Tag Archives: UNCLOS

Itu Aba: An Inside Track

itu_aba_ge1I guess it’s inevitable that the issue of Itu Aba would surface yet again in the wake of the Philippines’ resounding victory in the South China Sea Arbitration. As I noted in that earlier post detailing what we won before the Arbitral Court, the island — occupied by Taiwan — was a sore point between Justice  Francis Jardeleza (and his successor at the Office of the Solicitor General, Prof. Florin Hilbay), and Justice Antonio Carpio. The latter (with Chief Justice Sereno)  even went as far as opposing the former’s appointment to the Supreme Court because of  Jardeleza’s stance when he was Solicitor General. For background, click here and here.

A few days ago, Rappler came out with a piece recalling the Jardeleza-Hilbay tack on their alleged Itu Aba “miscalculation.”

Hilbay, now back at his old professor’s perch at the UP College of Law (funny, Jardeleza, Carpio and Sereno all served as professors at the College at some point in their legal careers), wrote a retort to Rappler’s rap. Rappler duly reported on his retort here.

This morning, I received a text from Prof. Hilbay expressing his reservations about the treatment his written statement had received in the Rappler news item. I  obtained a copy of his statement and am posting it below, for your own benefit and appreciation:

(A PDF file of the statement and the Memorandum mentioned in it may be downloaded here).

 

21 July 2016 UP College of Law

Response to Ms. Hofileña and Ms. Vitug
By: Prof. Florin T. Hilbay, former Solicitor General (Philippines v. China)

I respond to Ms. Hofileña’s and Ms. Vitug’s Rappler piece accusing me (and Justice Francis Jardeleza) of “miscalculation.”

First. I do not suppose the writers consider themselves experts in the law of the sea, much less official participants with personal knowledge of the West Philippine Sea litigation. I am therefore amused at the accusatorial tone they have taken on previously undisclosed legal strategy which, in fact, resulted in an overwhelming victory. Whether they are adopting the opinion of any person officially or unofficially connected with the case is also not stated. I am therefore left to respond to conclusions based on gossip, even as they were written by people I consider respectable journalists.

Second. In the coming months and years, the nation will have an opportunity to look under the hood of this magnificent legal accomplishment. Thankfully, given the positive legal result, the challenge will be about proper documentation and accurate narration of how this result came about, not about who should be blamed for what. The room is big enough and the pages of history books (or even Facebook) sufficiently spacious to toast the contributions of women and men privileged enough to have had a direct or indirect connection with the case. The bucket can accommodate decent human beings, and there’s no need to reduce oneself into a crab.

Third. Given the magnitude of this case and the multi-layered controversies surrounding it, I consciously adopted a policy of keeping documents and having multiple witnesses. This should eliminate erroneous factual claims and reduce subjective elements in the narration of the history of this case, which I intend to write. I saw myself simultaneously as a participant and an observer. As the former, my goals were to achieve an efficient win, reduce the impact of potential losses, and protect the President. As the latter, I was an excited case biographer.

Fourth. I saw the Itu Aba issue as belonging to the baskets where there was a need to reduce the impact of a potential loss and protect the President. By now, people should be aware that the Itu Aba issue is one where the entire team’s level of confidence was not at its highest. This explains why that feature was not included in our “complaint” in the first place. My discomfort with the treatment of Itu Aba figured prominently in a 2014 Memorandum I sent to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr. and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel (now Justice) Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa. This should be remarkably self- explanatory, and an interesting read.

I invite Ms. Hofileña and Ms. Vitug to reveal any other 2014 “official communication” from me to Malacanan.

Fifth. Ms. Hofileña and Ms. Vitug have a wildly mixed-up sequencing of events, which is to be expected from those who do not have official documents or had no direct and personal knowledge of events. Let me take the cudgels for them on one critical decision- point.

In the hearing on the merits last November 2015, the Tribunal made the Philippines grapple with a hypothetical: what happens if a feature (Itu Aba) were declared an island under UNCLOS (which therefore generates an Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles from its coastline)? The original, proposed answer was that the Tribunal would retain jurisdiction to control, by some means, the conduct of the parties “pending agreement on delimitation or joint development arrangements.” I thought this was both novel and strange. This was the first time this theory was broached, and the proposal to softly offer “joint development arrangements” if we lose on the Itu Aba issue was problematic.

