MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday upheld the constitutionality of the controversial Baselines Law signed by former President, now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2009.
Voting in full-court session, the magistrates dismissed for lack of merit the petition filed by a group of international law experts led by Merlin Magallona and Harry Roque Jr. seeking to stop the implementation of the Baselines Law contained in Republic Act 9522. The group said the law has weakened the country’s claim over the contested Kalayaan Group of Islands.
Chief Justice Renato Corona said the SC was unanimous in affirming the position of the previous administration that RA 9522 did not violate or revise the definition of the Philippine archipelago under the Constitution.
The SC decision penned by Senior Justice Antonio Carpio said there was no basis for the contention of Magallona and Roque – both professors of the UP College of Law – that the country may have lost 15,000 square nautical miles of its territorial waters because of the new law.
In their petition filed on April 1, 2009 seeking the issuance of a writ of preliminary prohibitory injunction or a temporary restraining order against the law, the lawyers said the RA 9522 “actually deprives the Philippines of what has been established long before in historical, legal and scientific terms as part and parcel of its national territory.”
They argued that RA 9522, which was an amendment to RA 3046 or the old Baselines Law), redefined the Philippine territory as having a roughly triangular shape, excluding much of the waters originally within the territory as defined in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, which described the territory as rectangular about 600 miles wide and 1,200 miles long.
They also argued that the new law also converted the country’s internal waters into “archipelagic waters” through standards under the United Nations Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that uses the straight baselines method in delineating the national territory.
This means that foreign vessels, including nuclear-powered ships and other seacraft carrying weapons-grade nuclear substances, and even aircraft may pass through and over archipelagic waters “in a continuous, expeditious, and unobstructed manner.”
The petitioners also said the law threatens the country’s ecological balance because it allows all kinds of foreign ships, including those carrying nuclear materials and other dangerous substances, to pass through Philippine waters without obstruction.
They also said RA 9522 declares the Kalayaan island group and Scarborough Shoal as mere “regimes of islands” not part of the Philippine archipelago and are far and distant from Palawan.
But the SC agreed with the argument of the Office of Solicitor General (OSG) that the Philippine archipelago, as defined in the Constitution, remains the same under the new Baselines Law.
The SC also said RA 9522 can no longer be stopped through a TRO since it is now with the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea.
The OSG earlier said the petitioners “have misread the law, or worse, have read into the law provisions which are not there.”
The petition was reportedly based on a “course work” of UP law students who reviewed the new law.