MANILA, MARCH 5, 2008 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - The Philippines will be able to meet the deadline in formalizing its claim over part of the Spratly islands in the South China Sea next year as set by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), President Arroyo said yesterday.

In her message at the start of the Cabinet meeting in Malacañang, Mrs. Arroyo said Cabinet officials are working on filing a formal claim “over resource areas within our exclusive economic zone (EEZ)” that should be filed before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea by May 2009.

“Through this claim, we shall advance the rights and interests of our nation in harnessing these rich resources,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo thanked former justice secretary Estelito Mendoza, who “has lent his unrivaled expertise to help strengthen the Philippine claim on this very valuable portion of our national patrimony.”

Her statements came amid reports that the Arroyo administration was giving up its claim over a portion of the mineral-rich South China Sea to China in exchange for multi-billion dollar loans and projects.

Apart from the Philippines, five other nations are claiming, wholly or in part, the Spratly group of islands: Brunei, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan. The Philippines is claiming a group of islands called the Kalayaan (Freedom) Islands, which lies within the country’s EEZ.

Last month, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap warned that the Philippines will lose its claim on Kalayaan Islands and other Extended Continental Shelf areas if it fails to enact a law formalizing its claim on these areas.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who chairs the Palace committee that is crafting the claim over Kalayaan, said the government is adhering to the UNCLOS in determining the country’s territorial lines.

“Because we are an archipelago, we can exploit the natural resources under the waters placed under Philippine territory,” he told reporters.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said Congress must pass the proposed amendments to Republic Act 3046, which is necessary in filing a formal claim over Kalayaan Islands.

“The deadline for filing our claims on baselines law I think is March 2009, so we’re quite late already,” he said.

Enacted in the 1960s, the law defines the baselines of the country’s territorial waters.

After the meeting, Gonzalez said the Cabinet agreed to the archipelagic doctrine as a “prop” to the UNCLOS in staking the claim.

The government would likely declare the Kalayaan Islands as “a regime of islands that would have its own territorial boundaries,” he added.

Gonzalez denied allegations that the government was giving up its claim over the Kalayaan islands to China.

“That is a lot of speculation by people with dirty minds,” he said.


By Jess Diaz - A lawmaker asked Congress yesterday to investigate the allegations in a Hong Kong-based newsmagazine that the 2004 agreement with China for joint oil exploration in the Spratlys was a “sell-out.”

Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez said an article in the January-February 2008 issue of Far Eastern Economic Review criticized the agreement as a “sell-out” on the part of the Philippines.

“Congress should investigate this accusation of a sell-out in light of the sudden emergence of China as a preferred mega lender-investor in the Philippines,” he said.

“China is now a dominant player in communications, education and large-scale agriculture projects, doling out hundreds of millions of dollars from its reputed $1.3-trillion war chest.”

Golez said regional and local security and defense research and study groups have expressed concern over the “lopsided” agreement.

“The word ‘treason’ had even been floated,” he said.

Golez, a former Navy officer and national security adviser of President Arroyo, said the Spratlys are believed to contain oil reserves of around 200-billion barrels.

That oil reserve, at present prices, is worth $20 trillion, he added.

Therefore Philippine claims over the small islands off Palawan must be zealously defended, Golez said.

Meanwhile, a national alliance of local fisher folk organizations called yesterday on Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo to resign for his alleged involvement in the signing of the questionable agreement with China.

The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) accused Mrs. Arroyo and Romulo of committing treason when they signed an agreement allowing China to explore for oil in the Spratlys.

“The crime is unpardonable that merits Romulo’s and (Mrs.) Arroyo’s resignations and trial before any appropriate court and in the court of public opinion,” said Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya chairman.

“The best kept secret about the secret RP-China Spratly deal is the $4-billion loan from the Chinese government that is also checkered with big crimes of corruption,” he said.

“We are going to lose this country to all-time dogs of corruption and salesmen of national sovereignty and patrimony. If Secretary Romulo has still some decency in mind and in heart, he would quit his post and ask President Arroyo to join him.”

Hicap said the “Spratly deal” not only threatens the nation’s sovereignty but the prime tuna stocks found in waters around the Spratlys.

“If China is allowed to conduct offshore mining in the Spratlys and inside the territorial waters, the country’s tuna stocks will be reduced by 50,000 metric tons per year or more than that,” he said.

The waters off the Spratlys are the breeding and spawning ground of precious tuna and other migratory fish species, he added.

Hicap said waters around Philippine-claimed territories in the Spratlys are also known to be rich in oil deposits.

“What is sure is that this offshore mining escapade will create a major imbalance in the ecosystem of tuna and other marine species,” he said.– With Katherine Adraneda

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved