I’M really convinced that Aquino 3rd’s Foreign secretary, Albert del Rosario, hasn’t really read the 479-page decision by an arbitral panel on the suit that the Aquino 3rd administration brought against China in January 2013 and which he is so proud of. Or maybe he dozes off in the middle of reading it?
Harsh words, but that is the only explanation I can think of why he can’t understand what is so plain: if we comply with the arbitration award, we lose the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG). And he has never commented on this issue I’ve raised several times.
Ferdinand Marcos Sr. carved this territory out of the Spratlys in 1978 through his Presidential Decree 1596, 16 years before the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) took effect in 1994. We could do so since other than Marcos’ audacity, we were the US’ staunchest and most powerful ally in Southeast Asia. The KIG consisted not only of islands, rocks, atolls within that hexagon, but all the waters within it.
Yet Aquino 3rd’s lawyers in the arbitration hearing claimed that the Philippines’ signing of the Unclos in effect repealed that presidential decree. The arbitration’s rulings on what are legitimate baselines (i.e., the means for determining an island’s territorial sea and exclusive economic zone), the lawyers claimed, meant that the KIG was illegal under Unclos.
The US State Department issued this month its “Limits in the Seas No. 150” which fully supported the arbitration award, that China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea are illegal.
I’m glad this was issued as it has pictures — maps — which would help del Rosario understand the KIG issue.
Figure 1 is a detail of an official map I had asked the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority to provide me. This detail shows of course the Kalayaan Island Group, the violet, dashed line its borders, with even a note “Presidential Decree No. 1596” as its legal basis. What is not indicated in that map is that while the Philippines occupies eight islands and islets there, five other nations — China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Malaysia — occupy 29 features.
Figure 2, on the other hand, is from page 21 of the US State Department’s “Limits in the Seas No. 150”, its report on China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea,, a map of the Spratlys which it says should be drawn, i.e., in compliance with the arbitral award.
The KIG’s hexagon is gone, and what remains are the islands occupied by the six nations, with the circles around them representing their 12-nautical mile territorial sea. The US “Limits” in this map depicts the rulings of the arbitration panel, which it totally supports.
The KIG as created by Marcos had 230,000-square kilometers of land and water territory. We lose 97 percent of this territory if we comply with the arbitration award since what would be left are the land areas of the eight “rocks” we occupy that the award declared as such — but which we have treated as islands such as Pag-Asa island — and their territorial seas that extend 12 nautical miles seawards.
If we comply with the arbitral award, all but 3 percent of the area Marcos created as Philippine territory will no longer be our territory but international waters, which not so coincidentally the US Navy wants so it can freely roam the Spratlys even with nuclear-armed submarines without having to get the permission of any state.
The Philippines was actually both the US’ tool and sacrificed pawn in the arbitration suit against China, which was the brainchild of Washington. Most of the issues that the Aquino government raised in that suit — especially on China’s “nine-dash line” had been raised by the US State Department and American academics years ago, even officially in its No. 117 instalment of its “Limits in the Seas” series, dated July 1996.
It never got traction in the world’s attention since the US really didn’t have any business issuing their views. It didn’t ratify Unclos which it cites in these studies. It also wasn’t a claimant in the South China Sea disputes.
But with an international body, the panel in the Philippine suit versus China, ruling what the US has been arguing, the American position has become, as it wants to portray it, “international law.
Why did Aquino 3rd’s lawyers themselves discredit our KIG’s status? Because the KIG’s creation and features were nearly based on the justifications for many of China’s claims, which were through its government’s official declarations. For instance, the ratio of land to water of the KIG in fact was much lower than that established for the Paracel islands that China controls. Aquino’s US lawyers even claimed that KIGs justification is on the same level as that of China’s controversial nine-dash line — edicts by a single state claiming “historical rights.”
What is so unfair to us though, and one argument that debunks the arbitration rulings and the US’ views, is that many countries in the world in fact do not comply with these.
The arbitration award and the US claim that Unclos does not allow archipelagos to have straight baselines. But here are 16 countries other than China and the Philippines that have outlying archipelagos, with their EEZs defined by straight baselines. Well known among these are France’s New Caledonia, Spain’s Canary islands, Portugal’s Azores, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, the United Kingdom’s (disputed by Argentina) Falkland Islands and Denmark’s Faroe Islands.
The arbitration ruled that only islands can have EEZS. But Japan, among many other countries, has claimed an EEZ around the Okinotorishima reef, which has a land area of just nine square meters, or about the size of a bedroom, but which the Japanese expanded to about two football fields through land reclamation. Japan vigorously claims that this tiny reef has an EEZ of 430,000 sq km. The Philippines’ largest island in the Spratlys, Pag-Asa, has an area of 37 hectares, while the four others are 6 to 19 hectares in size. Yet the arbitration ruling says that these can’t have EEZs.
These two situations of many countries is one reason why, contrary to del Rosario’s pipe dreams, there is no growing sentiment in the world to support the arbitration award. Four years after it was handed down, it is still the US with its usual handful of puppets that support it.
It is hilarious that del Rosario in his press statement on the release of the US ‘Limits’ study said: “What is remarkable in the 2022 study of the US State Department is that it draws heavily from the 2016 arbitral ruling won by the Philippines in The Hague against China,” he said.
The puppet thinks he is the master. It is the other way around. Aquino’s Washington-based US lawyers in the suit in fact got so many inputs from the State Department for their arbitration filing, that its bureaucrats felt they should get some credit, which they got by issuing the No. 143 instalment of the “Limits in the Seas” series, “Chinas Maritime Claims and Boundaries,” September 2014. That study was really the bare-bones edition of the Philippines arbitration suit.
We’re very fortunate that President Duterte shelved the arbitration award, so we still have our KIG, really a crown jewel of our Republic and a leverage in our South China Sea disputes.
No official map though
The Philippines so far hasn’t enacted the necessary laws to officially declare whether or not the arbitration has resulted in the dissolution of the KIG as defined by PD 1596. As a result, the government has not yet issued an official map after the arbitral decision that would show if the KIG has been dissolved.
The (Namria, the agency authorized to produce the country’s official maps) replied to this author’s query on whether the country still maintains the KIG as defined by PD 1596 as follows: “The information requested is actually related to national security, defense or international relations, and are exceptions to the right of access to information.”
The Namria also stated that it has produced no official map of the Philippines as a consequence of the arbitration ruling. “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 filed in January but is still pending at the committee on foreign relations. Defining a country’s territorial sea and EEZ is perhaps not a priority issue for Philippine legislators or they simply lack the knowledge to make informed decisions on such a sensitive subject matter.
For all the rants by the likes of del Rosario and military officials over defending the country’s territorial sea and EEZ, the Philippines doesn’t even have a map to show the exact breadth of its island possessions and maritime areas.
(Note: All the above claims are appropriately “footnoted” in my book Debacle: Debacle: The Aquino Regime’s Scarborough Fiasco and the South China Sea Arbitration Deception. The book was scheduled to be released first week of January but has been delayed due to pandemic-related labor shortages at the printing press. My apologies to those who pre-ordered. Certain though to be released by the end of this month.)
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