Cuenco: Returning baseline bill to committee to violate rules

REP. Antonio Cuenco has said that sending the proposed baseline law back to the House committee on foreign affairs after it has passed second reading would violate the rules of the chamber.

Cuenco, chair of the House committee and principal author of House Bill No. 3216, was reacting to a Malacanang suggestion to recommit HB 3216. The Palace said the bill, if passed by the House of Representatives on final reading, would create problems with other countries claiming the disputed Spratlys islands, including China.
HB 3216, which has been consolidated with the baseline-related bills of Cebu City’s Raul del Mar and Iloilo City’s Raul Gonzalez Jr., includes Scarborough Shoal in the vicinity of Zambales and the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys within the baseline. Malacanang, however, prefers that these be classified as “regimes of islands.”

The United Nations Convention the Law of the Sea defines a regime of islands as “islands that are naturally formed areas of land, surrounded by water, which are above water at high tide.”

Under the regime of islands doctrine, the islands will generate their own maritime zones. Under UNCLOS, “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.”

On Malacanang’s proposal to return HB 3216 to his committee for further deliberations, Cuenco said, “It has become clear to me that when you approve a measure on second reading, you can’t recommit the bill anymore.”

The measure can be recommitted to the committee only with the unanimous consent of the House, he added.

Without a formal motion on the floor to recommit the bill to his panel, Cuenco said majority leader Arthur Defensor will have to proceed with the approval of the bill on third and final reading.
He said the House leadership will come under fire if it does not push through with the voting, especially because the measure is urgent.

Cuenco said rather than set a precedent of violating House rules, he would rather that the bill be passed on final reading as it is, then cured by the bicameral conference committee with the Senate version.

The Senate committee on foreign affairs, chaired by Sen. Miriam Santiago, has yet to start hearings on Senate Bill No. 1467 authored by detained senator and former Philippine Navy captain Antonio Trillanes IV. SB 1467 includes the Scarborough Shoal as part of the baseline and the KIG in the Spratlys as regimes of islands.

The Arroyo government has said a revised baseline law is needed to provide the UN a reference point with which to review the claim on the extended continental shelf it plans to submit a month before the May 13, 2009 deadline.