Witnesses to the agent’s discussion with foreign counsel, assuming they’re not deliberately forgetful, will remember two important points I repeatedly emphasized—

1) Commit to the wave. I did a short lecture on how surfers are able to catch big waves. Itu Aba is a wave we absolutely needed to catch, and we should not signal to the Tribunal that we think we might lose. We needed to focus our firepower on winning that issue instead of sheepishly offering “joint development arrangements” for when we lose. We should not, therefore, telegraph our punches.

2) Avoid impression of selling out. The Philippines, in this litigation, should not be seen as offering “joint development arrangements” as a second option or a compromise. For myself, I was particularly worried about being seen as inserting a very specific economic incentive as trade-off for losing the Itu Aba question. I told everyone “I will not be the Solicitor General who sold this case to China.”

Those who were in that meeting were former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert Del Rosario, Justice Francis Jardeleza, Justice Antonio Carpio, Ambassador Jaime Ledda, Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra, and the entire contingent of Foley & Hoag.

In the aftermath of that meeting, foreign counsel strengthened (even more) the arguments on Itu Aba, dropped “joint development,” and recast the Philippines’ post-loss scenario to not make it appear we were not confident about winning Itu Aba.

At the conclusion of the hearings, Paul Reichler and Bernard Oxman (who delivered the wonderfully powerful speech for that hypothetical) thanked and congratulated me for my intervention. On my flight back home to Manila, I emailed Prof. Oxman: “I am serious when I tell you that your speech on the third day will probably be remembered as one of the most important speeches on the South China Sea disputes, and I’ll surely remind everyone of that fact.”

I think we won the Itu Aba issue because everyone from the Philippine side and the foreign counsel’s side was professional enough to realize that our occasional disagreements in this case could lead, rather thankfully, to compromises over our strongly held opinions. Fortunately, the brew was sufficient to convince the Tribunal that our arguments on the various submissions were correct.

Moving forward, I think the wise attitude here is to celebrate the victory, not malign anybody’s contribution. Justice Jardeleza, always fond of quoting JFK, would usually remind me that victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.

I couldn’t care less if this victory had a million parents.

-30-

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Filed under International Law, ITLOS, Nine-Dash Line Claim, PCA, Philippines, South China Sea, Uncategorized, UNCLOS

The Philippines’ Right to Self-Determination and the South China Sea Question

ONE WAY to frame the Philippine claim in regard to areas in the South China Sea is from the right to self-determination for its own people as to the use of natural resources that are rightfully theirs. As held in the East Timor case, such right is peremptory and invokes erga omnes omnium (universal) obligations. This is from the point of view of state responsibility reinforcing erga omnes partes (treaty) obligations.

Thus, under the law on state responsibility, states not party to the dispute in question have an obligation to respect the territorial integrity and sovereign rights of the Philippines; they are legally bound to refuse to recognize the Chinese Nine-Dash Line as lawful, and to refrain from recognizing or entering into any agreements with China for the unlawful exploitation of natural resources in the Philippine EEZ and the Continental Shelf.

There is also the positive duty on the part of all states to cooperate to put a stop to such unlawful acts. Even non-parties to the UNCLOS are bound by such an obligation, it being (jus cogens) peremptory in nature.

The Philippines’ entitlement to the fruits of such a right has already been confirmed and upheld by the landmark judgment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the South China Sea Arbitration case.

 Lawyer Joel Butuyan, in his Philippine Daily Inquirer column and Justice Antonio Carpio in his public statements have already pointed to the possibility of suing third parties conniving with China in exploiting resources within Philippine EEZ and the Continental shelf within the UNCLOS regime. 

The law on state responsibility solidifies the Philippine claim against such a situation through the legal effects of the right to self-determination. This is general international law complementary to the Law of the Sea regime.

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Filed under China, International Law, ITLOS, Nine-Dash Line Claim, Scarborough Shoal, UNCLOS

On the Chinese arbitral snub and new building spree in the West Philippine Sea

China’s snub of the Philippine arbitral claim on the West Philippine Sea and its new slew of building projects on disputed reefs in the area backed by naval presence are “a serious and belligerent violation of” the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, outspoken Filipino legal academic told recent international law conference in Tokyo.

