MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte is "very appreciative" of a call to amend the country's baselines law which would supposedly allow Manila to enforce the 2016 arbitral ruling of a UN-backed court that junked Beijing's claims to Philippine waters, Malacañang said on Thursday.
Duterte ordered his staff to review retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza's proposed new Baselines bill consistent with the ruling against Beijing's claim to almost the entire South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea, said Palace spokesman Harry Roque.
"He (Duterte) immediately asked that it be subjected to complete staff work and he was very appreciative of the suggestion," Roque said in a press briefing.
Jardeleza, the solicitor general of the previous Aquino administration that won the case before an international arbitration court, had urged Duterte to certify the amendment as urgent.
Roque said he asked Duterte to include this in his State of the Nation Address in July to inform Congress "that this will really become a priority bill."
Duterte is into his last year as President. He has pursued friendly ties with China despite continuing incursions in the West Philippine Sea and has called the tribunal's ruling just a piece of paper meant for the waste bin.
Video courtesy of PTV
WHY DO BASELINES MATTER
A baseline refers to the line along the coast of a state from where its maritime jurisdiction may be measured.
The Philippine Baselines Law or Republic Act 9522 modified a series of legislation defining the archipelagic baseline of the Philippines.
Jardeleza recommended amending this law to identify some 128 maritime features in the West Philippine Sea and at least 35 rocks or high tide features.
These areas include those within the Kalayaan Island Group or Spratly Islands and the Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal.
China seized Scarborough after a standoff with the Philippines in 2012. The incident prompted the Aquino government to file an arbitration complaint against China in early 2013.
Beijing ignores the Philippines' arbitral win. In March, some 200 Chinese ships swarmed in different areas of waters off Kalayaan, Palawan.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, earlier this week said there was no need to amend this law.
Section 2 of the law states that Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal and Kalayaan Island Group or Spratly Islands are determined as a "Regime of Islands" under the Philippines, he told ANC.
"Now, that's already sufficient authority for the Philippine government to go ahead and identify the maritime zones around these islands as well as the baselines, which are really just normal baselines," he said.
"In normal baselines, you do not need to legislate. All you need to do is measure all the maritime zones around it."
For Batongbacal, a presidential proclamation as suggested by retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio is a "better exercise of sovereignty" instead of amending the law.
"A proclamation means that we are merely implementing the law and that means it's also an exercise of sovereignty," he said.
"In fact, it's even a better exercise of sovereignty in a way because we're only implementing what's already there. Unlike legislating baselines, it's as if they weren't there before. That should not be the case."
"As I said, it only seems to imply we're not even sure of what these areas are and where they are," he added.