Vol. XXII, No. 126 [ BusinessWorld Online ]
Wednesday, January 28, 2009 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES
THE SENATE has approved on second reading a measure that would delineate the country’s territorial boundaries in a bid to beat a midyear deadline under international law.
The foreign relations committee, chaired by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, has endorsed the measure’s approval, which treated the contested Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) and the Scarborough Shoal as "regime of islands," where each island has its own territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
The measure supported Malacañang’s position that the contested island groups should be treated as regime of islands to eliminate diplomatic protests from claimants.
Its counterpart, House Bill No. 3216, that encloses KIG and Scarborough Shoal as part of the baselines, has been approved on second reading in December 2007, but was recommitted after the Palace intervened due to China’s protests.
The United Nations (UN), under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), has declared that the Philippines, among other archipelagic states, should submit its claim for an extended continental shelf before May 13, 2009.
"Unless we pass a new baselines law, our present law will not be UNCLOS-compliant. No modern baselines law, no extended continental shelf," Ms. Santiago said in recommending the measure’s plenary approval.
Ms. Santiago explained that the Senate is "constrained" to observe the regime of islands principle, which was provided for under Article 121 of the UNCLOS, since several countries have claims to the KIG and Scarborough Shoal.
Aside from the Philippines, Brunei, China, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim the KIG in part or as a whole. The area is believed to contain large deposits of oil and gas.
Scarborough Shoal, on the other hand, is claimed by the Philippines, China and Taiwan.
Ms. Santiago said that under several declarations signed by the Philippines and other state parties, the claimants should observe status quo and resolve territorial disputes by peaceful means.
"If the baselines bill includes the contested islands inside our archipelagic baselines, our law might be upheld by the Philippine Supreme Court, but it will certainly be rejected by an international court or tribunal," she said, adding no domestic law can override an international law.
"The bill would not only be useless but also harmful, because we would incur the unnecessary ire and possible retribution of our neighbor states who are also claimants. The regime of islands principle adopted by the bill sufficiently protects our claim," she said. — Bernard U. Allauigan