Speaking at the 5th Annual Meeting of the Japan Society of International Law at the Chuo University Law School last Sunday, University of the Philippines professor Harry L. Roque Jr. said that China’s refusal to participate in the arbitration and its unilateral acts in building artificial islands in the disputed maritime area of the Spratly’s constitutes a “serious breach of the UNCLOS since as a party to the Convention, China agreed to refer all matters involving interpretation and application of the UNCLOS to the compulsory and binding dispute settlement procedure of the Convention”.

Roque, who is also Director of the UP Law Center’s Institute of international Legal Studies, said that the international community took a very long time to agree on the provisions of UNCLOS because all countries of the world wanted the Convention to be the “constitution for the seas”.

“By prohibiting reservations and by adopting all provision on the basis of consensus, it was the intention of the world community to do away with the use of force and unilateral acts in the resolution of all disputes arising from maritime territory,” said Roque.

Debunking the view expressed recently by Judge Xue Hanquin, the Chinese Judge in the International Court of Justice that states that made declarations when they ratified the UNCLOS, China included, are deemed to have opted out of the dispute settlement procedure of the Convention, Roque noted that China’s subsequent reservations only as to specific subject matters from the jurisdiction of the dispute settlement procedures proves that China agreed to be bound by the procedure. “This means that China is under a very clear obligation to participate in the proceedings, if only to dispute the jurisdiction of the Tribunal,” Roque said.

More worrisome, according to Roque, is China’s recent resort to the use of force in bolstering its claim to the disputed territories.

It has been reported recently that China has been building artificial islands in Johnson South Reef and expanding its artificial island in Fiery Cross reef, and deploying its maritime and naval forces to ward off any opposition.

Roque said these recent Chinese actions are “ill-distinguished conquests of territory through the use of force,” which is prohibited by both the UNCLOS and the UN Charter.

“These construction are happening in the face of China’s snub of the arbitral proceedings which precisely impugns China’s legal rights to do so. Clearly, China’s conduct is not only illegal as prohibited use of force, but is also contemptous of the proceedings”, Roque said.

Moreover, China has publicly declared that its actions are an implementation of a new defense maritime policy which envisions “Sea Denial Capability” in the West Philippine Sea by 2020 .

The Philippines is asking the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea to declare that China’s nine-dash lines is illegal since it is not sanctioned by the UNCLOS.

The Philippine claim also asked the Hague -based arbitral tribunal that four “low-water elevations,” so-called because they are only visible during low tide, and where China has build artificial islands, be declared as part of the continental shelf of the Philippines, and that the waters outside of the 12 nautical miles of Panatag shoal be declared as part of the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.

Roque belied China’s claim that the waters within the nine-dash lines are generated by land territory and hence, the controversy cannot be resolved under the UNCLOS. “Clearly, the three specific prayers of the Philippines involve interpretation and application of specific provisions to UNCLOS relating to internal waters, territorial sea, Exclusive Economic Zones, islands, and low tide elevations. While the Spratlys dispute without a doubt also involves land territory, these are not the subjects of the Philippines claim, Roque added.

The Chinese academic in the conference, Prof. Zhang Xinjun of Tsinghua University, characterized the Philippine arbitral claim as a “mixed claim” because it involves both claims to sovereignty arising from land territory and not just purely maritime territory. This, he explained, is why the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal lacks jurisdiction over the Philippine claim. He likened the Philippine proceeding to that initiated by Mauritius against the United Kingdom. In this case, while it is also pending, the UK has argued that the dispute settlement proceedings of UNCLOS should not apply because the disputed maritime territory are generated by land territory.

The Japanese academic, Prof. NIishimoto Kentaro of Tohoku University, on the other hand, expressed reservations whether the Philippines could prevail in impugning China’s title to all four islands, which the Philippines claimed should form part of the Philippine continental shelf. At least two of these islands are within the 200 nautical miles of Ito Iba Island, currently under the control of Taiwan, and thus may not form part of the Philippine continental shelf, according to the Japanese academic.

He supported however the Philippines position on the nine-dash lines arguing that in seeking a declaration of nullity of these lines, the Philippines was not engaged in maritime delimitation, but in an action for a declaration of rights, which is an issue of interpretation and application of the UNCLOS. He characterized the Philippines position against the Nine-Dash lines as “very strong”.

