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Sino-Philippines Relations: Baselines Law

Updated On: Mar 16, 2009

The Philippines has asserted its sovereignty over specific maritime territories with the enactment of the baselines law, Speaker Prospero Nograles.

President Arroyo has quietly signed the baselines law which includes in the the disputed parts of the Spratlys in the South China Sea to affirm its national sovereignty and national interests in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (Unclos).

A law defining the maritime limits of the country is a requirement of the United Nations under the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). The Philippines and other countries that signed the convention, which came into force in 1994, have until May 13 to submit the dimensions of their continental shelf.

Unclos that requires countries to amend their baselines laws before May 2009. The baseline law is a technical adjustment of the base points and baselines under those provided under RA 3046 and 5446, which are not Unclos-compliant as they came into effect before the Unclos was signed in 1982.

RA 9522, together with geographic coordinates and the charts and maps indicating the country’s revised baselines, will be deposited and registered with the UN secretary-general. The National Mapping and Resource Information Authority will produce and publish charts and maps based on the base points and baselines set in RA 9552.

With the Baselines Act taking into effect soon, the Philippines will submit its claim to the extended continental shelf—underwater land rich in natural resources extending from the exposed islands—to the United Nations body that handles the implementation of the Unclos.

The Republic Act (RA) 9552 will take effect 15 days from its publication in the Official Gazette or in two national newspapers. From the Filipino perspective, whatever action to be contested will have to be done in accordance with the Code of Conduct between Asean and China. According to the Filipino perspective, in crafting the law, Philippine officials took into account the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea agreed upon by China and the Asean in November 2002

RA 9522 “affirms that the Republic of the Philippines has dominion, sovereignty and jurisdiction over all portions of the national territory as defined in the Constitution and by provisions of applicable laws including, without limitation, Republic Act 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991, as amended.” The code of conduct prevents parties from engaging in any activities that will disturb the status quo in the disputed islands of Spratlys.

The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines immediately expressed strong opposition and solemn protest, and reiterated that Huangyan Island and Nansha Islands have always been parts of Chinese territory and that the People’s Republic of China has indisputable sovereignty over these islands and their adjacent waters. The statement also called the Filipino law illegal and invalid.

Beijing’s previous acts of building military structures in the disputed reefs triggered Filipino displeasure. Huangyan Island is what China calls Scarborough Shaol, while it refers to the Spratlys group as Nansha Islands.

This is a reiteration of China’s earlier protest against Section 2 of the baselines bill—retained in RA 9552 which classified the disputed Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal as a regime of islands under the Republic of the Philippines.

China so far has been making all the protests bilaterally and did not want to take it up in the meetings of Asean +3. Vietnam also has urged the Philippines to refrain from taking action that might complicate the dispute.

Sources:

Gonzalez, Mia M. and Estrella Torres, “Baselines bill signed; China protests” dated 12 March 2009 in the Business Mirror website [downloaded on 12 March 2009], available at http://businessmirror.com.ph/home/top-news/7365-baselines-bill-signed-ch...

Guinto, Joel, Lira Dalangin-Fernandez and Veronica Uy, "RP can’t compromise national sovereignty": dated 13 March 2009 in the INQUIRER.net and The Associated Press websites [downloaded on 13 March 2009], available at http://globalnation.inquirer.net/news/breakingnews/view/20090313-193969/...