In celebration of the National Archives Month and the first anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Archives, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and the DFA Archives co-hosted a special Mabini Dialogue, “Archival Scholarship in the Maritime Disputes in Southeast Asia,” with Prof. Ulises Granados of the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) as the guest speaker at the Bulwagang Apolinario Mabini, DFA Building, Pasay City, on 30 October 2015.
In his lecture, Prof. Granados said that archival documents are important as they preserve a society’s memory, cultural heritage, and sense of identity. Politically, archival research can be used to chronicle the actions made by the government toward a particular claim or objective, including claims to territories. Archival research can also be used to fill the gaps in narratives or find loopholes in the historical narratives being asserted by other countries. Finally, archival research can allow governments to trace previous economic engagements with other states and identify new economic opportunities.
Prof. Granados also mentioned some challenges to the conduct of archival research. First is the need to digitize old documents to preserve them from physical deterioration and to make them more accessible to the public. Another challenge is the declassification of documents due to national security concerns and other political considerations. This can constrain the ability of scholars to conduct archival research.
Dr. Ferdinand Llanes of University of the Philippines Diliman and Dr. Renato De Castro of De La Salle University were the discussants for the lecture. Dr. Llanes emphasized the colonial nature of archival scholarship in the Philippines, as the Spaniards and the Americans have in their possession critical archival documents about the country. In addition, relevant information about the Philippines’ past can be sourced not only from archival documents but also from archaeological data. Ancient boats, trade wares, and other artifacts significantly reflect the maritime heritage of the country. He also stressed that there should be greater appreciation of the value of archival research and history in general among Filipinos.
Dr. De Castro, meanwhile, noted how history can be used and abused by some parties toward particular political ends. In light of the ongoing maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, historical narratives can be utilized to demonstrate that the sea has been a bridge that united connected people rather than separated them. Archival research can also remind Filipinos about their long maritime heritage.
Finally, the discussion also stressed that while archival research can be used in proving claims to territories, the case may be different for maritime disputes as it is already the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that serves as the international standard on issues relating to the seas.