DoJ chief: Country can’t win against superpower PROC
By Benjamin B. Pulta
Give up the Philippines’ Spratly Islands and hand them over to China, rather than risk China’s displeasure and an emerging military stare-down with the regional superpower China, as pressure from the People’s Republic of China (PROC) has been building up, as shown by the “already deteriorating” diplomatic ties between the two countries.
This was the gist of the position taken by Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez yesterday as he called on Congress to back off from passing the baseline bill, warning the country cannot win in a military stare-down with regional superpower China.
But chief Palace aide Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita also yesterday at a briefing for reporters in Malacanang denied that pressure is being exerted by China for the Arroyo government to come out with the baseline bill that would weaken the country’s claim on the hotly contested Spratly Islands which portions of islands lie within the country’s 200 mile exclusive economic zone.
”There’s no pressure coming from China. We don’t know what is the basis of the statement of (House committee on foreign relations chairman Cebu Rep. Antonio) Cuenco but here in the
executive branch, there has been no communication from China on this matter. What we’re only working on is for the interest of our country,” he claimed.
But the DoJ chief said in an interview that lawmakers should assess the impact of the proposed bill on the diplomatic relations with the other claimants of the Spratly Island chain.
The DoJ secretary also pointed out that the country is risking war or a possible serious military confrontation with the other claimants if legislators insist on including the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoals in defining Philippine territory.
He added that eliminating this group of islands in the baseline bill is possible as some portions of the above-mentioned island chains are already controlled and fortified by China and Vietnam.
Gonzalez also said that the country’s territorial integrity would be at risk in the event of a military confrontation as Palawan, the nearest Philippine area near the disputed area, could be easily attacked or bombed from the air.
Taking the Malacañang cue, administration Sen. Miriam Defensor -Santiago formally moved to have the issue on baseline bills placed in the backburner by Congress and called on Speaker of the House of Representatives Prospero Nograles to prioritize a proposed joint resolution creating a congressional commission on national territory that she and party-list congressman-son are sponsoring.
Santiago effectively said that the baseline bills, already approved on second reading, do not have any legal basis under international law and will only eliminate the maritime boundaries of the Philippines as established by the 1935 Constitution based on the Treaty of Paris.
But Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. contradicted Santiago, pointing out that the Treaty of Paris is not an international law and not enforceable because it is effectively between the United States and Spain only, the signatories in the treaty.
There were also calls to redefine the country’s archipelagic baselines that appear to be snowballing as even administration Sen. Edgardo Angara has joined his colleagues in preserving the Philippines’ historic right over the strategic and resources-rich Kalayaan Group of Islands.
Angara said his bill, the proposed Archipelagic Baseline Law of the Philippines, has to be acted upon with urgency because either of two frightening scenarios will take place if the Philippines fails to claim the extended continental shelf (ECS) of which Kalayaan is a part, before the expiry of the United Nations Convention on the Law and the Sea (Unclos) in May 2009.
Angara warned that should the Philippines fail to meet the UN deadline, the ECS areas which the country is claiming can either be considered as part of the International Seabed Area, or the so called “Common Heritage of Mankind” or be awarded to a neighbor state which filed and was able to prove its claim over the area.
Santiago, in a three-page letter to Speaker Nograles, informed him that as Senate foreign relations committee chair, she intends to “shelve” the two bills on archipelagic baselines, “pursuant to President Arroyo’s directive.”
She told reporters in an interview that Mrs. Arroyo, during the Legislative-Executive Developmental Advisory Council (Ledac) meeting last Tuesday in Malacañang, practically “requested the two Chambers of Congress to suspend deliberations on the archipelagic baselines bill.”
“Apparently the Speaker said he was amenable to the suggestion and I myself, inviting him, not only supported the suggestion of the President but also gave the reason we should not yet consider seriously these bills,”she said.
“I won’t say anything derogatory about the authors of the bills, except that they separately treat the archipelagic problem, particularly what are the boundaries of our national territory in a piecemeal manner. They pick certain provisions from the Unclos and then try to apply it in their bills. You can’t do that,” she said.
Santiago pointed out that if the Philippines, a geographical archipelago, makes a declaration it is an archipelagic state, “immediately we lose our rights to our internal waters.”
“They will become in effect a highway for the vessels of foreign nations. Secondly, we would lose our right to protect our local fishermen from poaching of foreign vessels. These are just examples. There are many consequences of a declaration of an archipelagic state.
“So first we must talk to the experts, meaning the scientists familiar with the measurements of the maritime boundaries.” She stated.
But congressmen lashed out at Senator Santiago for calling them idiots over the disagreement on the controversial Baseline Bill which would define the country’s territorial baseline.
Speaking at the regular Ayes and Nays News Forum, lawmakers took turns in blasting her, saying she should take a refresher course on inter-parliamentary courtesy.
“In 1992, Senator Santiago called the late Congressman (Niero) Joaquin, fungus-faced. Six months ago, she called us at the House, tatlo-singko. (bargain priced congressmen). Now she is calling us idiots and tarantado (assholes) for not agreeing with her on her position on the Baseline Bill,” said Palawan Rep. Abraham. “She should be made to re-understand inter-parliamentary courtesy.”
The other day, Santiago branded congressmen idiots for “inciting panic by raising the urgency of passing the measure to meet the Unclos deadline.”
Cuenco, principal author of the House version of the Baseline Bill said Santiago should be cautious with her words noting that even her colleague at the Senate, Senator Pimentel, agrees with the House version of the bill.
“If she is saying we are stupid assholes for not agreeing with her on the Baseline Bill? Following her logic, then Senator Pimentel would also be an idiot and an asshole,” Cuenco pointed out.
Santiago, in opposing the House version of the Baseline Bill, has filed a resolution which seeks to create a joint Senate-House committee to conduct a comprehensive study on the bill.
But Cuenco said Santiago’s position would only derail the country’s claim to the disputed territory as she wants a longer time for Congress to study its options, especially the map of the 1898 Treaty of Paris which includes areas that are clearly outside the country’s territory.
“She’s just dribbling the ball with no intention to shoot,” he stressed, saying that the country might lose a huge claim if it fails to meet the Unclos deadline, contrary to Santiago’s claim.
Ermita also took the opportunity to deny charges from Pimentel that President Arroyo is trying to water down the proposed bill stressing that all the Palace wants is for both chambers of Congress to come out with a concrete stand on the matter.
“We have made the position clear, the Office of the President had sent letter to our House Speaker telling him that the baseline bill has to be established. And now the Lower House has already included the Scarborough Shoal and the Kalayaan group of Islands under Philippine territory….Definitely that’s (partly contested Spratly islands) ours. In fact it was during the presidency of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, and I was a colonel still then, including it as part of the Philippine territory. That’s why we have already a municipality there, so no question about it,” he said.
Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. (PDP-Laban, Makati) warned the government against committing treason if the country losses its claim. With Angie M. Rosales, Sherwin C. Olaes, Charlie V. Manalo and Gerry Baldo