Japan is also engaged in its own territorial dispute with China over Senkaku Island.

 

Prof. Roque’s power point presentation at the conference may be found in www.harryroque.com

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International Law and its Postcolonial Discontents and Possibilities: Lessons from Magallona v. Ermita

 

ImageReactor’s comments  to the 10th MetroBank Professorial Chair Lecture, “Internationalization of Philippine Territory: The Question of Boundaries,”  by Dean Merlin M. Magallona, Chair, Philippine Judicial Academy International and Human Rights Law Department,  Nov, 13, 2013,  Malcolm Hall, UP College of Law, under the auspices of the  PHILJA and the Supreme Court of the Philippines (not for publication or citation without permission from the author)

By Atty. Romel Regalado Bagares

I begin my discussion of Dean Magallona’s lecture with a disclosure: I had the misfortune of having my very first recitation in my very first day in my very first class in my very first year in law school under him. It was a class in legal history and he was then just beginning to discuss with us his students the assigned readings for the day on Philippine customary law. As I heard him call my name for an explanation on the term “indigenous”, I stood from my front row seat with a start, and much to my own shock, proceeded to pace up and down the middle of the room as I explained to him what I understood by the term. The good Dean, face contorted by what could only be mock horror, blurted out at me: “Mr. Bagares – what are you doing? Are you trying to tell me that you can actually think?”

So friends, you will have to forgive me if what I will say today is colored in some way by my first recitation in law school.  I can only hope that at the end of this discussion, you will at least be convinced that I can actually think.

A second disclosure is that other than being a former student of the good Dean, I was also Petitioners’ co-counsel in the case of Magallona v. Executive Secretary,  which is the principal subject of his lecture. So please take my presentation with this further grain of salt.

And so, on to my comments to his lecture:

At the heart of Dean Magallona’s lecture is Magallona v. Ermita is now a judicial fait accompli; with this decision of the Supreme Court, ironically immortalized in the name of the very person who had been most assiduous in opposing it, the internationalization of Philippine territory – by which he meant other states acquiring some form of territorial rights in our own backyard – is complete.

The judicial confirmation that we have now been transformed into an archipelagic state in the contemplation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS) could only have disastrous results to national sovereignty as understood in the Philippine Constitution.  With that, the colonial vestige that is the Treaty of Paris regime (which I am using as a shorthand), and under which the Philippines had previously staked its territorial rights as a state, is consigned to irrelevance.

It may well be one of life’s supreme ironies that Dean Magallona, a card-carrying nationalist international legal scholar, is also a staunch supporter of what we as a country has previously considered as our national territory’s international treaty limits under the over a century-old Treaty of Paris. As an international document, the Treaty of Paris carries with it all the hurts and pains of one country whose struggle to carve its own place in the community of nations was hijacked by colonizers.  But if I understood his view of international law correctly, it is precisely that history is what we make of what other people make of us, to borrow a phrase from one existentialist philosopher. One sees this most clearly in a year 2000 article he wrote for the venerable Philippine Law Journal, where he dealt with the history and morality of the (classical) international law of conquest and colonization as embodied in the Treaty of Paris.

Indeed, the Treaty of Paris carries with the many paradoxes of our existence as a postcolonial state.  As a text it invokes high emotions: the future of a country praised by the Indonesian novelist Pramoedya AnantaToer in his famous Buru Quartet for inaugurating nationalist impulses in our own corner of colonial Asia sold just like that for 20 million US dollars.  Yet for about 400 years – if we were to consider the continuities it presents between the Spanish to the American regime – it marked out what for us were the outer reaches of national territory unlike any other,  and its precise metes and bounds had been transformed into constitutional principle from American Commonwealth days, to the Martial Law era, and on to the Post-Marcos 1987 Constitution.

The TOP marks out a rectangular territorial sea fully encompassing the entirety of the Philippine archipelago; at some points, the territorial sea exceeds 12 nautical miles in breadth.  Perhaps, it bears noting that although the Philippines is not the only state which claims a territorial sea of more than 12 nautical miles, it is the only mid-ocean archipelago whose territorial claims had been specifically defined and delimited in latitude and longitude and embodied in international treaties and drawn in whole maps and charts.  In fact, as one author has observed, “the area of asserted jurisdiction is, in some places, 285 nautical miles from the nearest lands, thereby making it the most extravagant seaward claims.”

