RP in last minute scramble to beat UN deadline

By VERA Files*

(Last of two parts)

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A month before the May 13, 2009 deadline, the Philippine government intends to submit a claim before the United Nations over its extended continental shelf, which scientists and legal experts say include the resource-rich Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) and other disputed territories.

If the UN upholds this claim, the Philippines would have the exclusive right to exploit the KIG’s vast natural resources, including an estimated 200 billion barrels of oil. The KIG is part of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea also being claimed wholly or in part by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

The huge amounts of oil, natural gas, minerals and polymetals, such as gold, silver, iron and nickel, off the seas of the KIG could “greatly contribute to the growth of the economy and uplift the socio-economic condition of the Philippines,” said the University of the Philippines Institute of International Legal Studies (UP-IILS).

But the prize that is the KIG will not come easy. Laying claim to the extended continental shelf requires a complex and concerted series of scientific, diplomatic, and legislative efforts. Scientists and academics estimate the process could take from three to 10 years and eat up billions of pesos. If the Philippines misses the deadline, it will lose its claim forever.

Stressing the importance of the claim for an extended continental shelf, Prof. Harry Roque, an international law expert, says “The majority of oil we derive today is no longer from land territory but from the continental shelf.”

The UNCLOS defines continental shelf as “the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea.” It is the natural underwater extension of the land up to the point where it either gradually descends or drops off into the ocean floor. Under UNCLOS, a continental shelf of up to 200 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline automatically belongs to a State and no proof of claim is required.

A continental shelf that goes beyond 200 nautical miles is called the outer limits or the extended continental shelf. States may claim an extended continental shelf of up to 350 nautical miles from the baseline. To prove that the continental shelf extends beyond 200 nm, a State would have to conduct hydrographic and geoscientific studies and submit the data to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). Some parts of the KIG are about 230 nautical miles from Palawan.

Atty. Henry Bensurto, head of the Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs (CMOA) Secretariat, says the government plans to submit to the CLCS on April 13, 2009 the technical data proving that the KIG and Scarborough Shoals are part of the country’s extended continental shelf. But Prof. Teodoro Santos, formerly of the UP National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS) had urged the government to submit the claim by 2007, “since the CLCS has to review the submissions and make relevant suggestions, for the State to respond to.”

Santos, in a paper presented to the UP-IILS in 2002, identified three areas where the Philippines could claim an extended continental shelf: the KIG west of Palawan; Scarborough Shoal (Isla Bajo de Masinloc) west of Zambales; and Benham Rise, off the Bicol Region in the Pacific Ocean.

Of these three areas, he said KIG is the “most promising with respect to petroleum and natural gas.” In terms of the equivalent in billion barrels of oil within the area of the KIG, he said the Chinese have the highest estimate at 100 to 200 billion barrels, with Russian sources estimating a low of seven billion barrels.

“The Scarborough shoal is made up of mid-oceanic ridges formed during the extension of the South China crust, which are presently adding to the growth of Western Luzon by accretion. Similarly, the Benham Rise is an extinct volcanic ridge added into the eastern margin of Luzon,” said Prof Mario Aurelio of the UP-NIGS. He added, “The strongest pieces of evidence the Philippines can present for its claim over these areas are geological, geophysical and tectonic data.”

The extent of the continental shelf is measured from the country’s baseline, the line connecting the basepoints that define, in longitude and latitude, the archipelagic boundaries. But the bill amending and redefining the archipelagic baseline remains pending in Congress.

The existing baseline law, passed and amended in the 1960s, used the Treaty of Paris to define Philippine boundaries. The Treaty of Paris is the 1898 agreement in which Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States. The baseline law needs to be amended and harmonized with UNCLOS provisions, in particular the doctrine of archipelagic states which draws a straight archipelagic baseline “joining the outermost points of the outermost islands and drying reefs of the archipelago.”

All Congress needs to do is adjust the country’s baseline using UNCLOS’ Article 47, which says that basepoints must be part of the main archipelago, and must not be more than 100 nautical miles long.

But the bill amending the baseline, House Bill 3216 authored by Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco, got caught up in the controversy that recently surrounded the Spratly Islands and the Joint Maritime and Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) between the Philippines and China. As a result of the various amendments to it, the Cuenco bill now includes within the baseline both Scarborough Shoal and the KIG which are not part of the main archipelago.

