OUTLINING THE COUNTRY’S ARCHIPELAGIC BASELINES
The Senate is now on the verge of presenting and arguing before the bicameral conference committee meeting with the House of Representatives their version in outlining the country’s territorial baselines claim over the disputed Spratly Islands, specifically that of the Kalayan Island Group and the Scarborough Shoal. This is in compliance with the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The UNCLOS allows countries to claim a 300-mile extended continental shelf and 220-mile exclusive economic zone.
Senator Mirian Defensor Santiago, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, who has declined to lead the Senate panel to argue the Senate proposal for health reason, has endorsed Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to take the cudgels for her instead. This is not only a smart choice but also her show of respect, confidence and ability in Sen. Enrile to make rational and judicious arguments that would make the House agree and adopt the Senate version of the baselines bill.
While the Senate version of the bill excludes the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) and Scarborough Shoal (SS) from the country’s archipelagic baselines, the House bill on the other hand insists that the KIG and SS are part of the territory the Philippine archipelago.
At this time when we are lagging behind in the community of nations and neighboring countries are getting ahead of us both economically and militarily and some equally claiming, either in whole or in part, this cluster of mineral-rich islets and reefs, to insist that “it is our territory” is a great folly bordering on stupid adventurism that will only reap adverse consequences.
It must be noted that giant China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are also staking claims on these islands.
Adopting therefore the Senate version of the bill treating the KIG and the SS as “regime of islands” while not ruling out that they are part of the Philippine territory is not only trying to avert tension and discord among friendly nations but is deemed to be the plausible move to make in preventing disaster.
Senate President Enrile was right in saying that “we do not have battleships and squadrons to enforce our claim of absolute entitlement over these islands”.
Long before the sleeping giant China has awaken, the Philippines was already presumptuously defining its territorial claims over the Spratlys group of islands, perhaps to the consternation of neighboring countries harboring the same motivation.
But in January 2000, long after the sleeping giant has awaken, when photographs taken by the Philippine Air Force showed a strong, permanent “military type” structure that looked more like a fortress on Mischief Reef , the eight ASEAN countries looking at the pictures could, perhaps, only have reacted in awe! It is said that the structure have expanded since setting foot on the island in 1995.
Such is one of the formidable and serious claimants we have to contend with in the region.
So where do we go from here?
The version agreed and adopted by both houses of Congress will become the law of the land and will be used as basis for the country’s stand on the “regime of islands” under the UNCLOS vis-a-vis positions of other claimant nations.
Maintaining good relations and formulating viable agreements that will be all equally beneficial to the claimant nations of the KIG and SS are the only peaceful solutions to the dispute of territorial ownership.