The Romantic Post-Colonial Argument

And so, to begin with, on the level of historical discourse, there’s not a lot going for the Treaty of Paris. As has been already noted, one argument against it is that it embodies one of the worst vestiges of our postcolonial heritage: accepting its international legal implications would mean accepting the rank immorality of the Spanish cession of the Philippines to the United States. Our future as a country was sold by one colonizer to another, violating our right to self-determination, which we have already declared on June 12, 1896 in Kawit, Cavite.

The UNCLOS, meanwhile, represents our sovereign and independent willing as a country and nation to fashion a future according to our own wishes. It marks our entry point into the modern international community in a decisive move to break away from the vestiges of an older international law where conquest was a legal means of acquiring territory.

The Treaty of Paris belonged to the Lotus era, where states did as they wished, for as long as there was no express prohibition in international law for what they did; the UNCLOS is one of those key international instruments that helped fashion an international community founded on communal values, and it is one in which we participated as a fully sovereign, newly-independent state.

Under this view, the Treaty of Paris represented an appeal to international law that may well be difficult if not impossible to successfully prosecute, because of its highly exceptional nature. But in a more complex contemporary reality, the best strategy is to adopt what is widely accepted and shared, as what can be made as a case for the UNCLOS, now with 166 member states out of a possible 193 member states of the United Nations, as of August 2013.

One connected strand of this version of the postcolonial narrative is the claim by some quarters today that it was the Philippines, along with Indonesia, that introduced the archipelagic doctrine during the deliberations at the UNCLOS conferences in 1958 and 1960.  It was the requirement of the very same archipelagic doctrine as embodied in the final document of the treaty to which we became compliant with the passage of RA 9522, the new Baselines Law assailed in Magallona v. Ermita. It is no doubt an appealing assertion of romantic history but it is unfortunately a grossly inaccurate one, its historiography either twisted or one founded on academic laxity.

It is true that the Philippines submitted proposals for a new archipelagic doctrine to the UNCLOS conferences. At the time, international law did not have a definite rule on the reaches of the territorial sea; the Philippines thus advanced the archipelago theory, which considered as a single unified whole outlying or mid-ocean archipelagos such as itself for marking out the reaches of its territorial waters by drawing baselines from the outermost points of the archipelago and the belt of marginal seas outside of such baselines. Further, consistent with its constitutional provisions on the National Territory under the 1935 Constitution and the Treaty of Paris, the Philippines asserted that waters landward of or within the baselines are internal waters.

The justification for this, according to the Philippines, is that the prevailing conceptions of the limits of the territorial sea had been based largely on the continental nature of a coastal State and did not consider the archipelagic nature of states like the Philippines.

The Philippines lost in its bid to have its archipelagic theory recognized in the UNCLOS conference. What prevailed is the view of an archipelagic state subject to the regime of the archipelagic waters now enshrined in Art  46 in relation to Article  47 (1) of Part IV of  the UNCLOS.

It is this regime in the UNCLOS that Dean Magallona argues, has eliminated wide swatches of  waters considered under the Treaty of Paris and the Philippine Constitution  to be Philippine internal waters.

But in good protester state’s fashion, following the 1958 and the 1960 UNCLOS conferences, the Philippines passed RA 3046 (later amended by RA 5446) using the outermost points of the Archipelago for the purpose of drawing straight archipelagic baselines.

RA 3046 (An Act to Define the Baselines of the Territorial Sea of the Philippines)referred to the Treaty of Paris in its preambular paragraphs, to wit:

WHEREAS, the Constitution of the Philippines describes the national territory as comprising all the territory ceded to the United States by theTreaty of Paris concluded between the United States and Spain on December 10, 1898, the limits of which are set forth in Article III of said treaty, together with all the islands embraced in the treaty concluded at Washington, between the United States and Spain on November 7, 1900, and in the treaty concluded between the United States and Great Britain on January 2, 1930, and all the territory over which the Government of the Philippine Islands exercised jurisdiction at the time of the adoption of the Constitution; (Emphasis supplied)

Our first baselines law further stated that all the waters within the limits defined in the Treaty of Paris have always been regarded as part of the territory of the Philippine Islands, to wit:

