The Municipality of Kalayaan at various times in history was inhabited by the Chinese and by people from the Champa Kingdom of Vietnam, and during the Second World War,
However, there were no large settlements on these islands until 1956, when Filipino lawyer / businessman / adventurer / fishing magnate Tomas Cloma decided to “claim” a part of Spratly islands as his own, naming it the “Free Territory of Freedomland”.
In 1946, Vice President Elpidio Quirino reiterated the Southern Islands, the forerunner name for Kalayaan, as part of the Philippines.
On May 11, 1956, together with forty men, Tomas Cloma took formal possession of the islands, lying some 380 miles west of the southern end of Palawan and named them the “Free Territory of Freedomland”. Four days later Cloma issued and posted copies of his “Notice to the Whole World” on each of the islands as “a decisive manifestation of unwavering claim over the territory”.
On May 31, 1956, Cloma declared the establishment of the Free Territory of Freedomland, ten days after he sent his second representation to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, informing the latter that the territory claimed was named “Freedomland”.
On July 6, 1956, Cloma declared to the whole world his claim and the establishment of a separate government for the “Free Territory of Freedomland” with its capital on Flat Island (Patag Island). His declaration was met with violent and unfriendly reactions from several neighboring countries especially the Republic of China.
On September 24, 1956 Republic of China effectively garrisoned the nearby island of Itu Aba and intercepted Cloma’s men and vessels found within its immediate waters.
In 1974, Cloma ceded his rights over the islands for one peso, after being imprisoned by Ferdinand Marcos.
Presidential Decree 1596
President Ferdinand E. Marcos created the Municipality of Kalayaan by signing PD 1596 into law on June 11, 1978. This established what the document described as “a distinct and separate municipality of the Province of Palawan”.
Republic Act 9522
Republic Act 9522 of 2009, which defined the archipelagic baselines of the Philippines, claimed sovereignty over the Kalayaan Island Group under Section 2, sub-paragraph A which described the territory as a “Regime of Islands”—a concept defined in the United Nation Convention on Law of the Sea for similar bodies of land.
In addition to the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam all claim the Spratly Archipelago either as a whole or in part. The Philippines occupies 10 reefs and islands. The People’s Republic of China presently occupies seven (7) reefs. The Republic of China (Taiwan)’s solitary island is the largest in the archipelago at approximately 43 hectares. Vietnam occupies 21 islets and reefs. Malaysia claims 7 reefs including Layang Layang which currently hosts a naval base and a diving resort. Interest in the archipelago was reportedly triggered by Cloma’s declaration and subsequent assertion by the Philippines.
In March 1976, President Marcos issued the Letter of Instruction (LOI) No.1-76 organizing the AFP Western Command based in Palawan in response to the heightening conflict of interest in the region and to abate any untoward incident.
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