“Instead of merely correcting the technical and clinical aspects of the baseline, somehow it has broadened to include territorial issues and when you include territorial issues it gets complicated,” Bensurto said.

Approved on second reading, the Cuenco bill drew protests from China. “If the Philippine side forcefully puts Scarborough Shoal and some other NANSHA reefs and islands inside the baseline of Philippine territorial sea, it will…. disturb China-Philippine cooperation in the area, exerting negative impact on the healthy development of our bilateral relations,” said the Chinese démarche or official position dated December 2007, a copy of which was sent to Cuenco by the Philippine embassy in China.

The bill had to be thrown back to the committee on foreign affairs for further debates and possible revisions following China’s protest. Hearings are scheduled to resume on April 4. At the Senate, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV filed a counterpart bill, which has not been acted upon.

Congress does not need to pass the baseline law before May 2009, but the UN will still need a revised baseline as a reference point when deciding on the Philippine claim. “For as long as you’re not clear with your baseline, then there’s difficulty moving forward,” Bensurto pointed out. “The baseline is the first step in putting your archipelagic house in order.”

A clear baseline helps draw the line separating national and international waters and defines the limits of Philippine responsibility. All maritime regimes or zones are reckoned from the baseline. The 12-mile territorial sea is the area where the State enforces its laws and exploits its resources. The 24-mile contiguous zone, beyond the 12-mile territorial sea, is where the State has the right to pursue smugglers, illegal fishers, illegal immigrants, and customs and tax evaders. The 200-mile exclusive economic zone is where the State has the right to exploit and develop the resources in the sea. The 200 nautical mile continental shelf is where the State can exploit the resources all the way down to the seabed. According to CMOA’s Bensurto, these various maritime zones represent an additional 93 million hectares of water that are the responsibility of the Philippine government.

“When your territory is confused and your baseline is confused, it is also confusing to your law enforcement agencies. In a contiguous zone, it’s a quarantine and immigration area, if you don’t know where that line is, you don’t know when to shoot a ship and when not to shoot a ship,” Bensurto explained. “The whole point is to harmonize the (baseline) law with the UNCLOS.”

Last December, the various member agencies of CMOA agreed to adopt the position that the country’s baseline would be the lines enclosing the main archipelago (see CMOA illustration). KIG as well as Scarborough Shoal would be treated as “regimes of islands” that are part of Philippine territory but outside the baseline. Besides, even if KIG and Scarborough Shoal are not within Philippine baseline, they will still form part of the country’s extended continental shelf. KIG is considered part of Palawan province and are part of Philippine territory by virtue of Presidential Decree 1596.

Whatever moves the government takes regarding KIG and Scarborough Shoal, however, it would have to take into account neighboring countries, which also consider the islands part of their own territories or continental shelves. Hence, alongside the scientific and legislative efforts must come diplomatic negotiation.

Bensurto pointed out that the filing of a claim with the CLCS will not settle territorial disputes. In fact, the UN body will not rule on a claim if it involves disputed territory. Suzette Suarez, formerly with UP-IILS and now with the CLCS, agreed with Bensurto, saying: “The CLCS will not examine and qualify a submission by any State in cases where a land or maritime dispute exists unless there is prior consent given by all States that are parties to the dispute.”

Suarez added: “If the Philippines claims at least 200 nm of continental shelf, it will already stand to have overlaps in some areas of the continental shelf with Palau, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei. Vietnam, China (and/or Taiwan) and Japan.”

In the KIG, the issue is not one of overlapping continental shelves between adjacent or opposite states but one of territorial dispute among the different claimant states. The same is true for Isla Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) since it is disputed by the Philippines and China (and Taiwan). Since Benham Rise is located on the Pacific side of the Philippines, which is without any opposite State within 400 nm, it will stand to have no issue of overlap.

“The government must settle conflicts of interest with other states,” said the late legal luminary and UP law professor Haydee Yorac in a roundtable discussion on the Philippines’ maritime jurisdictions in 1991. “As good fences make good neighbors, treaties and conventions which establish clear boundaries of power and operation will minimize interstate disputes.” — Luz Rimban, Booma Cruz, Yvonne Chua, Ellen Tordesillas, Chit Estella and Jennifer Santiago

*VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look into current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

March 25, 2008 7:00 am   Posted in: Foreign Affairs, General, South China Sea

18 Responses

  1. AdeBrux - March 25, 2008 7:29 am

    Where other presidents of the Philippines did their best to fight for Philippine sovereignity even if only on paper (exception of Marcos who went and planned the invasion of Sabah), Gloria this pygmy, both in stature and morality, has no compunction messing up with Philippine sovereignity.