WHEREAS, all the waters within the limits set forth in the above-mentioned treaties have always been regarded as  part of the territory of the Philippine Islands;”

In Magallona v. Ermita however, our Supreme Court fell for the romantic postcolonial yarn that from the very beginning we had always been an archipelagic state and  had even originated the doctrine in the 1958 and the 1960 UNCLOS conferences; that, or it apparently confused the concept of an “Archipelago” with that of an “Archipelagic State”. It thus declared

In 1961, Congress passed Republic Act No. 3046 (RA 3046), demarcating the maritime baselines of the Philippines as an archipelagic State. xxx  (Emphasis supplied, internal citation omitted)

It bears stressing that as a legal concept, the Archipelagic State did not come into existence until it was adopted in Part IV of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  The Philippines considered itself an Archipelago –a unity of land and water – under its 1935, 1973 and 1987 Constitutions.  It did not become formally an Archipelagic State until, as a State Party to the UNCLOS, it applied the straight archipelagic baselines under Article 47(1), Part IV of the UNCLOS, such baselines being a feature of archipelagic States under the said Part IV of the UNCLOS.

To repeat, the Philippines is an Archipelago but it did not become an Archipelagic State until the enactment of Republic Act No. 9522 which implemented such baselines under the concept of Archipelagic State of the UNCLOS.

Art. 46, Part IV,  read with Art. 47 (1), Part IV, makes the distinction clear:

 

Use of terms

For the purposes of this Convention:

(a)”archipelagic State” means a State constituted wholly by one or more archipelagos and may include other islands;

(b) “archipelago” means a group of islands, including parts of islands, interconnecting waters and other natural features which are so closely interrelated that such islands, waters and other natural features form an intrinsic geographical, economic and political entity, or which historically have been regarded as such.

That our Supreme Court conflated the two concepts is evident when it  quoted in Footnote 3 of the Ponencia the third “Whereas Clause” of RA 3046  as expressing the import of treating the Philippines as an archipelagic State:

“WHEREAS, all the waters around, between and connecting the various islands of the Philippine archipelago, irrespective of their width or dimension, have always been considered as necessary appurtenance of the land territory, form part of the inland waters of the Philippines.”

Post-Colonial Prudence

It is a grievous mistake to consider this WHEREAS Clause as a way of “treating the Philippines as an archipelagic State,” because the internal waters as areas of sovereignty appurtenant to the land territory of the Philippines is precisely what is eliminated by the UNCLOS in its concept of Archipelagic State,replacing  internal waters with “archipelagic waters” for the objective right of innocent passage of all ships of all States, among other rights, as found in Art. 53 of the UNCLOS, among other provisions.

Thus we now have a legal quandary of a statute amending our constitution, albeit in international law – and this is what makes it worse – both have equal standing as binding unilateral acts  of a state.

Having said that, the egging question is whether we could have avoided the archipelagic state regime at all, despite our being a party to the UNCLOS, at least, for the time being?

The Petitioners in Magallona v. Ermita have argued in the affirmative.  It is not mandatory upon States Parties that are archipelagos to make transform themselves into archipelagic States.  This is borne out in the permissive language of Art. 47 (1), Part IV of the UNCLOS :

An archipelagic State may draw straight archipelagic baselines joining the outermost points of the outermost islands and drying reefs of the archipelago provided that within such baselines are included the main islands and an area in which the ratio of the area of the water to the area of the land, including atolls, is between 1 to 1 and 9 to 1.

In fact, the Supreme Court’s Ponencia in Magallona v. Executive Secretary itself acknowledged that the Petitioners’ reading of the UNCLOS is plausible, namely that– “based on the permissive text of UNCLOS III, Congress was not bound to pass RA 9522.” However, the High Court thought it was the province of Congress to say so and not theirs. Regrettably, the High Court passed off the chance to declare the new Baselines Law to have been passed and signed into law in grave abuse of discretion, at least with respect to its transformation of the Philippines into an Archipelagic state.

Which leads me to my second point about international law’s postcolonial discontents and possibilities: we’re all for human rights, jus cogens and all that, but in addition, we should also learn to use international law with postcolonial prudence.

