By Sara Fabunan
Aquino signs order declaring ownership of maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine Archipelago.
The Philippines on Thursday raised the stakes in the country’s territorial dispute with China after President Benigno Aquino III signed Administrative Order No. 29, which officially named its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone as the West Philippine Sea, a move that a lawmaker said might further stoke Beijing’s aggressive stance on the islands.
President Aquino signed the new order on Sept. 5, but which was released on Sept. 13. Two other militant lawmakers, however, welcomed the new order, saying the order rightfully asserted the country’s sovereignty over its territories.
The president said AO No. 29 justified the country’s ownership of “maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago. These areas include the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo De Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.”
Under the new order, the Philippines exercises its sovereign rights over its territories based on the principle of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or Unclos, which will allow it to explore and exploit, conserve and manage the natural resources, whether living or non-living, both renewable and non-renewable, of the sea-bed, including the subsoil and the adjacent waters, and to conduct other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of its maritime domain, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds.”
“The maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago are hereby named as the West Philippine Sea,” the president declared in the order.
But a critic of the administration warned against the implementation of the AO, saying that the order was a “dangerous” move which was sure to provoke China and other claimant countries in the disputed islands.
Opposition lawmaker Siquijor Rep. Orlando Fua said that instead of promoting peace, the order could further escalate the tension in the region, especially against Beijing. But Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño and Agham party-list Rep. Angelo Palmones said that the President’s order was a welcome development.
“It is our right to name this part of the Sea as the West Philippine Sea of the Republic of the Philippines to assert our sovereignty on the area,” Casino said. Casino added that the move was not enough. “We should still pursue our diplomatic protests and file cases against China at the ITLOS and the ICJ.”
Palmones, for his part, “appealed to the Filipino people to rally behind P’noy in claiming what is rightfully and historically ours.”
“We expect a stronger bullying of the mighty China, so let’s be ready,” Palmones added. United States Embassy spokesperson Tina Malone did not directly comment on the order, but reiterated a position voiced by US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell that the disputes should be resolved peacefully through the application of existing international laws as contained in the Unclos. The Manila Standard tried to get a comment on the order from the Chinese Embassy in Manila but spokesman Zhang Hua could not be reached as of press time.
In a separate interview, President Aquino said he still hopes to have a heart-to-heart talk with Chinese president Hu Jintao in the near future after a tight schedule prevented the two leaders from having a bilateral meeting during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit held in Vladivostok, Russia recently. The president explained that the bilateral meeting did not materialize because Hu had to rush home after China was rocked by two strong earthquakes during the summit.
“I am still hoping to have a dialogue with him where we could have a heart-to-heart talk and sharing of all of our thoughts in total honesty and openness. So that seems to be the way forward to settle all of these things,” Aquino said.
He also said that, during the Apec summit, Hu seems to be receptive to the Philippines’ idea of “moving forward”. In relation to his AO, the president also tasked the Foreign Affairs department to work with the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority to produce charts and maps of the Philippines reflecting the West Philippine Sea.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said they will immediately comply with the president’s order. “The President has given us an order with regards to the naming of West Philippine Sea of the Republic of the Philippines. The DFA will follow his order and will deposit at the appropriate time, a copy of the AO with the official map reflecting the West Philippine Sea with the United Nations and other International organizations,” Hernandez said.
Tasked to work with the DFA and NAMRIA in fulfilling the President’s order are the International Hydrographic Organization and the United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. President Aquino also ordered the Education Department, the Commission on Higher Education and all state universities and colleges to issue circulars requiring the use of the term “West Philippine Sea” in all relevant subjects, researches and instructional materials, such as, among others, text books, instructional materials, and audio-visual presentations.
According to the AO, all departments, he said, subdivisions, agencies and instrumentalities of the Government are also mandated to “use and employ the name West Philippine Sea in all communications, messages and public documents, to popularize the use of such name in the general public, both domestically and internationally,”.
“This Order shall take effect immediately,” President Aquino declared, adding that the funds for the production of maps of the Philippines reflecting the West Philippines sea, would come from the existing annual budget of the concerned agencies, subject to the usual accounting and auditing rules and regulations.