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Trillanes fears more skirmishes in Spratlys

SEN. Antonio Trillanes IV has warned the government of the likelihood of more skirmishes between the Philippine Navy and the naval forces of other countries claiming the Spratlys in view of the increasing global demand for oil and the growing need to explore oil reserves in the area.

He urged the government to take several steps, including enacting a revised baseline law, to ensure that the interests of the Philippines are protected.

Trillanes, author of Senate Bill 1467 (“An Act Defining the Archipelagic Baselines of the Philippine Archipelago, Amending for the Purpose Republic Act No. 3046, as Amended by Republic Act No. 5446”), said Congress should pass the baseline bill before May 2009, the deadline set by the United Nations for countries to define their extended continental shelves.

The bill would serve as “basis for measuring the outer limits of the territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf” that the country is claiming.

He also urged the government to:

  • Modernize the country’s fishing methods and technologies;
  • Invest heavily on marine scientific research and exploration of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf;
  • Reach out to other claimant states of the contested territories in order to settle disputes and come up with an agreement for joint exploration and development;
  • Comply with other obligations under the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas which the Philippines signed as an archipelagic state;
  • Modernize the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard; and
  • Conduct a legislative inquiry on the Tripartite Agreement for Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking.

In a position paper released on April 2, Trillanes, a former Navy officer, said, “It is impossible to expect a scenario where all these countries (claiming the Spratlys) will just suddenly pack up and go home. On the contrary, we should even expect some of these claimants to assert their presence more in the coming years to explore potential oil deposits amidst the increasing demand and diminishing oil reserves elsewhere.”

In such a scenario, “skirmishes are not unlikely as our Navy ships and fishing boats are regularly navigating these waters,” he added.

The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei are claiming the Spratlys. China occupies 13 of the islands; Vietnam, 25; the Philippines, eight; Malaysia, five; Taiwan, one.

Trillanes said the Philippines would do well to strengthen its ties with the other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in order to improve its leverage in dealing with China over the issue.

Because Malaysia, which is an Asean member, is also one of the claimants in the Spratlys issue, Trillanes said the Philippines should seek a compromise settlement with that country—along with the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu—over Sabah, another area being claimed by both countries.

Trillanes’ bill, one of several pending in Congress, defines the country’s archipelagic baseline to include the Scarborough Shoal and designates the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the Spratlys as a “regime of islands.”

“Regime of islands” refers to islands that are naturally formed, surrounded by water and are above water at high tide. It is treated as any other land territory belonging to a country even though it is located more than 125 nautical miles away from the mainland. —Chit Estella