FOR all the previous Aquino 3rd administration’s fixation (or pretended concern) over Philippine sovereign rights in the South China Sea, as defined by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), it didn’t bother with actually producing an official map that shows the breadth of both our territorial sea and its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Officially therefore, we still can’t claim where our maritime zones (EEZ and territorial sea) begin and end.
This only confirms my thesis that the Aquino regime and the likes of his foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and foremost Sinophobe Antonio Carpio weren’t really concerned about our nation’s sovereignty and sovereign rights. Carpio’s maps, as well as those presented by the Philippines in the arbitration suit, are therefore spurious in that they are not official maps.
The arbitration they forced on China was really intended to pressure it to agree to – as the then solicitor-general Florin Hilbay only recently confirmed – a joint development for gas and oil extraction in the Reed Bank between the Chinese firm and First Pacific Co. in which, not coincidentally, del Rosario has been an officer for decades.
The US enthusiastically supported the suit against China as it demonized its rival superpower as an expansionist power in the South China Sea. The arbitral panel also ruled that practically most of that sea are international waters, with just islets and rocks entitled only to tiny 12-nautical mile territorial seas – allowing US warships, conventional or nuclear, to roam there as they please, without the need to announce their presence.
However, the arbitration suit and the claims of Aquino’s American lawyers so muddled our territorial and maritime-area claims that the sole agency authorized to produce the official Philippine map, the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (Namria), has refused to produce an official map of the country that would show its territory, its territorial waters and its exclusive economic zone.
I filed in January a freedom-of-information request asking Namria to provide me with such an official map of the Philippines, which I thought was such a simple request, as I couldn’t find any anywhere.
Namria, to my surprise, denied my request, saying: “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.” The last such bill during this administration was in January but is still pending at the committee on foreign relations. Our Congress obviously does not think that defining our territorial sea and EEZ is important.
I filed another request in July, which was also denied, Namria saying in its July 19 letter that it was invoking “exceptions to the right of access to information due to national security, defense or international relations since inter-agency consultations are still on-going at this time.” Where else in the world is a nation’s official map a matter of national security?
I do understand Namria’s paralysis as there are two major factors that have confused our territorial and maritime claims, all due to the arbitration suit that we filed against China.
First, Aquino’s American lawyers claimed that since the passing of the so-called “Baselines Law” in 2009 the Philippines repudiated the definition of the country’s territory as stipulated in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, in which Spain ceded its Philippine colony to the US. If this is shown in official maps, that would be earthshaking as most existing official maps define Philippine territory as that defined by the Treaty of Paris.
Second, Aquino’s American lawyers claimed that the hexagonal area that is the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) created as a Philippine sovereign territory created under Marcos’ Presidential Decree 1596 of 1978, is as illegal under Unclos as China’s nine-dash line.
Aquino’s US lawyers also asked the arbitral tribunal to rule that no feature in the Spratlys can claim a 200-nautical mile EEZ. That means even the second largest island there, our Pag-asa, has no EEZ that can encompass the vast waters and reefs in what had been the KIG.
If the arbitral ruling is to be complied with by the Philippines, our vast KIG – which is as large as the entire Mindanao area – is no more. All that we have are seven “rocks” (as defined by the arbitration ruling) which have tiny 12-nautical mile territorial seas, one reef and one shoal which have no maritime entitlements.
Seriously, do we really want to enforce the arbitration award?
These arbitral rulings weaken the Philippine Coast Guard’s legal basis when it drove away the other day an alleged Chinese warship out of what is called Marie Louise Bank about 330 kilometers from the Culion island of Palawan.
Before the arbitration’s claims and rulings, we could incontrovertibly claim that Marie Louise Bank (for which we haven’t even given a Filipino name) which is at 11°57’18” North and 116°56’20” East, is inside the KIG, which the Marcos decree created as a municipality of Palawan. The KIG’s boundary closest to Marie Louise is at 12 degrees latitude, so it is therefore 6 km within the KIG.
KIG given up
But the claims of Aquino’s lawyers and the arbitration rulings have dissolved the KIG, with the lead lawyer Paul Reichler claiming that the Philippines accession to Unclos repealed the presidential decree that created the KIG. Because of the arbitration ruling, we’ve lost our KIG. So, if we comply with those claims, Marie Louise, a completely submerged bank, is not within our territory. Also, no island occupied by the Philippines has a 12-mile territorial sea to encompass Marie Louise.
And indeed, the official Coast Guard statement explained that it drove the Chinese ship away as it was within our EEZ supposedly emanating from Palawan.
But we have not defined our EEZ, only the “baselines” (roughly the lines defining the archipelago), nor even our territorial sea. Contrary to a widespread view, the Unclos specifies only the maximum breadth of the EEZ and territorial sea, 200-nautical and 12-nautical miles, respectively. It is up to nations to define their actual breadth, whether these are at the maximum specified by Unclos or less. The baselines law did not even mention the EEZ, nor did it even define the breadth of our territorial sea.
A law is required to define these maritime claims. We still don’t have those. Laws. There is therefore yet no legal basis to say whether Marie Louis is within our EEZ or not.
Good though that because of President Duterte, we have friendly relations with China that didn’t challenge the Coast Guard’s claim that its ship was within our EEZ. If we were still under the Aquino regime with its hostile stance towards China, it would have claimed that the ship has a right to be at Marie Louise since the Philippines cannot produce any official document, any official map that it is within its EEZ.
But beyond these technicalities, an official map of our territory and waters over which we have sovereign rights is part and parcel of our being a nation. Yet we don’t have such a map. Another blow to our sense of nationalism.
Can you imagine our thousands of classrooms for our students having no official Philippine map? Those “Philippine” maps you see in bookstores are spurious.
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