China opposes RP archipelagic baseline bill

Thursday, March 13, 2008

MANILA -- China's tight opposition to the bill defining the Philippines' archipelagic baseline boundary has stopped the approval on the measure despite the deadline set by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (Unclos), a congressman said.

Cebu Representative Antonio Cuenco, chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, said Beijing expressed its objection to House Bill (HB) 3216 in a "note" sent to the Philippine Embassy in Beijing last December.

"China is shocked by and gravely concerned with this negative development. We request the clarification from the Philippine side," said the letter, which was faxed to Cuenco's office by Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady. The unsigned note reiterated that China "has undisputable sovereignty over Nansha islands (Kalayaan Group of Islands or KIG) including Scarborough Shoal and its adjacent waters."

It said the passage of the bill, despite the Philippines' signing of the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (SCS), "will not only be conducive to the stability in the SCS but also disturb China-Philippine cooperation in the area, exerting negative impact on the healthy development of our bilateral relations."

The bill's approval would not sit well with China amid the forging of the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) in the area, which critics said could be the basis to charge President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with treason, the note added. Under HB 3216, the country's archipelagic baseline would include KIG and the Scarborough Shoal, which are also being claimed by other countries aside from China.

The Philippines has until May 2009 to inform Unclos of the extent of its archipelagic boundary. Cuenco, however, said the letter should be taken with a grain of salt because of the absence of an official attribution.

"I think it's a commentary of Beijing. But I don't doubt the authenticity of the document. But if you talk of legal and technical terms, this is just a scrap of paper," he said.

He also disclosed that the Chinese charge d'affairs has also expressed his country's opposition to the bill when he met with him last January. "It's their way of expressing dissent," Cuenco said, noting that this was just normal for China.

The lawmaker said he would ask the plenary to postpone the passage of the measure on third and final reading until the session's resumption on April 21. Congress is on a Lenten break. "We need a cooling off period," he said, noting that his committee has already decided to ask the plenary to allow further amendments to the measure.

He added: "We must be very careful with the diplomatic repercussions. We don't want to break our ties. Will we not strain our relations with China? We should be circumspect. It all boils down to judgment call: am I going to adopt a bolder view or a moderate view?"

Cuenco's panel has also decided to cancel its scheduled inquiry into the JMSU on Thursday, saying they have failed to inform the members three days before the hearing as mandated by the rules. Parañaque Representative Roilo Golez, the principal sponsor of the investigation, said: "It is very clear that there is intervention from the executive department especially on the part of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)."

In a committee hearing last December, the foreign affairs committee opted for the fourth option presented by the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority, which set the baseline territory of the country at 12-mile territorial sea, 24-mile contiguous zone and a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

Sources said the DFA has managed to delay the bill's passage and wants to settle for the second option, which treats disputed territories such as the KIG and Scarborough Shoal as mere "regime islands." They said the DFA does not want the House version because this would antagonize the Chinese who have been providing loans to the Philippines. China is one of the claimants in the Spratlys. (Sunstar Network)


DFA bucks House bill on RP Spratly claim

By Jess Diaz
Philippine Star
Thursday, March 13, 2008

The House of Representatives is set to re-examine a bill on the country’s territorial baselines, which it approved on second reading but later shelved following last-minute objections from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“We will have to take a second look at this in the light of objections from our Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA),” Speaker Prospero Nograles told reporters yesterday.

House Bill 3216 defines the country’s territory, which covers the disputed Spratly island group off Palawan and Scarborough Shoal near Zambales. The House approved the bill on second reading in December 2007.

Nograles said the DFA’s objection came as a surprise because it had originally endorsed the bill when the measure was still with the committee on foreign affairs chaired by Cebu City Rep. Antonio Cuenco.

“It (the DFA) has suddenly made a complete turnaround and communicated its objections to the committee,” Nograles said.

Cuenco told reporters during the “Ayes and Nays” forum that China sent a letter of concern after the House approved the bill on second reading.

Cuenco clarified, however, that it was not a note verbale and that it was unsigned. “It’s a dissent. I think it’s a commentary of Beijing. But I don’t doubt the authenticity of the document. But if you talk in legal and technical terms, this is just a scrap of paper,” he said.

The administration lawmaker said he had no doubt about China’s displeasure because the document dated December 2007 came from the Philippine Embassy in China through Ambassador Sonia Brady. Another proof of China’s interest in the matter was the January 2008 visit of its charges d’affaires.

Cuenco and Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, however, downplayed insinuations that their colleagues caved in to pressures from China.

“The Chinese are objecting to it. But I don’t consider it pressure. It’s just normal. They have the right to object as we also have the right to object when there are things that would be detrimental to our interest,” Cuenco said.

But he admitted China’s communiqué could be “one of the reasons” for the delay in the passage of HB 3216, aside from the dissenting legal opinion from lawyer Estelito Mendoza.

The two chambers of Congress have to enact the measure ahead of the May 2009 deadline set by the United Nations for compliance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

Mendoza, whom Cuenco described as an expert in international law, said the proposed map of the country’s baselines might not be in accordance with the law. Malacañang and DFA shared Mendoza’s opinion.

Cuenco said he would like the plenary approval of HB 3216 deferred until the resumption of session on April 20. “Let’s call for an all party-caucus first when we resume next month before we resume our discussions on the bill,” he said.

“Personally, I will move to defer it in time for the Holy Week break. Let’s think things over. Let’s not push it. Let’s allow a cooling off period,” he added.

“We must be very careful with the diplomatic repercussions. We don’t want to break our ties,” he said. “Will we not strain our relations with China? We should be circumspect. It all boils down to judgment call. Am I going to adopt a bolder view or a moderate view?”

For his part, former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. said DFA’s opposition to the bill “has the blessing of President Arroyo.”

“I’m sure of that. The President is supporting the stand taken by DFA on this issue,” he said.
Opposition Rep. Roilo Golez said the House is justified in its claims and that the DFA should not be promoting the interest of a foreign government.

He said it’s in the disputed islands covered by HB 3216 that China, the Philippines and Vietnam agreed in 2005 to conduct joint marine seismic studies preparatory to joint natural gas and oil exploration projects.

He added that the area where the studies were conducted was mostly Philippine territory. Golez, quoting reports from China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), said data gathering in the area had been completed in 2005.

He said China Oilfield Services Limited, a CNOOC subsidiary, did the data gathering using 11,000 kilometers of sensor cables deployed on the seabed over an area of around 140,000 square kilometers.

“I reiterate my question on whether PNOC (Philippine National Oil Co.) is getting complete data on very strategic information on our natural resources, with a CNOOC subsidiary, not an independent survey group, handling the data gathering,” he added.

Golez also chided Navy vice chief Admiral Tolentino for saying that “joint exploration of the Spratlys is better than war.” He said Tolentino’s statement “is irresponsible.”

“First, Admiral Tolentino has no business getting into the debate on the Spratlys with his war freak views. Second, who said that it is an exploration or war proposition in Spratlys? Why should he be talking about war?” Golez asked.

“I think it is dangerous to have a ranking admiral with a mindset like that. I am happy that he is not the Navy chief,” Golez, a former Navy officer, said.

Nothing to hide

Malacañang maintained yesterday there was nothing to hide in the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) even as officials said details of the agreement would be revealed “at the appropriate time.”

“There is nothing hide about the JMSU and what is important is this JMSU is a scientific undertaking, not exploration,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said in response to calls for the government to make public the details of JMSU.

He stressed that JMSU was only about pre-exploration activities for possible oil and gas in the vicinity of the Philippine-claimed Kalayaan Island Group.

“The issue that sovereignty is compromised is answered by the fact that it is just a scientific undertaking,” he said.

Critics of President Arroyo said JMSU violated the Constitution and might be used to justify her impeachment. Some opposition figures even said she could be held for treason for her approval of JMSU.

The joint activity is scheduled to lapse in July although PNOC-EC president Rafael del Pilar earlier said it was possible that the government would seek an extension of the agreement due to lack of time to finish Phase 2 of the project.

He noted that in 2002, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China agreed to make the South China Sea an area of “cooperation, peace and stability rather than an area of conflict.”
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, for his part, said the country’s claim on the disputed Spratly Islands should be resolved through dialogue.

“It’s undeniable that a mutually acceptable arrangement among all the parties in the future should evolve, I mean of course the Philippines has a claim and that should be resolved peacefully through dialogue rather than through other means,” he told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo.

He also assuaged fears that JMSU has weakened the country’s territorial claims.

“To us it’s non-diminution of Philippine territory, it’s a mere survey, it doesn’t involve exploration and exploitation,” he said. Teodoro said the issue doesn’t even bother troops stationed in the area.

“However, we cannot prevent other nations also from asserting claims of sovereignty,” he said.
Clearer definition of boundary

Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. vowed to push for the immediate passage of a law that would clearly define the boundaries of the country.

“We need to enact soonest the law that will define the country’s baselines and assess our commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas,” Villar said.
Villar said aside from the issue on national territory, the Senate would make sure that JMSU and other documents involving activities in the Spratlys would be scrutinized.

The Senate chief urged Malacañang to give the public and the lawmakers access to the agreement.

Villar said “the people’s right to information is again being violated” in view of the government’s unwillingness to bare the details of JMSU.

Villar noted that a web-copy of the agreement had been removed from DFA website and other government portals.

“For the purpose of allowing a free flow of information paving the way for a healthy debate in public policy and promoting transparency and accountability in government, I urge our executive officials to present relevant documents pertaining to this agreement,” Villar said.

“Records on the Spratlys deal should be examined to ascertain whether or not this caused derogation of our sovereign rights over the Kalayaan Island Group (Spratlys),” Villar said.
“Ever since this controversy came out, many insinuations have been made. Why did the Philippines break ranks with the ASEAN and dealt with China on its own? There must be a compelling reason behind this extraordinary move,” he added.

Villar said the Senate investigation on the matter would find out whether or not the Spratlys agreement was made in exchange for loan packages to finance infrastructure projects that are now hounded by allegations of corruption.

“We intend to improve public policies on the citizens’ access to information, on transparency of governmental transactions and accountability of public officers,” Villar said. — with Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Aurea Calica, and James Mananghaya


Office of the PMGG said...

For the creator of this blog:

I am confident that if the Philippines will file a case concerning the Spratlys territorial disputes at the ICJ, I believe the court shall decide in favor of the country because among all the other claimant nations--Philippines has the strongest & most number of evidences & reasons in claiming the Spratlys.

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China claims Spratly Islands over Philippines said...

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