President Rodrigo Duterte has directed his office to review the proposal of retired Supreme Court associate justice Francis Jardeleza to craft a new baselines law to enforce the arbitral award the Philippines won in its West Philippine Sea disputes with China.
Jardeleza on June 5 submitted a letter to Duterte urging the President to certify as urgent the measure that seeks amendments to Republic Act 9522, a law that defines the baselines of the Philippines’ territorial sea.
Jardeleza served as the Solicitor General during the Aquino administration that challenged China’s excessive claims over the disputed territory.
“He (the President) immediately asked that it be subjected to complete staff work and he was very appreciative of the suggestion,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said when asked about Duterte’s response to Jardeleza’s letter.
“The President was very appreciative of the suggestion and ordered his staff to conduct a review of this,” Roque added.
On Monday, Jardeleza said his proposed law, titled “Philippine Maritime Features of the West Philippine Sea Act,” aims to specifically name and identify the maritime features in WPS claimed or occupied by the country.
The arbitral award, which will mark its fifth year anniversary next month, invalidated the expansive Chinese nine-dash line claim over the entire South China Sea.
But since it was handed down on July 12, 2016 by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) tribunal, many sectors in the Philippines have remained divided on how to secure its gains.
Worse, Jardeleza said, there had been a serious misunderstanding of the true import of the Award that threatens its biggest achievements.
The proposed law identified at least 100 maritime features in WPS, 25 of which are said to be rocks or high tide features that generate a territorial sea and a contiguous zone.
Jardeleza was assisted by international law academics, Dr. Melissa Loja and Prof. Romel Bagares, in drafting the measure.
“We respectfully submit that the best, most efficient, and practical option to enforce the Award is to… legislate a new Baselines Law, consistent with the [Arbitral] Award, “ he added in an online press conference Monday.
He said the bill should be certified as urgent as it “is the most inexpensive and yet most effective means of enforcing the Arbitral Award and strengthening our territorial and maritime rights” in WPS.
One of the most important provisions in the proposed new baselines law states that the Philippines has sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction, as appropriate, over the following identified maritime features in WPS, without prejudice to other such features that will be discovered or established as part of the Philippine sovereignty or jurisdiction in the future.
Roque said Duterte would first await the recommendation of the Office of the Executive Secretary’s legal office before making a decision on the proposed amendments to RA 9522.
“It’s just an openness to study the matter,” he said.
Roque said the Philippines also expected that China would express strong objection to the proposed baselines law.
“Well, I expect that the Chinese will protest several aspects of this law in so far as we will claim islands within the area that we’re claiming as ours to be ours,” he said.
However, the Philippines would be unfazed by China’s possible protest, in case Duterte backs the proposed measure, Roque said.
“We are expecting that but we do not care about their reaction. We have a law and we will let the international tribunal, when the time comes, to rule as to who really has the superior claim over the islands that will be listed in our baselines law as part of our territory,” he said.