Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Philippine Territorial Boundaries

Philippines EEZ Boundary - UNCLOS - Schadow1 Expeditions

The Philippines' boundaries are set by various local and international laws where our sovereignty as an independent nation can exploit our resources for the benefit of the Filipinos. This article aims to give a comprehensive guide to the country's archipelagic boundaries and exclusive economic zones based on  Philippine laws, historical basis, international laws and agreements.

Pre-Colonial Period
Even before the colonial period of the Philippines, The Agusan tribe from Mindanao has already been traveling through the West Philippine Sea to our southeast Asian neighbors using the boat we call as Balangay. This dates back even during 320 A.D. , several hundred years before the known trade expeditions of the Ming Dynasty. This makes the first known explorers of the waters of southeast Asia are from the Maharlika islands, a name to which the Philippine archipelago was known before it even became a nation.

Treaties during the Philippines' colonial period 

Treaty Boundaries of the Philippines - Schadow1 Expeditions
Treaty Boundaries of the Philippines

In the modern times during the post Spanish-colonial era of the Philippines, as Spain lost the Philippine Islands to the Americans after the Spanish-American War setting up the boundaries of the Philippines from the Treaty of Paris in 1898. This has been duplicated and made more specific on the Treaty of Washington in the 1900 between Spain and the United States after Spain sold the Philippines to the United States in the midst of the Philippine-American War. The Treaty between the United States and Great Britain in 1930 has also focused on the bounds of North Borneo (Malaysia) and of the Philippine Islands. The treaties have resulted to form a rectangular boundary of the Philippines from Batanes down to Sulu Islands of Mindanao.

Rediscovery of the Kalayaan Group of Islands 

Kalayaan Group of Islands - Boundaries - Schadow1 Expeditions
Kalayaan Group of Islands Boundaries based on PD 1596

In 1956, Tomas Cloma re-discovered the Kalayaan Group Islands which has long been the route of pre-colonial Philippines by the Agusan tribes, and established a municipality in the island of Pag-asa. This discovery has then been formalized by the Philippine government in 1978 by declaring Presidential Decree 1596 annexing the newly re-discovered and occupied Kalayaan Group of Islands to the Philippines.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

UNCLOS Territorial Sea Boundary of the Philippines - Schadow1 Expeditions
12 nautical mile Territorial Sea Boundary based on UNCLOS

UNCLOS was first signed in 1982 and made effective in 1994. redefining the boundaries of countries using the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf as the basis of the territory. This extends from the country's shoreline up to 200 nautical miles farther (Exclusive Economic Zone). This law has given distinction to the previous treaties and local laws of the Philippines covering the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratlys) and the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough) which is a frequent fishing ground of the fishermen of Zambales.

Benham Rise and the UNCLOS 

Benham Rise Continental Shelf - Schadow1 Expeditions
The Benham Rise and its boundary

In congruence with the UNCLOS, the Philippines has defined its boundaries based on the agreement through Republic Act 9522 of 2009 or known as the Archipelagic Baseline of the Philippines which includes the country's claim on Benham Rise, a submerged and extinct volcanic ridge as part of its continental shelf. Upon confirmation from the United Nations, the Philippine claim to Benham Rise was confirmed in 2012 and specific bounds of the continental shelf has been plotted in Chart 4726A of NAMRIA. See our coverage for the Benham Rise.

Post-UNCLOS Agreements

Philippines-Indonesia EEZ Delimitation Line - Schadow1 Expeditions

As the UNCLOS 200 nautical mile EEZ sometimes overlaps with nearby islands of neighboring countries in South East Asia, the Philippines and Indonesia has entered into an agreement to delimit the EEZ of both countries in the Southern Philippines. In 2014, the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of Indonesia to the delimitation of the EEZ boundary was signed, thereby creating new bounds for EEZ of the Philippines to the Celebes Sea.

Disputed Territories

Kalayaan Group of Islands - Structures constructed between China and the Philippines
Chinese Reclamation and Philippine Structures comparison in Kalayaan

The Kalayaan Group of Islands or internationally known as the Spratlys are being claimed by  several neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, and Brunei basing on inclusion to its own EEZ or basically because it is part of the South China Sea thus being claimed by the country synonymous to the name of the sea.

Panatag Shoal or internationally known as Scarborough is being claimed by China asserting on its claim through the name of the sea where it is located amidst its short distance from the shores of Zambales province and having been a regular fishing ground of the Filipino locals.

Sabah which is part of the Sultanate of Sulu was leased to the Dutch colony during the North Borneo Chartered company. But upon the surrender of the colony, the territory was given to Malaysia, instead of to the Philippines. Malaysia however insists that the lease was not an issue as the people of Sabah has confessed their right to self-determination before they decided to join Malaysia in 1963.

The Island of Palmas was part of the Philippine Islands territory claim during the American colonial period on the basis of being discovered by Spain where United States has bought the whole archipelago. However the Americans lost its arbitration case in 1928, officially making Palmas as part of Indonesia.

Boundaries of the Philippines
Latest version by Ervin Malicdem, original Roel Balingit  [GFDL or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Thief China would surely get infuriated with this! Great article. :D

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