    She is an absolute whore! (Problem is nobody will pay a cent for her body to shag with her so what does she do? She sells Philippine territory by parcelling them off….)

    She’s not only evil and a bitch, she’s also a whore!!!!

  2. parasabayan - March 25, 2008 7:35 am

    Even if we have to wait for ten years and spend billions to claim these islands and territories, we have to move forward in stating our claim! These resources may not be for us now, it will be for the next generations. These generations will be heavily in debt because of our leaders'(past and more so this current leader) greed. It is like having savings bonds which will mature later when we need the money most.

    Now that China is fast becoming a world mover, we have to assert our rights now before it is too late! Once China becomes as powerful as the US, maghabol na tayo sa “tambol mayor” and we will not have any voice at all. As a matter of fact, kung tinulugan natin ang mga kayamanang ito, malamang nasilip na ng dayuhan ang kahalagahan ng mga isla natin at nais nilang kamkamin ang lahat ng ito.

    The fact that China has already started the exploration of these islands, they now have the edge in knowing which islands possibly have the most oil reserves and these will be what they will be after. Yung latak na lang ang ibibigay sa atin.

    It is time for our country to collectively work towards securing what is ours. Ten years is not a long wait!

  3. AdeBrux - March 25, 2008 8:34 am

    Nakakapangigil! Hayop talaga itong si Gloria!

  4. AdeBrux - March 25, 2008 8:42 am

    The enemy of the nation is found from within: she’s closeted illegaly in Malacanang; she wears platform shoes to claim some stature but in reality she’s nothing but an immoral pygmy!

  5. AdeBrux - March 25, 2008 8:43 am

    Her name is Gloria Macapagal-Pidal, low class whore!

  6. Valdemar - March 25, 2008 8:45 am

    What is the wisdom of getting more territories when we cant even clean our own backyard. Its our household words that we are rich in natural resources. So lets develop what we can afford. To place squatters in those problem islands is already an international issue that keep our defenses on its toes jittery. The more so when top people go there even for just a visit. How much more when we start to drill, it becomes the fuse for war arena and we dont have enough warm bodies for the hand-to-hand combat of Esperon. If ever we are successful to place those islands and reefs inside our baseline, we should expect Palawan to be ancestral domain of in the ARMM at all cost. Kalayaan is a town of Palawan.

  7. Valdemar - March 25, 2008 9:30 am

    If we push through with our scheme to fight it out to get the Spratlys and Scarborough, lets not forget to enclose Sabah and Marianas. We have only one adversary in the Sabah claim our attorneys can easily win in any court. While in Marianas, its only the US that protects it but doesnt own it. We should not be afraid of the US might. History made it clear that the US was driven out in Vietnam a small backward nation. And it is again on the throes of defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have brave soldiers like Esperon. Brave soldiers defect to the US in droves.

  8. grizzy - March 25, 2008 9:43 am

    Point is papaanong nakakalusot iyan? Wow! Ang yabang pa ng walanghiya na akala mo walang kasalanan ang all these blunders are done without her knowledge and consent. Enough is enough. This idiot of Gloria Dorobo should be held responsible for all of these treasonous acts. Command responsibility, sabi nga.

  9. kitamokitako - March 25, 2008 1:06 pm

    Nuon pa nasabi ko na na hindi na kontento si glue sa milliong milliong kotong. Ngayon ay nasa billion at patungong trillion ang gustong ibulsa. Eh, may last hurrah pa near the end of her term, magkano kaya ang gusto niya sa kanyang last hurrah? Ano pa kaya ang pwedeng ibenta? Iyan ang iniisip na nila ngayon, ng mga ganid sa gobyerno.

