Philippines uses 18th-century English aristocrat’s map to claim disputed islands
Philippines government to take 1734 document to UN tribunal to support its demand that China leaves the Scarborough Shoal
A 281-year-old map from the collection of an English duke is to be put forward by the government of the Philippines to support its claim to islands in the South China Sea that are presently being fortified by China.
The Philippines government has said it will submit the map, drawn up in Manila in 1734 by Pedro Murillo Velarde, a Jesuit priest, to the United Nations Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in The Hague as soon as this week, according to the Vera Files website.
The map shows islands that are now known as Scarborough Shoals, marked as Panacot, as part of Philippines territory. They are shown around 120 miles off the west coast of the main Philippine island of Luzon.
The map shows islands that are now known as Scarborough Shoals, marked as Panacot, as part of Philippines territory (Library of Congress)
The Philippine government is calling on the UN to recognise its claim to sovereignty over the islands and to call on Beijing to withdraw.
The map was sold at Sotheby’s auction house in London in November at the request of the Duke of Northumberland.
The duke sold the map, along with around 80 other family heirlooms, after serious flooding affected his properties in April 2012. Media reports suggested that the duke faced a repair bill for £12 million after the waters subsided.
The map was put up for auction on November 4, with the Sotheby’s catalogue describing the 44-inch by 47-inch engraved map as being “the first scientific map of the Philippines” of its time.
With light browning along the creases, the map is flanked by a series of 12 engravings depicting people in native costumes, a map of the island that is today known as Guam and smaller maps of cities and harbours in the Pacific.
Sotheby’s estimated that the item would sell for between £20,000 and £30,000, but it quickly outstripped those predictions and was eventually sold for £170,500 to a Filipino businessman.
Panacot, circled, in the Murillo map (Library of Congress)
Mel Velarde, president of an information technology company called Now Corporation, said he first became interested in the map because he shared a family name with the priest who had first published it.
He told the Vera Files that his interest increased when he realised that it “proved” the Philippines’ claim to the islands.
The bidding quickly reached the £80,000 limit that Mr Velarde had initially set himself.
But after a “vision” of Chinese soldiers occupying the islands, Mr Velarde said it “became a personal crusade” to buy the map because the Philippines’ claim needs to be backed up by evidence.
Asked why he had paid so much for the map, Mr Velarde said, “There’s a bully in the neighbourhood. He already took over our land.”
The Philippines accused China of seizing the islands in 2012
Mr Velarde has decided to donate the original map to the National Museum but has had a number of copies printed. He will present one of those copies to Benigno Aquino, the president of the Philippines, on June 12, the anniversary of the nation’s independence.
Another copy will be delivered to the UN as Manila seeks arbitration in the territorial dispute.
The Philippines accuses China of seizing the islands in 2012, when ships of the two nations were involved in a stand-off. When the smaller Philippine force had to withdraw, the Chinese occupied the islands.
In January 2013, the Philippines requested international arbitration in the case and, the following year, submitted a 4,000-page dossier to support its claim of sovereignty.
Beijing has ignored requests to take part in arbitration procedures.