Lawmaker wants PH territory changed in Constitution to include South China Sea ruling

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 10) — A lawmaker wants the constitutional provision on the Philippines’ territory amended to include the 2016 international arbitral tribunal ruling which held that certain areas within the South China Sea fall within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“When it comes to territory kasi, there’s so much vagueness na kung saan pinaguusapan palagi kung ano ang dapat kasama sa territory. So once and for all, pinanalo na rin natin ‘yun sa arbitral tribunal, why not angkinin na natin?” AKO BICOL party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin told CNN Philippines Wednesday.

[Translation: When it comes to territory, there’s so much vagueness on what should be included as part of our territory. So once and for all, we have won that in the arbitral tribunal, why don’t we claim it as ours?]

The tribunal, created under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague serving as registry, ruled almost three years ago that certain areas in the Spratly Islands — which China also claims — are within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The court also struck down China’s nine-dash line, which virtually encompasses the entire South China Sea.

However, the tribunal did not touch on sovereignty and territorial issues as it does not have jurisdiction over these.

Currently, the Constitution defines the Philippines’ territory as “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 EEZ, an area of the sea 200 nautical miles from a country’s shore where it has exclusive rights over, is only mentioned in Article XII, Section 2 of the Constitution which guarantees its protection and its exclusive use by Filipinos.

Some legal experts have said that President Rodrigo Duterte violated this provision when he supposedly agreed with Chinese President Xi Jinping to allow Chinese fishermen to fish in Recto Bank in exchange for allowing Filipinos back into Scarborough Shoal. Recto Bank, also known as Reed Bank, is within the country’s EEZ and the tribunal recognized it as part of the country's continental shelf. The arbitral ruling also said Scarborough Shoal is a common fishing ground and China was wrong to stop Filipinos from fishing there.

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While the Duterte administration has said it is not dropping the Philippines’ claims over waters in the country’s EEZ, it continues to acknowledge that China also claims those same areas despite having been invalidated by the 2016 ruling.