FINALLY, the Congress has moved to enact a law that would define our maritime zones, most especially our exclusive economic zones (EEZ). Such a law would also allow us to have a current official map, which only the National Mapping and Resources Information Authority (Namria) is authorized to undertake. The House of Representatives in May passed such a bill to create the “Philippine Maritime Zones Act.” Eight senators introduced individually bills for the same purpose.
However, these bills have not yet been consolidated into a single bill to be voted upon by the Senate.
That seems to be good news, as it clearly and finally defines our land territory and our maritime zones, especially our exclusive economic zone. After two decades, we will have an official map. The existing maps depict Philippine territory as defined under the 1898 Treaty of Paris plus the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), which encompasses most of the Spratlys and is also claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.
I filed two “freedom-of-information” requests in January and July 2021, asking Namria to provide me with such an official map of the Philippines.
Namria denied the requests, saying in response to the first request: “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.”
Namria replied to my second attempt. It said 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 ongoing at this time.” The Philippines is probably the only nation in the world that considers public access to the making of the nation’s official map to endanger national security.
But if our Coast Guard and even the Navy don’t have an official map of the Philippines, how can they claim that the Chinese coast guard they find in a particular place is violating our territory?
However, the very bad news is that under a “Maritime Zones Law,” we will lose our Kalayaan Island Group, which comprises 19 percent of our territory as currently defined. Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr., through Presidential Decree 1596 in 1978, boldly annexed that hexagonal area in the disputed Spratlys and called it the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG). It encompasses a huge area that includes many small islands and over 100 tiny reefs, as well as the waters encompassed by it. The decree provided the exact geodesic points defining the hexagon.
However, the panel that heard the Philippine suit against China ruled that under the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), the KIG violates the guidelines for an archipelago. It declared that the KIG is similar to China’s nine-dash (now 10-dash) line that encompasses a huge part of the South China Sea and which the arbitration ruling declared as without basis under Unclos.
Paragraph 574 of the arbitral ruling pointed out that “the Philippines could not declare archipelagic baselines surrounding the Spratly Islands.” It explained: “Article 47 of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, or Unclos, limits the use of archipelagic baselines to circumstances where ‘within such baselines are included the main islands and an area in which the ratio of the area of the water to the area of the land, including atolls, is between 1 to 1 and 9 to 1.” And paragraph 599: “The ratio of water to land in the Spratly Islands would greatly exceed 9:1 under any conceivable system of baselines. Indeed, 98 percent of the Spratlys is made up of water.”
Since their agenda was mainly to get the panel to rule the nine-dash line illegal, Aquino 3rd’s lawyers threw the KIG under the bus. They lied to the arbitration panel, saying that the Marcos decree creating the KIG had been repealed. In the panel’s hearing on July 7, 2015, one of the panel members interpellated one Aquino lawyer, Philippe Sands, on whether he was aware of what “Presidential Decree (PD) 1596 of the Philippines” means in terms of the dispute.
Sands replied: “Under Philippine law, as a treaty lawfully entered into by the Philippines, Unclos is part of internal law, and it has the same status as national legislation. And that means, to the extent that PD 1956 might be inconsistent with Unclos, PD 1956 is to be treated as having been effectively repealed by the Philippines’ subsequent ratification of Unclos, under the principle of ‘ex posteriori derogat priori,’ which means that a ‘new statute takes away the effect of a prior one.'”
Since we are the only party that committed to complying with the ruling of the panel that heard the arbitration suit, we have to comply with all of its findings. Indeed, all eight bills proposing a Maritime Zones Act had this paragraph:
“Other rights of the Philippines relative to its maritime zones and entitlements shall be exercised in accordance with the Unclos, the awards rendered by the arbitral tribunal in Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) Case No. 2013-19, in the matter of the South China Sea arbitration between the Republic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China, handed down on July 12, 2016 at The Hague.”
How much do we lose if we comply with the arbitration award? The 230,000 square meters that is the KIG’s area, which is 19 percent of our existing territory of 1.2 million square kilometers. We are left with a minuscule 3,600 square kilometers of territory in the Spratlys, which is the area of the features we occupy plus their territorial seas as defined by the Unclos. Under the arbitration panel award, all the features we occupy in the KIG are entitled only to a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea. The arbitration panel even ruled that our so-obvious island, Pag-asa Island, is not an island but just a rock.
Our top officials, civilian and military, are really confused when they beat their chests to declare that they will fight to the last man so that they “will not lose an inch of territory.” Aren’t they aware that Congress will be enacting a law that would make us lose 19 percent of our territory?
Marcos Jr. should study deeply the suit that Aquino 3rd filed against China. It was a scheme by the US to demonize China by portraying but not really proving that its claims in the South China Sea are without basis, to force it to move totally out of that sea so that there would only be one hegemon — the US — in Southeast Asia. The US also wanted an international body to invoke Unclos provisions to declare that the islands and reefs occupied by China, the Philippines and Vietnam are not entitled to EEZs, so that the area would be indisputably international waters and therefore its warships, even those that are nuclear-armed, wouldn’t need these nations’ permission to pass through.
The arbitration suit was also intended to expand the US’ freedom of navigation area for its warship patrols in the South China Sea so it could continue to project its power and contain the emerging superpower in the region, China.
What the father built, the son dismantled. I’m very sure Marcos Jr. wouldn’t like to be known for that.
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