[Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda]

MANILA, MARCH 11, 2013 (INQUIRER) Written by Rigoberto Tiglao - Pardon the harsh words, but more than two dozen Muslim Filipinos have been killed in Sabah–some, their bodies burned by incendiary bombs.

More most probably will be killed in the next few days because of lies, ignorance, or dimwittedness.

President Aquino’s policy stance, which is to let the Malaysians do what they want to do with the Sultan of Sulu’s followers who have dug in in Sabah, is due to his view that the Philippine claim on Sabah, at best, to use his words, is a “hopeless cause,” and at worst, “a weak claim.”

But Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda has demonstrated how grossly misinformed he and President Aquino are on the Philippine claim to Sabah.

In his March 5 briefing, Lacierda was asked by Patricia Chiu, a reporter for GMA News Online, for his reaction to Senator Richard Gordon’s statement that Mr. Aquino may be courting impeachment for violating Republic Act 5446 (enacted in 1968) which affirms Sabah as Philippine territory. Gordon was referring to the law’s section 2 which reads:

“The definition of the baselines of the territorial sea of the Philippine Archipelago as provided in this Act is without prejudice to the delineation of the baselines of the territorial sea around the territory of Sabah, situated in North Borneo, over which the Republic of the Philippines has acquired dominion and sovereignty. (emphasis mine).”

With a mocking smirk on his face, Lacierda replied: “My goodness Senator Gordon, that has been repealed by Republic Act 9522, the new baselines law. It repealed section 2, where the demarcations [sic] of Sabah were removed.”

“So I don’t know where Senator Gordon is getting his legal knowledge but the law he is invoking has already been repealed by the new baselines law.”

For a lawyer, Lacierda’s ignorance on this matter is stunning, although it seems he didn’t even bother to actually read the two laws. While the new baselines law had no reference at all to the old section 2, that does not mean it was repealed. As the law’s title reads, it amends only “certain provisions” of R.A.5446.

And what were these provisions in the old laws that were amended? The technical description of the country’s new baselines and the specification of the Kalayaan Islands and Bajo de Masinloc as “Regimes of Islands” in order to comply with the new definitions under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It so basic to anybody with a modicum of legal knowledge that a new amending law must specifically refer to the provisions of an old law that are to be repealed. A more drastic way would be to declare an entire law repealed, and not just “certain provisions”, as in the case of R.A. 9522 specified. Provisions contained in the old law that are not specifically repealed remain part of the laws of the land. An example would be the fact that there have been many laws amending the Penal Code (for instance raising penalties for certain offenses) but its provisions that were not specifically cited obviously are still part of the laws of the land.

RA 9522 specifically mentions how section 1 (which specifies the new baselines) of the old RA 5446 should be henceforth read. While the new law has a section 2 that refers to the new “Regime of Islands”, it does not specify that the provisions in the old section 2 referring to Sabah as Philippine territory are repealed.

The foremost expert on the baselines laws, Estelito Mendoza, in fact wrote a letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (February 24, 2013) emphasizing that the old law’s provision that the Philippines has acquired “dominion and sovereignty over the territory of Sabah, situated in North Borneo” “continues to be effective.”

I hope Mr. Lacierda doesn’t demonstrate more ignorance by claiming that this is just my and Mr. Mendoza’s views: It is the Supreme Court which is also saying so.

A case was filed in 2009 asking the Supreme Court to declare the new baselines law unconstitutional by groups and personalities, including Aquino’s favorite candidate Akbayan official Risa Baraquel, that wanted to be in the front-front of the anti-Arroyo mob by sabotaging one of her major legislative initiatives.

Other than inane arguments (for instance, that the law gives up Philippine territory as defined by the Treaty of Paris), the suit claimed precisely what Lacierda thinks, that it gives up our Sabah claim, as it doesn’t have any reference to it.

The Supreme Court July 16, 2011 unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the new baselines law, and threw out the issue that the new law doesn’t uphold our sovereignty over Sabah:

“Petitioners’ argument for the invalidity of RA 9522 for its failure to textualize the Philippines’ claim over Sabah in North Borneo is also untenable. Section 2 of RA 5446, which RA 9522 did not repeal, keeps open the door for drawing the baselines of Sabah.”

Here is where I explain this column’s headline that Lacierda is either ignorant, lying or dimwitted.

I had thought Lacierda was lying or ignorant when he claimed that the new baselines law rescinded the old one which affirmed Philippine sovereignty over Sabah.

However, he may be just plain dimwitted. In the same press briefing, in the course of answering the GMA New Online reporter’s question, Lacierda said:

“And let me also educate you further. The constitutionality of the new baselines law was questioned in the Supreme Court and the court answered in very categorical terms, the new baselines law did not repeal the claim to Sabah.”

I nearly fell of my seat hearing Mr. Lacierda. First he says Mr. Aquino didn’t violate the old baselines law that affirmed our Philippine sovereignty over Sabah, since the new baselines law repealed that provision.

But then he says in his “let-me-educate-you-further” part, that the Supreme Court says the new baselines law did not repeal the old law’s claim over Sabah.

Which is which? Either Lacierda is just dimwitted not to notice his contradictory statements, or maybe he’s not had, unsurprisingly, not enough sleep because of the Sabah crisis (He was totally unaware of his inane inconsistencies that he was even arrogantly sarcastic: “So I don’t know where Senator Gordon is getting his legal ideas. Maybe Senator Gordon’s research should be updated.)

It is a sad testament of the state of the Malacanang Press Corps that they didn’t notice how patently contradictory Lacierda was. (If you can’t believe how ridiculous Lacierda was, a video of the press briefing is at http://pcoo.gov.ph/pb-030513-pslacierda.htm (segment between 18:48 to 20:38 minutes,) a verbatim transcript of which will be posted at my blog www.rigoberrtotiglao.com)

Lacierda’s boo-boo would be just hilarious, if not for the fact that the presidential spokesman has revealed how confused, or misinformed, Aquino and his officials are with regards to our very serious claim over Sabah.

This explains their mind-set that the Sultan’s men are, as Aquino himself put, “foolhardy”, and that the Malaysians can do with them “what anybody will do to an armed intruder.”

Senator Gordon is right, Aquino is courting impeachment for ignoring a law of the land, affirmed by the Supreme Court, that the Philippines has dominion and sovereignty over Sabah.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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