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High court upholds legality of law defining boundaries

Posted on August 16, 2011 10:36:31 PM [ BusinessWorld Online ]

THE SUPREME COURT has upheld the constitutionality of a law which defines the Philippine territory despite opposition from experts who claim that it weakens claim on disputed islands west of the country.
In its weekly en banc session yesterday, the high court, voting unanimously, upheld the legality of Republic Act (RA) 9522 or the Archipelagic Baselines Law, which was enacted in 2009.

Details of the decision were not immediately available.

RA 9522, which delineated the Philippine territory, amended RA 3046 to comply with treaty obligations under the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). RA 3046, enacted in 1961, defined the baselines of the territorial sea of the Philippines.

Apart from declaring the Philippines as an archipelagic state, the law also declared the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal as "regimes of islands" under the UNCLOS, defined as islands which are naturally formed areas of land, surrounded by water, which are above water at high tide.

A group of professors and students from the University of the Philippines, led by international law expert Merlin M. Magallona, questioned the law before the Supreme Court, saying that the declaration weakens the claim of the country to the two disputed territories.

They noted that declaring the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal as a "regime of islands" was an admission that the resource-rich areas do not form part of the Philippine territory despite their proximity to the western province of Palawan.

They said the law violates the constitutional duty to protect the exclusive marine wealth and offshore fishing grounds of local fishermen.

The area is under dispute with China and other claimants to the Spratly Islands, which group Kalayaan and Scarborough, namely, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei Darrusalam.

Tensions have risen in recent months over allegations that Chinese vessels have harassed Philippine fishing boats.

The government has called for an international body such as the United Nations to resolve the conflict, but Beijing has maintained that all discussions should be on a bilateral basis.

President Benigno S. C. Aquino III, who is scheduled to visit China by the end of the month, said he will raise the issue with his Chinese counterparts.

The issue has even solicited concerns from the United States which has noted the need to maintain free access in the area.

The old law (RA 3046) delineated the Philippine baselines according to the territory ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris concluded between the United States and Spain on Dec. 10, 1898. -- NRM

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