Con-Com's proposed charter firms up West PH Sea stance, Sabah claim

SOVEREIGN RIGHTS. The Consultative Committee proposes an article in the charter to mention sovereign rights.

SOVEREIGN RIGHTS. The Consultative Committee proposes an article in the charter to mention sovereign rights.

MANILA, Philippines – The first article in the constitution that the Consultative Committee (Con-Com) will propose firms up the country's stance on the West Philippine Sea and its claim over Sabah.

The Con-Com, on Thursday, April 19, finalized its wording of Article 1 of its draft charter. The article, compared to its counterpart in the 1987 Constitution, has two paragraphs and refers specifically to international courts, laws of the sea, and sovereign rights.

The proposed Article 1 reads:

Article I

Sovereignty Over Territory and Sovereign Rights 

Section 1: The Philippines has sovereignty over its territory, consisting of the islands and waters encompassed by its archipelagic baselines, its territorial sea, and its airspace.

It has sovereignty over islands and features outside its archipelagic baselines pursuant to the laws of the Federal Republic, the law of nations, and the judgments of competent international courts or tribunals. It likewise has sovereignty over all the other territories belonging to the Philippines by historic right or legal title.

Section 2. The Philippines has sovereign rights over that maritime expanse beyond its territorial sea to the extent reserved to it by international law, as well as over its extended continental shelf including the Philippine (Benham) Rise. Its citizens shall enjoy the right to all resources to which they are entitled by historic rights.

In comparison, Article I of the 1987 Constitution reads:

ARTICLE I

National Territory

The national territory comprises the Philippine archipelago, with all the islands and waters embraced therein, and all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction, consisting of its terrestrial, fluvial, and aerial domains, including its territorial sea, the seabed, the subsoil, the insular shelves, and other submarine areas. The waters around, between, and connecting the islands of the archipelago, regardless of their breadth and dimensions, form part of the internal waters of the Philippines.

The difference: Fr Ranhilio Aquino, the Con-Com member who sponsored the final wording of the proposed article, said the article harmonizes the Philippine constitution with existing international laws on the sea.

This firms up, among other things, the Philippine position with regards to the Permanent Court of Arbitration's ruling on the West Philippine Sea, declaring China's claim to it as invalid.

"It gives constitutional status to the arbitral judgement," said Aquino.

The proposed article also introduces the concept of "sovereign rights" to the Philippine constitution.

Sovereign rights are the type of rights the Philippines has over areas like Benham (Philippine) Rise and the West Philippine Sea.

It was the country's sovereign rights which China violated through its reclamation activities and harassment of Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, according to the arbitral ruling.

Aquino said the arbitral ruling and the United Nations (UN) ruling that states Benham Rise is part of the country's extended continental shelf were the "prime considerations" in the wording of Article 1.

"Number one is that the new article on the national territory should be in conformity with the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), the arbitral decision in favor of the Philippines, and also our claims to the Benham Rise, as well as other provisions of international law," said Aquino.

Effect on Sabah, West PH Sea claim: The Sabah claim, meanwhile, will be backed by the line, "It likewise has sovereignty over all the other territories belonging to the Philippines by historic right or legal title."

Aquino said this gives "ample room for [the] Philippines to assert its claim to Sabah," if it decides to do so in the future.

The claim to the Kalayaan Group of Islands, meanwhile, will be bolstered by the line, "It has sovereignty over islands and features outside its archipelagic baselines pursuant to the laws of the Federal Republic, the law of nations, and the judgments of competent international courts or tribunals," said Aquino.

As for Scarborough Shoal, while the Hague court did not decide on the country's sovereignty over it, it upheld the "traditional fishing rights" of Filipino fishermen there.

This, said Aquino, is recognized in the line, "Its citizens shall enjoy the right to all resources to which they are entitled by historic rights."

Impact on Philippines-China ties: All decisions made by the Con-Com are mere proposals at this point. Because the group is only recommendatory in nature, it's not certain if Congress will adopt its proposals. 

Aquino said their proposed provisions "don't necessarily contradict the conduct of foreign policy at the moment." 

China has long ignored the arbitral ruling and continued its military buildup in the West Philippine Sea.

But if their proposed article makes it to a new constitution, Aquino said it would firm up the government's responsibility to defend not only the Philippines' sovereignty but its sovereign rights as well.

"The Philippines will be obligated to assert our sovereign rights. We are obligating the government also to assert our sovereign rights," he said. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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