The Constitution and the West Philippine Sea

By: Florin T. Hilbay / Oct 26, 2016 / Inquirer

Prior to Philippines v. China, we had claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) about our maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea. So did China. The arbitration resulted in an overwhelming validation of the Philippines’ arguments, and an emphatic rejection of China’s. The four corners of every page of Philippines v. China determines with finality our specific rights in the West Philippine Sea.

In gist, the decision declared unlawful China’s nine-dash line. It recognized the full breadth of our exclusive economic zone, and our rights over Ayungin Shoal, Mischief Reef, and Reed Bank. The tribunal further recognized traditional fishing rights within the territorial sea of Scarborough Shoal.

The character of the Philippines’ and China’s claims is now different. We don’t have mere claims; we now have rights. Our rights trump China’s claims. We won, it lost.

Strategically, what President Benigno Aquino III has done is replace the platform for asserting our rights from one based on politics to another based on law. We did not just win chips that may be bargained away. We have replaced the table where the game is played. We got permanent leverage.

Philippines v. China must be read in relation to Art. XII, Sec. 2 of our Constitution: “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.” The decision is the legal baseline for our foreign policy in the West Philippine Sea. This is a nonnegotiable, prepolitical constitutional mandate for every administration.

Let me focus on specific areas of concern.

Historic rights. The purported basis of China’s nine-dash line was the existence of historic rights that predated the Unclos. For various reasons, the tribunal rejected their existence and validity. Every administration has the obligation to not give any more credence to these imaginary rights. It would be sadly ironic if the country that debunked these imaginary rights end up validating them while everyone else in the world use our victory as basis for rejecting China’s claims.

Traditional fishing rights. The tribunal characterized Scarborough Shoal as rocks entitled to a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles within which Filipinos and other nationalities enjoy traditional fishing rights. China is now under legal obligation to recognize these rights. Read more…

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