A sub-committee of the Consultative Committee (ConCom) tasked by President Rodrigo R. Duterte to review the 1987 Constitution has approved proposed revisions to the article on the National Territory which will strengthen the Philippines’ rightful claim on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zones and extended continental shelf including Benham Rise.
ConCom Senior Technical Assistant and spokesperson Ding Generoso said that this decision was made by the ConCom sub-committee on National Territory, State Policies and Principles, Foreign Affairs, National Security, Public Order and Safety on Wednesday.
At present, there is only one section in the article on the National Territory. However, ConCom member Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, who sponsored the revision, proposed two sections: Sovereignty over territory and Sovereign rights over maritime expanse.
The proposed revisions will be given to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for comment before it is submitted to the ConCom en banc for final approval, Generoso said in a press conference at the PICC on Thursday.
Aquino, vice chairman of the subcommittee, stressed that the proposed revision was necessary to separate the sections in Sovereignty and Sovereign rights as there internationally accepted distinction between the two terms.
“Sovereignty is the fullness of state power over its territory, its territorial sea, its air space. Whereas sovereign rights are the rights granted by a coastal state to its exclusive economic zone which is reckoned as 200 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline as well as to the maritime resources whether these are sedentary species or minerals found in its continental shelf again subject to the conditions of the Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Aquino said.
Aquino pointed out that a major consideration in drafting the proposed revision was to recognize the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Arbitral Tribunal decision in favor of the Philippines, the country’s rights to Philippine (Benham) Rise, and other international laws and judgment of international tribunals.
The subcommittee also considered the position of Concom member and former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. for an “ample room” for the Philippines to assert its claim over Sabah. This is reflected in the restoration of the phrase “by historic right or legal title”, which was in the 1973 Constitution.
“In formulating article 1, very significant to us was the resolution of the UN Convention on the limits of the continental shelf that recognized that Benham Rise is a continental shelf of the Philippines and also the arbitral judgement that recognized our sovereign rights which we have pointed out in the proposed revision to article 1,” Aquino said.
According to Aquino, another weaknesses in the current article 1 is that it made mention of internal waters noting that all waters inland from the archipelagic baseline are inland waters which is obviously wrong.
“That’s not what the Convention of the Law of the Sea to which we are parties, provides. We found it necessary to correct that,” Aquino said.
Other weaknesses included a reference to insular shelves which does not exist anywhere in internal law. What does exist is continental shelf, the lack of justification for leaving out historic right and legal title.
“That was in 1973, I really don’t understand why it was left out of ‘87 we have returned that now,” he added.
Aquino said that these proposed revisions will not in any way affect the relationship between the Philippines and China despite its claims on the disputed territories.
“We are asserting our sovereign rights, we are asserting our sovereignty but in the exercise of its sovereignty, the Philippines can also enter into agreements with other countries, including China, that may be beneficial to the republic,” Aquino said.
Aquino, meanwhile, emphasized that the proposed revisions also “obligates” the government to assert its sovereign rights–particularly the state responsibility to oppose military buildup in the West Philippine Sea.
“If the buildup interferes with our sovereign rights, as the Arbitral Tribunal did rule that in some cases it interfered with our sovereign rights, then the Philippines will be obligated to assert our sovereign rights. We’re obligating the government also to assert our sovereign rights,” Aquino said.
Asked if the ConCom considered the current posture of the administration on the West Philippine Sea, Aquino said, “That was considered and we assured ourselves that these provisions do not necessarily contradict the conduct of foreign policy at the moment,” Aquino said.
“It is, however, obvious that the moment this provision finally finds its way into the Constitution the President and the government will be guided by the provisions of the Constitution,” he added. (PNA)