That we have not done so is laid out in stark detail by the fact that states like Japan and Cuba – which  are archipelagos in their own right – have not declared themselves as “Archipelagic States” under Art. 47 (1), Part IV of the UNCLOS.

Instead, we made a “rush for the second place, “and simply ignored – in an exercise of “chronological snobbery” – what we have already achieved as a State, despite our tormented postcolonial heritage.

Contra textualist readings of the Treaty of Paris which do not treat the treaty limits found there as political boundaries but merely heuristic devices, we assert that we have made that Treaty ours and for our posterity by constitutional principle.

Dean Magallona does not mention it in his lecture but Petitioners have in fact argued that  under the doctrine of uti possedetis juris, the International Treaty Limits contained in the treaty have become frontiers protected by international law. The doctrine, accepted now as a general principle of international law by the International Court of Justice, served to freeze the title over territory at the time of independence, in effect producing a “photograph of the territory.”

In the territorial dispute between Burkina Faso and Mali, the International Court of Justice would affirm the principle in these words: “[t]here is no doubt that the obligation to respect pre-existing international frontiers in the event of State succession derives from a general rule of international law expressed in the formula of uti possidetis.” Read from a postcolonial perspective, the doctrine, originally applied with much initial resistance in settling decolonization issues in America and Africa, we should use to our territorial advantage. Indeed, as we have argued in Magallona v. Ermita, we have in fact constitutionalized the import of this doctrine by incorporating in the national territory provisions of practically all of our postcolonial constitutions the metes and bounds of the Treaty of Paris regime.

Dean Magallona has bewailed the schizophrenia in the stance of the Philippine delegation to the UNCLOS conferences: at the conferences, on the one hand, they consistently pursued “the dominion and sovereignty of the archipelagic state within the baselines, which were so drawn as to preserve the territorial integrity of the archipelago by the inseparable unity of the land and water”; yet on the other hand, they still went on and signed the UNCLOS and had it ratified, though not without submitting a declaration to the UN stating that the Philippines becoming a state party to the treaty did not mean that it any manner impaired or prejudice “the sovereign rights of the Republic of the Philippines under and arising from the Constitution of the Philippines.”

At least, today, with RA 9522 and Magallona v. Executive Secretary, we can safely say we now know where we exactly stand. Thank you

 

 

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China’s territorial claims and the future of international law in Asia

By Romel Regalado Bagares

While the Chinese Communist Party wrestled with the challenges of political transition at home (including sex scandals, corruption and murder in the highest echelons of power),  the Chinese government has been picking quarrels with its much smaller neighbours over maritime territory.

Tensions over territorial disputes across the Asian region have led observers to wonder whether a China with immense economic needs and superpower ambitions is actually able to follow rules-based maritime regime under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) vital to regional cooperation and stability.

Law of the Sea in the disputes

The UNCLOS establishes the reach of a coastal state’s 12- nautical mile territorial sea, 24-nautical mile contiguous zone, 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone, 200-nautical mile Continental Shelf and its 150-nautical mile extension. It also provides rules for the exploitation of mineral and marine resources found in the sea and the seabed as well as for resolving conflicting maritime claims.

With Japan, China appears to have  recently come dangerously close to a shooting war in a  dispute over the five small uninhabited islands and three rocks of the Senkaku in the East China Sea.

Japan has accused a Chinese warship  of locking its fire-control radar on a Japanese destroyer in the high seas near the islands —definitely an escalation from previous confrontations  between Japan and another claimant-nation, Taiwan, where ships from both sides engaged one another in water cannon -duels.

Indeed, China, which treats Taiwan as an estranged province,  denies the Japanese charge.

Meanwhile, in the South China Sea, an area rich in oil, gas and fishing resources, China is locked in a long-standing dispute with several Southeast Asian nations over the Spratly group of islands, namely, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia.

China, a signatory to the UNCLOS,  justifies its territorial and maritime claims in the region through its Nine-Dash Line declaration.

Click here for the full essay as it appeared in the University of Exeter’s ThinkIR Blog.

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Filed under Bajo De Masinloc, China, International Law, ITLOS, Nine-Dash Line Claim, Scarborough Shoal, UNCLOS, US Pivot

After the China Snub, What Next?

 

Yahoo News Philippines just published a piece I wrote  for VeraFiles  on the simmering legal dispute between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Click here for the full essay.

