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The New Philippine Baselines Law And The Spratlys Dispute

March 12, 2009


The government of the day has decided to push the envelope in its territorial dispute with China over the comparatively small region of the Spratlys off northwestern Palawan.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo must have felt she was caught between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea in terms of meeting a supposed May 13, 2009 deadline set in the United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea for nations to file claims defining their extended continental shelf, and of  not ruffling Beijing’ feathers.

The rich mineral resources believed  nesting under the Spratlys which some have estimated to be worth upwards of 20-billion dollars certainly factors into the dispute given how expanded continental shelves are reckoned compared to other parameters in the definition of a nation’s boundaries.


But China’s immediate protest of Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to sign the new Philippine Archipelagic Baselines Law cannot but raise renewed concerns.

Executive Secretary Eduardo asserts the position of Manila quite boldly:

We are sending the message to the whole world that we are affirming our national sovereignty and protecting our national interest. This is the right thing to do. “Whatever problems we may have [on the contested territories], whatever action will have to be contested, will have to be done with the code of conduct agreed upon by the [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and China.

Ermita is apparently referring to this key stipulation in the Code:

4. The Parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;
5. The Parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.

Taking Malacanang’s position at face value, it may be that Mrs. Arroyo is convinced fully that she has done the right thing.

I will grant her that, given that she still has 4 months left in her term.

But as an ordinary Filipino I am asking myself what will happen if China, given its previous wrangles with other countries who also claim parts of South China Sea (notably Vietnam and Taiwan), takes military action against the Philippines?

Will the Philippines be able to respond in kind to credibly assert its enactment of the new Baselines Law?


GMA also may have a new diplomatic card up her sleeve: the designation of a Permanent Ambassador to ASEAN.

Former sentor and ex-defense secretary Orly Mercado, apart from his legistave and executive department credentials, is a journalist.

Mercado began his career in the broadcasy industry with ABS-CBN, heading DZAQ Radyo Patrol which returned as DZMM in the post EDSA 1 era.

Mercado, who holds a doctorate degree, was until recently president of the seqwuestered Radio Philippines Network Channel 9.

His being posted in Jakarta will face its first test with the Spratlys dispute heating up.

Another interesting point in GMA’s signing into law of the Baselines Bill is its timing. she having just come from the annual ASEAN Summit.

It must be noted here that the Spratlys are also clamed wholly or in part by Malaysia, Brunei, along with Vietnam and Taiwan.

(Note: Deleted earlier erroneous mention of Thailand as among the claimant countries.)


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