  10. bitchevil - March 25, 2008 2:30 pm

    Here’s the latest: The Supreme Court voted in favor of Neri on Executive Privilege 9-6. Among those who voted in favor was last minute appointee Justice Brion. That means Gloria Arroyo can no longer be pinned down on ZTE deal. Over at Ombudsman, the same trend going on that favors Malacanang. Where is justice now in the Philippines or is there one? All legal remedies have been tried including peaceful protests in vain. The only way left is a REVOLUTION !

  11. parasabayan - March 25, 2008 2:41 pm

    Off topic: Ellen, how disgusting! The supreme court favored Neri’s plea 9-6 in favor of Neri not attending the senate inquiry. Another blow is that of the Ombudsman not allowing the Evil Bitch to testify in the ZTE/NBN deal. So, where is the “court of law” that the evil bitches’ “sugos” are proposing. Our legal system has been corrupted and compromised! In two years if we allow the evil bitch to do whatever she wants, she can vitually do anything she pleases and no one can stop her! Not even the supposedly two other branches of the government to make sure that there is a check and balance. The evil bitch is SUPREME! Even the leaders of the church say so, the Supreme Court and the lower house agree as well. WOW, she is unstoppable! AMAZING!

    Another comelec lawyer was killed by the same operators (motorcycled assassins! Sounds familiar?). Maybe these two killed lawyers knew all the CHEATING in the 2004 and 2007 elections! They have to be killed so the evil bitch will be free from future election cases.

  12. parasabayan - March 25, 2008 2:48 pm

    And Abalos was absolved by the Ombudsman as well in the NBN/ZTE deal! HOW DISGUSTING INDEED!

  13. parasabayan - March 25, 2008 2:53 pm

    Correction: the Arroyo and Abalos NBN/ZTE complaint was junked by Ombudsman.

  14. Mrivera - March 25, 2008 5:12 pm

    people’s anger and disgust over gloria’s callousness if transformed into a united action is more than enough to throw or pull this devil woman out of the malakanyang palace.

    tama na ang senate investigations na ‘yan!

    what these senators who want to really serve the people right is to bring any case in the streets. they should be the first to lead the call for this scheming woman to give up what is not justly hers.!

    nakakasawa na. ginagago nang sobra ang taong bayan!

  15. Valdemar - March 26, 2008 11:39 am

    Palawan where Kalayaan Island is) will be a regime of the ARMM. The Bangsa Moro Republic is
    inching its triumph through a slow Jihad. They term the drug trade a jihad. Its very unusual that their pushers are addicted at all.

  16. grizzy - March 26, 2008 10:47 pm


    Huwag mo nang asahan ang ombudswoman na gagawa ng paraan para makulong ang benefactor niya. Bata iyan ni Mike Criminal!

    Sabi ng brigader nila, bakit ko daw tinatawag na kriminal ang mga dorobo hindi pa naman daw na-convict. Oh yeah? Over where I am based, when someone commits a crime, he is a called a criminal (hanzaisha). At least, over here, the police do not forget that their prime duty is to catch a criminal in order to maintain and keep peace and order, rather than prevent a crime that is according to some unwritten law is the duty of everyone to observe. Logical di ba?

    A criminal undergoing investigation by the police to gather enough evidences to establish a crime is called “a suspect” (higisha or yogisha). When there are not enough evidences and the motive cannot be established, usual the case is dropped, and a suspect can be freed. But if there are enough evidences obtained by the police, the prosecutor indicts the suspect and call him “an accused” when he goes to court for a trial, which is done more to determine if the accused is corrigible or not. If not, in most cases he gets a life or death sentence.

    When convicted, a criminal is called “a convict.” In the case of the Dorobos, there have already been a lot many whistleblowers to prove theirs and their minions’ crimes (not just one but many), so why should we not call them criminals? Nagkataon lang naman na mga tuta nila ang pinaupo nila sa DoJ at mga korter sa Pilipinas.

    Wais? No way! Switik? YES!!! Ang kapal pa ng mga balat sa mukha!!!

  17. AdeBrux - March 28, 2008 11:15 pm

    Right Parasabayan!

    As they say, dead men tell no tales.

    Hear that Neri?

  18. TonGuE-tWisTeD - March 29, 2008 2:24 am

    AdeBrux: “Her name is Gloria Macapagal-Pidal, low class whore!

    Anna, I’d like to see Gloria visit one state and have her picture taken under the State’s name. Talkin bout IDAHO!

    That would be THE poster, right?

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