Palace backs territory bill

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — DESPITE China’s protest, Malacañang is set to certify as urgent a measure updating the scope of the country’s territory to conform with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and support the country’s claim on the disputed Spratlys Island.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the measure will be the subject of discussion of the joint Legislative and Executive Development Advisory Council.

Ermita, chairman of the Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs, said Congress should rush the passage of the bill to meet the May 13, 2009 deadline set by the UN.

The House of Representatives failed to pass on third and final reading House Bill 3216 (the New Baseline Bill) before it went on a month-long session break.

The session was adjourned Wednesday night without discussing the bill, which is vital in setting the nation’s territory and national boundaries.

Rep. Antonio Cuenco, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and author of HB 3216, said the members of the committee will decide after the break whether to return the bill on committee level for reconsideration or proceed to third reading.

According to Cuenco, 16 out of the 66 members of the committee have decided to restudy the bill and settle the legal questions raised by the Chinese government.

A copy of note verbale sent to Cuenco by Philippine Ambassador to Beijing Sonia Brady states the objection of the Chinese government to the bill because it might affect the China-Philippine cooperation and will exert negative impact on the bilateral relations of the two countries.

Part of the baseline, as defined in the bill, is the undisputed Spratlys or the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

But after learning that Malacañang is backing the territory bill, Cuenco said he will consider filing a substitute measure.

A counterpart bill authored by Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Antonio Trillanes lV is also pending before the Senate.