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Filed under International Court of Justice, International Law, ITLOS, Scarborough Shoal, Uncategorized, UNCLOS

Notes on the Tubbataha incident

By Romel Bagares, Esq.
Executive Director
Center for International Law

ImageThe Philippines, through its Department of Foreign Affairs, should  press the US to pay fines and damages in connection with the Tubbataha Reef incident involving the grounding of the US minesweeper USS Guardian.

While it is true that  following international legal norms,  the US is cloaked with sovereign immunity and the acts or omissions of its naval personnel on the USS Guardian * are considered as its own act or omission, such that it may not be sued for such act or omission without its own consent,[See Argentina v Ghana, ITLOS 2012; ] it may also waive the protection of such immunity.

The US has in fact waived such sovereign immunity, pursuant to Art  VI, para. 2 of the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement, which states that:

 For claims against the United States, other than contractual claims and those to which paragraph 1 applies, the United States Government, in accordance with United States law regarding foreign claims, will pay just and reasonable compensation in settlement of meritorious claims for damage, loss, personal injury or death, caused by acts or omissions of United States personnel, or otherwise incident to the non-combat activities of the United States forces.

Moreover, in the same agreement, the US bound itself to respect Philippine law, as it agreed to Art. II of the VFA, which states that:

It is the duty of United States personnel to respect the laws of the Republic of the Philippines and to abstain from any activity inconsistent with the spirit of this agreement, and, in particular, from any political activity in the Philippines. The Government of the United States shall take all measures within its authority to ensure that this is done.

The US has a good faith obligation under the principle of pacta sunt servanda to abide by these terms of the Agreement.

This good faith obligation includes its duty to pay compensation for the damage caused to the  130,028-hectare Tubbataha Reef, pursuant to Republic Act Republic Act No. 10067, otherwise known as  “An Act Establishing the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Province of Palawan as a Protected Area Under the Nipas Act (R.A. 7586) and the Strategic Environmental Plan (Sep) for Palawan Act (R.A. 7611), Providing for Its Management and For Other Purposes.”

In fact,  under this same law, US naval personnel on the USS Guardian who ignored warnings by marine sanctuary authorities and insisted on entering  it without a permit and in violation of the law are criminally liable, pursuant to Art. 26, para. 6 of RA 10067,  in addition to other applicable penal laws on environmental protection.

Their acts and omissions are punishable with imprisonment of between three years and six years, in addition to administrative fines, according to RA 10067.

It is the good faith obligation of the US to investigate the actions of responsible officers of the USS Guardian and, if they are found culpable, to hand them over to Philippine authorities to be prosecuted, pursuant to Art. V, Section 1 para (a) of the VFA on criminal jurisdiction, to wit: 

Philippine authorities shall have jurisdiction over United States personnel with respect to offenses committed within the Philippines and punishable under the law of the Philippines.

In addition,  pursuant to the ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of Nicholas v. Executive Secretary (G.R. No. 175888, Feb. 11, 2009) we litigated before the High Court,  the Philippines and the US are to renegotiate the terms of the Agreement, especially in regard to the question of detention facilities for US personnel accused of committing a crime under Philippine law.

In that case, the High Court directed the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs “to forthwith negotiate with the United States representatives for the appropriate agreement on detention facilities under Philippine authorities as provided in Art. V, Sec. 10 of the VFA, pending which the status quo shall be maintained until further orders by this Court.”

Since the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the case, Philippine authorities have yet to comply with the High Court’s Order.

 Responsible officers and crew of USS Guardian have been evacuated from the ship, their whereabouts undisclosed to us. For purposes of criminal prosecution, should it be established by Philippine authorities that they are criminally liable for the mishap, how will a Philippine court acquire jurisdiction over their persons if they had already been spirited out of the country by US authorities?

The  incident  in Tubbataha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site,   once again raises important questions about the relevance and utility of the Visiting Forces Agreement to Philippine national interest, as it now stands.

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* see also the definition of a warship under Art. 29, LOSC, which states that a warship is a  ship “belonging to the armed forces of a State bearing the external marks distinguishing such ships of its nationality, under the command of an officer duly commissioned by the government of the State and whose name appears in the appropriate service list or its equivalent, and manned by a crew which is under regular armed forces discipline.”

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