by Senator Edgardo J. Angara
Published on June 22, 2011, Business Mirror Column
Distinguishing between the Philippines’ undisputed ownership of the Recto (Reed) Bank and our contested claim over the Kalayaan Islands Group in the Spratlys is imperative.
China has been treating the Recto (Reed) Bank as part of its claim over the Spratly Islands. Its navy ships and fighter jets have committed acts of harassment against our survey vessels and jets patrolling the Recto (Reed) Bank. Filipino fisherfolk have also reported to have seen men with Chinese features placing Chinese markers and buoys in the area.
But the Recto (Reed) Bank is separate and distinct from the Spratly Islands. It is located around 85 nautical miles west of Palawan, and is roughly 595 nautical miles from the nearest coast of China. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas III (UNCLOS III) of which both the Philippines and China are signatories, coastal states have the right, to the exclusion of all others, to explore and exploit natural resources found within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf, which extends to 200 nautical miles from its coast. Clearly, the Recto (Reed) Bank falls well within our EEZ. By no stretch of imagination can it be made part of the territory of China, or any other state.
Thus, China’s attempt to include the Recto (Reed) Bank with its claim to the Spratly Islands does not just broaden a territorial dispute. It is a clear encroachment to our sovereign territory.
Our government must marshal and mobilize all legal and diplomatic resources to the full to protect our territorial waters. It is good that we seek a multilateral approach to settle the disputes. This is important so that we can move in tandem with our ASEAN colleagues.
But a very strong complement to that is forming our own legal and diplomatic team to concentrate on formulating, clarifying and conveying our position under international law. We have our best international law experts, like former Justice Secretary Estelito Mendoza and former Justice Florentino Feliciano, who can guide our legal and diplomatic team to formulate our position, not only with regard to the Recto (Reed) Bank but to our Kalayaan Islands claim.
We have young and outstanding professors at the UP College of Law who can provide policy papers and legal pieces on the issue. We should not hesitate to engage the best legal minds even from overseas. This can more than make up for our lack of military muscle.
A state’s territory belongs to the top of its core interests, upon which there can be no compromise. Our government cannot afford to appear vacillating nor allow itself to be lulled into complacency by false pretenses over the matter of our territorial integrity.
e-mail: email@example.com; Website: www.edangara.com