Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kalayaan island claim: Mapping Philippine baselines

It would cost the government about P10 billion to draw up the country’s archipelagic baselines that will support its claim on Kalayaan islands and other maritime areas in accordance with the United Nations conference on the law of the seas.

This was pointed out by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairman of the committee on foreign relations, as she asked whether the government has the money to conduct the “hydrographic and geoscientific” studies to be used in delineating the baselines.

Santiago said the National Mapping and Resources Information Authority asked for the Pl0 billion funding but budget authorities gave it only Pl.7 billion.

These studies, Santiago said, are needed to support the Philippine claim on maritime territories to which it is entitled under Unclos. The country is entitled to the following under this UN convention:

l. Territorial sea of l2 nautical miles; 2. Contiguous zone of additional l2 miles to the territorial sea; 3. Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 miles; and 4. Extended continental shelf up to 350 miles.

Congress is racing against time to beat the May 13, 2009 deadline set by the UN for the enactment and submission of an archipelagic baselines law.

“Do we still have the time to conduct hydrographic and geoscientific studies given the large areas that have to be surveyed? Do we have the funds? The technology?” Santiago asked.

The Philippines, she said, is an archipelago of 7,100 islands, 36,289 kilometers of coastlines and currently has 579,938 square nautical miles of archipelagic waters and EEZ.

Separate bills, authored by Senators Edgardo Angara, Rodolfo Biazon, Juan Ponce Enrile, Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Antonio Trillanes, have been filed to define the archipelagic baselines.

But instead of acting on these bills, Santiago gave priority to the creation of a Congressional Commission on Territory that “aims to centralize and integrate all legislative work” pertaining to the proposed baselines. The commission will be composed of 10 members—five each from the Senate and House of Representatives—which will conduct its studies with the help of experts in international law, geology, hydrography and geophysics.”

But Pimentel and other authors of the baselines measure want the Santiago committee to start committee hearings and report out the measure for plenary debates instead of waiting for the completion of the report of the Congressional Commission.

Santiago said the commission can submit its partial report and recommendations by December 2008. But Pimentel said he was worried that the Philippines will miss the May 2009 deadline of the UN due to the prolonged delay in the approval of the baselines bill.

As a compromise, Santiago said the commission can shorten the timeframe for its work.

“Using the Commission Report as a background paper, the Senate and House of Representatives could then spend at least four months—from January to April 2009—to pass a Philippines Baselines Bill,” she said.



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