First of a series on our messy maritime claims
THE likes of former Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio and Aquino 3rd’s bungling former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario have been incessantly ranting against China, that it is encroaching on our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and our “West Philippine Sea” (WPS).
A bit of a problem though: we do not have an EEZ nor a territorial sea — yet. We have not enacted a law indicating these maritime areas. The government agency that has the sole authority to define such areas as provided by law and locate it in official maps says so.
We may not even have a West Philippine Sea, since President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s administrative order giving that name to the waters off the western side of the Philippine archipelago implicitly stipulated that a big part of it is the EEZ, which however really has a phantom existence at this time.
Yes in theory, we have such maritime areas, since we ratified the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (Unclos) in 1984, which stipulated that the EEZ “shall not extend beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines.”
But we have to have a domestic law to affirm that international law, which is the Unclos. This would specify the geodesic coordinates that define the EEZ. Furthermore, the documents for this would have to be submitted to the UN that would circulate it among its members to determine if it complies with the Unclos and does not encroach on EEZs and territorial seas of other countries. The necessity for such a domestic law is also obvious in that Unclos merely specified the maximum distances for the EEZ and territorial seas from the baselines.
We haven’t passed such a law defining our territorial sea and EEZ. Officially, therefore, we do not have an EEZ or even a territorial sea which we can demand our neighbors to respect. We would be just like somebody declaring that he owns this land, yet he cannot produce the court titles to it.
Is the oil-rich Reed Bank within our EEZ and therefore China had no right to shoo away the First Pacific-Enrique Razon exploration vessel that went there in 2011? We don’t know, as we do not have an official map of our Philippine EEZ.
Is Mischief Reef and four other reefs in the Spratlys, which the Chinese transformed into artificial islands to retaliate against Aquino’s filing of a suit against China in 2013, within our EEZ, as Aquino 3rd’s lawyers claimed in the suit? We cannot establish that legally, as we don’t have an official map of our EEZ.
Can we protest if the Chinese Coast Guard fires at a Philippine Navy vessel in waters off Pag-asa Island, invoking its new law authorizing it to use arms to defend its alleged sovereignty? Objectively, we can’t say. While we can claim Pag-asa Island to be ours by sheer decades of occupation which by international law is a justification for claiming sovereignty, we can’t claim the waters off it as within our EEZ — because we don’t have an official map showing they are.
Official map of the Philippines on Unclos matters; only baselines, no territorial sea, no EEZ declared yet MAP FROM NAMRIA
Malaysia obviously knew about this, when it submitted December 2019 to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf its claim — defined by geodesic coordinates — of its continental shelf in the South China Sea that encroached on waters that “in principle” is within our EEZ, but we haven’t defined so far. In its note verbale to the UN protesting the Malaysian submission, our Foreign Affairs department therefore could only say that “it intends to make a submission (to define these coordinates) at a future time.”
That we don’t have an official map of the Philippine EEZ and its territorial sea is not my speculation, but a declaration by the agency solely authorized by government to issue official maps of the country, including its maritime areas, the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (Namria).
I had been bugging the Namria for over a year to provide me a map showing the Philippines territorial sea and EEZ. I was given the runaround at its office which sells such maps. I submitted five freedom of information (FOI) requests (under President Rodrigo Duterte’s order issued a month after he assumed office), which it denied without no satisfying explanation.
The only two maps the Namria gave me were first a map titled “Philippine Administrative Map.” While it was undated, it had a notation that it was published under “Usec Diony Ventura” as administrator. Ventura was administrator from 2002 to 2010. The map curiously indicated the Philippine territory and its territorial sea as that defined by the 1898 Treaty of Paris, by which Spain ceded its colony to the US. That is, the territorial sea in this map are the waters inside the treaty limits. The map didn’t show any EEZ.
The second map shows the archipelago’s baselines, “as defined by Republic Act 9522.” The map did not show the country’s EEZs or seaward territorial sea.
(The baselines are the lines drawn between 101 points determined by its geodesic coordinates the law provided [i.e., longitudes and latitudes], which hew closely to the shape of the Philippine archipelago. While the Unclos says that the EEZ and seaward territorial seas are to be measured form these baselines [200 nautical miles for the former and 12 for the latter] the law says nothing about these maritime areas. All it stipulates is that the Philippines has “dominion, sovereignty and jurisdiction” over everything within those baselines, which are defined as its national territory.)
I finally understood why the Namria couldn’t accommodate my earlier requests when I received an email last January 22 by the head of its hydrography branch, Antonio Valenzuela Jr., responding to my last FOI request:
“We regret to inform you that we do not have an official Philippine map indicating the territorial sea, EEZ and other maritime zones since we are still awaiting for the maritime zones bill to become law. The Maritime Zones Law will be our basis in preparing the official map.”
What? We don’t have a map showing where the hell is our EEZ, while the del Rosarios and Carpios of the country have been foaming at the mouth ranting that the Chinese have been encroaching into these waters?
For all the Aquino regime’s arbitration suit versus China, which cost P1 billion (mostly fees to American firms and Philippine officials’ five-star travel expenses to the Hague) to claim that the superpower was encroaching on our EEZ, for all its massive, and expensive propaganda effort to demonize China as intruding into our West Philippine Sea, it didn’t bother to get the “title” to such maritime area that Congress could have secured.
Two bills were filed during the Aquino 3rd administration to define our territorial sea and EEZ, one in 2011 and another in 2014. Both of which were approved by the House and transmitted to the Senate, which sat on them. Four such bills were filed during Duterte’s watch, all of which were unacted upon by the different committees on foreign affairs. The last bill was filed by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez January last year, but is still pending at the Committee on Foreign Relations to this day. Our Congress obviously does not think that defining our territorial sea and EEZ is important.
We should thank Duterte for reversing the Yellows belligerent policy against China that was so long on patriotic declarations, but so short on hard evidence.
On Wednesday: Carpio and Aquino government’s fake EEZ mapsEmail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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