Duterte may prioritize law on baselines

THE PRESIDENTIAL Palace is reviewing a bill that seeks to change the Philippines’ 13-year old law on baselines so the country could better assert its rights in the South China Sea.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte might certify the measure as urgent and endorse it for congressional approval at his last state of the nation address (SONA) next month, his spokesman said on Thursday.

“It’s subjected now to complete staff work,” presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing. “I made the additional request that if the President so agrees, then it should also be included in the SONA so the message to Congress is loud and clear.”

Retired Supreme Court Justice Francis H. Jardeleza earlier asked the Executive branch to draft a measure on the country’s sea borders so it could better enforce a 2016 Hague ruling that invalidated China’s claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea.

Mr. Roque said the President was “very appreciative” of the suggestion.

The law declares the Philippines as an archipelagic state and uses the straight baseline method to set up sea boundaries with neighboring coastal states.

Mr. Roque has said the law, passed in 2009 to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), cut the area of the country’s territorial sea.

He added that UNCLOS had not been effective in deterring Chinese presence in the South China Sea because it only covers territorial waters, not islands. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza