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Home Columns Sen. Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. Congress May Not Pass Archipelagic-Baselines Bill Before UN Deadline
Congress May Not Pass Archipelagic-Baselines Bill Before UN Deadline PDF Print E-mail
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Columns - This Week With Nene Pimentel
Friday, 30 May 2008 04:37

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Nene” Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today reiterated the urgency of Congress passing the bill delineating the archipelagic baselines of the Philippines before the 2009 deadline set by the United Nations.

Senator Pimentel said the Senate and House of Representatives can approve the bill now while a Congressional Commission on National Territory, proposed by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, conducts a study with the help of experts on the country’s archipelagic baselines in conformity with the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Senator Santiago, chairman of the committee on foreign relations, insists that the Commission should be formed first and submit its findings and recommendations before the Senate tackles the bill redrawing the country’s archipelagic map, which puts the disputed Kalayaan islands (Spratly islands in the international map) and Scarborough shoal within the baselines.

But Senator Pimentel said that while the proposed commission may be a good idea, he is apprehensive that if the sequence suggested by Ms. Santiago is followed, Congress may not be able to comply with the UN deadline that may cause some difficulties for the Republic in asserting our claims under UNCLOS.

“Considering all the circumstances, the study may be done simultaneously with the debates on the baselines definition bill. It is my impression that there is an urgency to define the baselines,” Mr. Pimentel said.

The minority leader said he has the support of several senators, including Juan Ponce Enrile, Panfilo Lacson, Edgardo Angara, Rodolfo Biazon and Antonio Trillanes IV in his position for the chamber to start deliberations on the archipelagic-baselines bill.

Senators Pimentel, Angara, Biazon and Trillanes have filed separate bills delineating the archipelagic baselines, all of which have been indefinitely frozen by the Santiago committee.

Mr. Pimentel argues that it would be foolhardy for the Philippines to place these islands outside of the archipelagic map considering that Kalayaan islands have been claimed by the country by right of discovery and occupancy for several decades and the islands have also been a municipality of Palawan islands since 1978.

To break the impasse, Senator Pimentel said he has proposed to Ms. Santiago that the issue be resolved in a caucus of all the senators.

“My stand is let us discuss it in a caucus. Whether all senators understand every single item in the proposal or not, at least we can tackle this in a less-confrontational way,” he said.

“The Senate leadership should decide what to do with the baselines bill. Obviously, they should not be allowed to lie fallow in the bowels of the Senate archives like the arid fields of the African desert.”

He said the underlying purpose for passing the bill is to lay the legal basis for the Philippine claim over the Kalayaan Islands and Scarborough shoal.

“By doing so, we are not going to war against China. We are only saying that we are claiming these territories. If we are wrong, let the UN authorities on the implementation of the UNCLOS tell us where we are wrong. And if we are wrong, we can adjust our claim accordingly,” Senator Pimentel said.

“My own gut feel is we must assert that claim because I don’t think the deadline set by the UN is an empty deadline. In fact, other countries, like New Zealand, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are following that deadline.”

Senator Pimentel said that a declaration that the Philippines is an archipelagic state would not necessarily diminish the country’s territorial seas.

Mr. Pimentel said that under the UNCLOS, the Philippines is entitled to the following:

•    Territorial sea of 12 nautical miles.
•    Contiguous zone of additional 12 miles to the territorial sea.
•    Exclusive economic zone of 200 miles.
•    Extended continental shelf up to 350 miles.

Upon the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Malacañang is opposed to a bill, already approved on second reading by the House of Representatives and pending with the Senate, to put Kalayaan islands and Scarborough within the archipelagic baselines. Instead, the Palace wants to treat the disputed territories as “regime of islands” to which the Philippines has sovereign claim.

The minority leader argued that it would be foolhardy for the Philippines to place these islands outside of the archipelagic map considering that Kalayaan islands have been claimed by the country by right of discovery and occupancy for several decades and the islands have also been a municipality of PalawanScarborough shoal is very near to Luzon and has been settled in by Filipinos much earlier even than Kalayaan. # # # islands since 1978.



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Last Updated on Friday, 30 May 2008 04:50
 

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