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How do we define our national territory?

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - May 15, 2021 - 12:00am

The president is being questioned by many quarters why he isn’t asserting our sovereign rights over the Spratlys, Scarborough Shoal, and other territories, including the Julian Felipe Reef. His failure to stand up to China and his off-the-cuff statements that we shouldn’t push China because of “utang na loob” is being considered by many as betrayal of public trust. We cannot give up our territorial integrity in exchange for a few questionable vaccines or investments in controversial POGO or online casinos. This is a matter of national pride and national dignity.

I am not inclined to go conclude betrayal of public trust. That’s too serious since it’s an impeachable offense. All I can say is that the president isn’t getting enough and correct advice from his international law experts. He doesn’t have experienced diplomats in his inner circle. With all due respect, Teddy Boy Locsin is a journalist, a speechwriter. He doesn’t have the expertise of Raul Manglapus, Emmanuel Pelaez, or Miriam Defensor Santiago. There are four elements of a sovereign state; people, territory, government, and sovereignty. The constitution of every state defines who are the citizens or nationals thereof to constitute the people. The Constitution also defines the government and outlines its structure, including the legislative, executive, judiciary, the constitutional commissions, the local government units and other agencies. Sovereignty resides in the people and all authority emanates from them.

Philippine national territory is also defined in the Constitution. So far, we have had 11 Constitutions since President Aguinaldo to president Duterte. On November 1, 1897, after the March 22, 1897 Tejeros Convention, the Constitution of Biak-na-Bato was adopted. It was patterned on the Constitution of Cuba. On January 21, 1899, President Aguinaldo promulgated the Malolos Charter. Under the American colonizers, Philippine Organic Act of 1902 was adopted on July 1, 1902. It was followed by the Jones Law of 1916 adopted on August 29, 1916. Then in 1934, the US Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 which established the Commonwealth. On February 8, 1935 the Commonwealth Charter was approved and ratified via plebiscite on May 14, 1935. It was amended on March 11, 1947. But during the Japanese occupation, the puppet government under President Jose P. Laurel passed a New Charter on September 4, ratified on September 7, 1943. It was abrogated after the liberation, and we reverted to the 1935 Constitution.

The Martial Law Constitution of 1973 was proclaimed by Marcos on January 17, 1973. There were a series of amendments on October 16, 1976, on January 30, 1980 and on April 7, 1981. After the EDSA Revolt, President Cory Aquino promulgated the Freedom Charter on March 25, 1986. The 1987 Constitution was proclaimed on February 11, 1987. There are only three constitutions that defined our territories well; the 1935 charter defined our territory based on the Treaty of Paris in 1898, the Treaty of Washington in 1900, and the Treaty with Great Britain in 1930. The Marcos Constitution defines our territory to comprise the Philippine archipelago with all the islands and waters embraced therein. It also included all territories belonging to us by historic title, including space, air, land, and sea and all waters around, between and connecting the islands. This is practically copied by the 1987 Constitution. The waters are included regardless of their breadth and dimensions.

Based on the above definitions, we should assert our rights over the Spratlys, Scarborough, and even Sabah and other islands, islets, reefs, and cays. A nation that fails to assert its sovereign rights would be indeed remiss in its duties to defend itself from predators, invaders, and neo-colonizers. The president and the people should remain faithful to the last line of our Pambansang Awit: ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyo.

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