Philippines, Indonesia agree to draw sea boundary

Paterno Esmaquel II
This will make it clear for Filipino and Indonesian fishermen, among others, which parts of the sea they can explore and exploit for resources

THE SIGNATORIES. Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa (left) talks with Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario (right) before the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting at the 24th ASEAN Summit in Naypyitaw, Myanmar on May 10, 2014. Photo by Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

MANILA, Philippines – Ending 20 years of negotiations, the Philippines and Indonesia will soon sign an agreement to draw a boundary between their overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the Mindanao Sea and Celebes Sea.

Described as a triumph for international law, this will make it clear for Filipino and Indonesian fishermen, among others, which parts of the sea they can explore and exploit for resources.

“The conclusion of the negotiations attests to the friendship, patience, goodwill, and commitment of the governments of the Philippines and Indonesia to peacefully address maritime issues,” said Foreign Undersecretary Evan Garcia, who led the Philippine team in negotiations.

In a statement on Monday, May 19, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) explained that the the two countries have finalized the text of their agreement and the chart on the EEZ boundary.

The Philippine and Indonesian delegations in Jakarta on Sunday, May 18, “endorsed for signing by their governments the ‘Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of Indonesia Concerning the Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone Boundary.’”

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and his Indonesian counterpart, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, will sign the agreement – the fruit of a series of meetings since June 1994.

Unlike PH, China case

In his opening remarks on Sunday, Garcia also said a “clearly defined” maritime boundary will “promote more cooperation in the EEZ in order to advance our common interest of managing and preserving the resources in the EEZ for the benefit of our peoples.”

The EEZ is an area 200 nautical miles from a coastal state’s baselines, or edges, within which the state has the sovereign rights to explore and exploit, and conserve and manage natural resources, among others.

The rules for setting the EEZ boundary can be found in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the same convention that the Philippines invokes in its historic case against China over the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The case between the Philippines and China is different, however.

The Philippines, for one, insists that its case against China has nothing to do with overlapping EEZs. (READ: What’s at stake in our case vs China)

China claims it does. It uses this argument to prove that the arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which is hearing the Philippines’ case against China, has no jurisdiction over it. This is because China rejected arbitral proceedings over the delimitation of maritime boundaries in an UNCLOS declaration in 2006. (READ: China rejects PH case, invokes int’l law)

In any case, Garcia said the upcoming agreement between the Philippines and Indonesia “is a significant contribution to, and an example of, reasonable efforts to build a stable and peaceful regional community, in consideration of the interests of countries concerned and in accordance with international law.” –