Press Release
March 23, 2008


Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Nene" Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today said Congress and the executive branch should adopt a common position on the issue of the urgent legislation delineating the archipelagic baselines of the Philippines to protect its territorial right over the disputed Kalayaan Islands, known in the international map as the Spratly islands.

Pimentel said that the bill to draw up the country's archipelagic map should be given top priority by the Senate to complement a similar undertaking by the House of Representatives and to beat the May, 2009 deadline set by the United Nations.

"Definitely, it is incumbent upon us to protect and assert our territorial rights over the seas around us, and even to the extent of 200-nautical miles from the edge of our seas as our exclusive economic zone (EEZ)," he said.

The minority leader said the published statement of Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) President Antonio Cailao admitting that the entire 142,886-square kilometer area covered by the 2005 Philippine-China-Vietnam agreement for a joint marine seismic undertaking in the South China Sea "is all within Philippine territory" makes it more imperative for the Philippines to define its archipelagic baselines "to assert our sovereign control over the Spratly islands." The agreement was signed by the national oil companies of the three countries.

"If what he (Cailao) said is true, all the more we should push for a definition of our territory whatever the opinion of other countries may be," Pimentel said.

Quoting Cebu City Rep. Antonio Cuenco, chairman of the House committee on foreign relations, Pimentel said the Philippine government should address this crucial issue like a ship moving "full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes!"

He said Congress and Malacañang should resolve their differences over the configuration of the Philippines archipelagic map without in any way creating the impression that the country's legal and historic claim to the Kalayaan Islands may be compromised or weakened.

However, Pimentel also said "we should not rile our friends-China and Vietnam" with which the Philippines is enjoying friendly and mutually beneficial relations.

He said it would be ridiculous for the Philippines not to include the Kalayaan Islands within its archipelagic baselines because this is being made precisely in pursuit of its rights as an archipelagic state under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Moreover, Pimentel said the Kalayaan Islands have been officially annexed as part of Philippine territory and they have been under actual and effective control of the Philippines since 1978.

Pimentel said he is inclined to agree with the advice given by a group of law professors from the University of the Philippines for Congress to pass the law drawing up the country's archipelagic map regardless of the reservations expressed by China or any other claimant state.

At any rate, he pointed out all disputes or overlapping claims will be subject to final resolution by the United Nations in accordance with UNCLOS.

He expressed dismay that the House was unable to pass its version of the bill delineating the archipelagic baselines to include the Kalayaan Islands and Scarborough Shoal before the Lenten break due to the intervention of Malacañang.

Malacañang called for a postponement of the passage of the bill and for its recommitment to the committee on foreign affairs to incorporate amendments proposed by the Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs under the Office of the President.

The Palace's move came after Beijing sent a note to Manila stating that the passage of the bill putting "the Scarborough Shoal and some other Nansha (Spratly) reefs and islands inside the baseline of the Philippines will not be conducive to stability� (and will) also disturb China-Philippine cooperation in the area."

Pimentel bewailed the Arroyo administration's lack of transparency in pursuing the agreement on the marine seismic study in the South China Sea, originally signed by the Philippine and China in 2004.

He said he was with the presidential party to represent the opposition when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo traveled to Beijing in 2004 to witness the signing of the agreement. But he and other legislators were kept out of the signing ceremonies.

"We were only told that this was one of the bilateral agreements signed. But we never saw a copy of the agreement," the minority leader said.

Pimentel said the original purpose of the agreement on the joint seismic undertaking may be good especially in terms of preventing a possible outbreak of hostilities among the claimant-countries over the Spratly islands.

However, he said he was deeply alarmed when it later on turned out that the seismic study will cover large areas covered by Philippine territory, and even as far as the seas near Palawan and which are being unclaimed by the other parties in the South China Sea territorial dispute.

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