Manila working on redrawing boundaries to boost claims to Spratlys

THE Philippine government is studying a senator’s suggestion to amend the outer limits of its archipelagic boundaries to strengthen its claims to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

In an interview with The Straits Times in Singapore yesterday, Senate deputy president Leticia Ramos Shahani said that Foreign Ministry officials, defence planners and cartographers were working on her proposal to draw the country’s baselines to include the Kalayaan (Freedom) islands.

Dr Shahani, who made the proposal at a National Security Council meeting in September, said the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea defined such boundaries to include the outermost islands and reefs from which an archipelago’s territorial sea and continental shelf might be measured.

Her proposal would increase the country’s maritime area by 652,000 nautical sq miles and would formalise its claim on the Kalayaan cluster of islets which the late President Ferdinand Marcos had declared to be Philippine territory in 1978.

The Philippines has maintained that the Kalayaan islands, 912 km west of Manila, are not part of the Spratlys chain.

Said Dr Shahani: “The islands are so close to home and have been ours by discovery and occupation since the 1970s. We are not grabbing these islands because there is a sudden craze.

“Any country which occupies these islands would affect our internal security.”

She added that Taiwan and Vietnam had claims to islands near the Kalayaan group.

The Spratlys, a group of some 1,000 islets and reefs about 320 km west of the Philippine province of Palawan, straddle strategic shipping lanes and are thought to sit atop vast reserves of oil and natural gas.

Dr Shahani said that amending the country’s archipelagic boundaries would make the Philippine claims clearer vis-a-vis the other claimants – China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

“Let us make sure we know exactly what we are talking about before we enter serious negotiations with the other claimants,” said the senator, who has also filed a resolution on drawing the baselines.

When asked to comment whether Sabah would be included as part of Philippine territory when the baselines were drawn, she replied that there was “no cut and dry answer” to this.

“We should approach the issue of Sabah and the Kalayaan islands separately. The Kalayaan group is easier because it is undisputed and our claim is very strong. Sabah is a different case altogether.”

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