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Why only a West Philippine Sea?

WHILE there’s a West Philippine Sea (WPS), how come there are no equivalents to the east, north and south of the Philippines? Did our policy makers in government overlook this?

I asked these question because it’s in the east, north and south Philippine seas where large deposits of mineral resources, far greater than oil and gas deposits in WPS and South China Sea. I am referring to the vast Deuterium (a kind of green energy) deposits, worth trillion of dollars, in Southern Leyte and the Mindanao Deep.

The WPS is that portion of the South China Sea, off the western seaboard of the Philippines and within our country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf which was named as such by President Benigno Aquino III’s Administrative Order No. 29  on September 5, 2012.

Distinguished constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, observed that: “It is basic that for a country to secure the integrity of its territory, it must have a clear idea of the extent and limits of that territory.

“Unhappily, however,” said the late Dr. Galileo C. Kintanar, “because of contemporary needs, usually for economic resources, some countries assert or revive claims to areas based on smoke ancient map, document or legend not recognized by other states. Such unilateral bases are insufficient.”

Fr. Bernas explains: “For purposes of settling international conflicts … a legal instrument purporting to set out the territorial limits of the state must be supported by some recognized principle of international law.”

The 1935 Constitution of the Philippines did invoke three specific international instruments as bases for determining the territory of the Philippines: the Treaty of Paris of 10 December 1829 between the U.S. and Spain; the Treaty of Washington of 7 November 1900, also between the U.S and Spain; the treaty of January 1930 between the U.S and Great Britain. But the 1935 Constitution also added what we may call an ‘elasticity clause’ – and all territory over which the present Government of the Philippine Islands exercises jurisdiction” – which was intended particularly for the inclusion of the Batanes Islands, which were left out of the three treaties.

The 1973 Constitution also had an elasticity clause: “an all other territories belonging to the Philippines by historic right or legal title. The records of the 1971 Constitutional Convention show that this clause was intended to cover the claim to Sabah and possible claims to Freedom Land the Marianas Islands.

The order also reiterated that “the Philippine exercises sovereign jurisdiction in its EEZ with regard to the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures; marine scientific research; protection and preservation of the marine environment and other rights and duties provided for in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

Section 1 of Administrative Order No. 29 defined the coverage of the WPS as Including “the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) and Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shaol.”

Unlike the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), the Bajo de Masinloc, also locally known as Panatag Shoal, is entirely submerged.

The KIG and Bajo de Masinloc were categorically declared to be under Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction by Republic Act No. 9522 (March 2009). They were classified as “regimes of islands,” consistent with article 121 of the UNCLOS.

The KIG was made a municipality of Palawan on June 11, 1978 by President Ferdinand E. Marcos through Presidential Decree No. 1596. At the time, the Philippines had been sending troops to the area for a decade already, starting in 1968. In 1971, the islands occupied by the Philippine were named collectively as the Kalayaan Island Group, and the KIG’s occupation by the Philippines was made public through a presidential communiqué. It was also in 1971 that administration of the KIG by the Philippine government started.

In 1978, declaring that the KIG “are vital to the security and economic survival of the Philippines,” and noting that “these areas do not legally belong to any state or nation but, by and control established in accordance with the international law, such areas must now be deemed to belong and subject to the sovereignty of the Philippines,” President Marcos constituted the islands as a municipality of Palawan, under the name “Kalayaan”. Presidential Decree. No. 1596 noted that “while others states have laid claim to some of these areas, their claims have lapsed by abandonment and cannot prevail over that of the Philippines on legal, historical, and equitable grounds.”

Some of the “features” in the area covered by P.D. No. 1596 have subsequently been determined to be beyond the 200-mile limit of the exclusive economic zone, but the Recto Bank, Chinese-occupied Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef). And Philippine-occupied Pag-asa island, Patag island, Lawak island and Ayungin Shoal are within the EEZ.

In early 1995, China occupied the erstwhile unoccupied Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef). That May, two Chinese fishing boats, backed by frigates of the Chinese navy, taunted a Philippine Navy vessel. Although the two sides signed that August 1995 a “Joint Statement on the South China Sea and on Other Areas of Cooperation,” China by 1998 had developed “fisherman’s shelters” into a military garrison. The upside of the incident was that it prompted the Senate to approve the Philippine defense modernization plan and paved the way for the rebuilding of security ties with the U.S. that had been virtually scuttled after the closure of the U.S military bases in the Philippines in 1991.

About Cecilio Arillo

Cecilio T. Arillo, a veteran author-journalist. He taught undergraduate and MBA interdisciplinary studies at International Academy of Management & Economics and was president of the Philcoman Council of Management and Research Institute. Arillo is a member of the American Economic Association, the American Sociological Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Philconsa and lifetime member of National Press Club. He is also a columnist at the BusinessMirror, the Philippines' top business newspaper.

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