nothing more than a reminder of The Tales of the Pearl and the Dragon.