Pag-asa Island, one of the islands in the West Philippine Sea (file photo)

Malacañang on Monday said there may be a need for Congress to amend the Republic Act 9522 or the Archipelagic Baselines Law to give the national government more teeth to defend the Philippines’ territories in the West Philippines Sea (WPS).

In a virtual press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the baselines law, passed to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), weakened the country’s territorial claim.

Roque explained that the baselines law reduced the country’s territorial sea from over 229,000 square miles to 34,600 square miles.

“Ang naging justification kung bakit kinakailangan maging compliant daw tayo with UN Convention of Law of the Sea, eh kasi mayroon nga tayong hidwaan pagdating sa teritoryo at makakatulong daw itong batas na ito sa hidwaang ito. Pero anong nangyari, sinabi nga po noong tribunal itself na hindi nakatulong iyong batas na iyan (The justification for having to be compliant with the UN Convention of Law of the Sea is because we have a territorial row and this law is going to help solve this row. But what happened, the tribunal itself said that this law cannot really help),” he said.

For Roque, it is about time to amend the law since it also disregarded Section 1, Article 1 of the 1987 Constitution by redefining the country’s internal waters into “archipelagic waters,” practically giving foreign ships the full freedom to pass through Philippine waters.

“Dapat po pag-aralan ng Kongreso at kinakailangan po eh repasuhan iyong batas na iyan at ibalik po iyong ating Treaty of Paris, dahil sa international law naman po uti possidetis [as you possess under law], kinikilala po iyan under customary international convention (The Congress should study and amend that law and return the Treaty of Paris, because in international law uti possidetis, it is recognized under customary international convention),” he added.

He recalled how he and other international law experts filed a petition questioning the constitutionality of the baselines law in 2009.

However, he said the Supreme Court, in a decision penned by then Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, struck down the petition for lack of merit in 2011.

Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte was simply dealing with the consequences of the high court’s ruling.

“Sa debate kung sino ang namigay ng teritoryo sa mga dayuhan, hindi po si Presidente Duterte iyan, nadatnan na po iyan ni Presidente Duterte. Nang siya po ay dumating, nawala na sa atin ang Scarborough Shoal. Nang siya po ay dumating, ginawa na ng Tsina iyong mga artificial islands doon sa ating Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ], at nang siya po ay dumating, narito na po itong batas na ito na talagang sinabi ng Korte Suprema ay hindi labag sa ating Saligang Batas (On the debate on who gave away our territory, it wasn’t President Duterte. The President just had to deal with it. When he assumed office, we already lost the Scarborough Shoal. When he assumed office, China was already building artificial islands in our Exclusive Economic Zone. And when he assumed office, there was already this law which the Supreme Court said is not against our Constitution),” he said.

He said Carpio, not the President, should be blamed for the loss of the country’s territorial sea.

“Sino po ang sumulat ng desisyon na nagsabi na iyong pagkawala ng ating internal waters, territorial sea ay sang-ayon sa Saligang Batas, wala pong iba kung hindi si Senior Justice Antonio Carpio (And who wrote the decision that said that the loss of internal waters and territorial seas was constitutional, no one else but Senior Justice Antonio Carpio),” he added.

Carpio, in a commentary piece published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, claimed the Chinese vessels are ignoring the Philippines’ repeated demands for them to leave WPS because of Duterte’s verbal fishing agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

He also said China, using huge steel-hulled trawlers, is catching fish from the Philippines’ EEZ “at the expense of Filipino fishermen who only use wooden fishing boats with outriggers.”

Roque denied that there was ever such a verbal deal, noting that a fishing agreement can only be done through a treaty based on Philippine laws.

“Clearly, a treaty must be in writing. No such treaty or agreement exists between the Philippines and China,” he said. (PNA)

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