Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque (Screengrab)

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has directed his office to review the proposal of retired Supreme Court associate justice Francis Jardeleza to craft a new baselines law to enforce the arbitral award the Philippines won in its West Philippine Sea (WPS) disputes with China.

This, after Jardeleza on June 5 submitted a letter to Duterte urging the President to certify as urgent the measure that seeks amendments to Republic Act (RA) 9522, a law that defines the baselines of the Philippines’ territorial sea.

“He immediately asked that it be subjected to complete staff work and he was very appreciative of the suggestion,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said, when quizzed about Duterte’s response to Jardeleza’s letter.

On Monday, Jardeleza said his proposed law, titled “Philippine Maritime Features of the West Philippine Sea Act,” aims to specifically name and identify the maritime features in WPS claimed or occupied by the country.

The proposed law identified at least 100 maritime features in WPS, 25 of which are said to be rocks or high tide features that generate a territorial sea and a contiguous zone.

Jardeleza was assisted by international law academics, Dr. Melissa Loja and Professor Romel Bagares, in drafting the measure.

He said the bill should be certified as urgent as it “is the most inexpensive and yet most effective means of enforcing the Arbitral Award and strengthening our territorial and maritime rights” in WPS.

One of the most important provisions in the proposed new baselines law states that the Philippines has sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction, as appropriate, over the following identified maritime features in WPS, without prejudice to other such features that will be discovered or established as part of the Philippine sovereignty or jurisdiction in the future.

China expected to protest

Roque said Duterte would first await the recommendation of the Office of the Executive Secretary’s legal office before making a decision on the proposed amendments to RA 9522.

“It’s just an openness to study the matter,” he said.

Roque said the Philippines also expects that China would express strong objection to the proposed baselines law.

“Well, I expect that the Chinese will protest to several aspects of this law in so far as we will claim islands within the area that we’re claiming as ours to be ours ‘no,” he said.

However, the Philippines would be unfazed by China’s possible protest, in case Duterte backs the proposed measure, Roque said.

“So asahan naman po natin iyan pero ano naman ang pakialam natin sa mga reaksiyon nila. Basta tayo, mayroon tayong batas at hahayaan na natin ang isang international tribunal when the time comes to rule kung sino talaga ang may superior claim doon sa mga isla na ibabahagi natin sa isang batas bilang kabahagi ng ating teritoryo (We are expecting that but we do not care about their reaction. We have a law and we will let the international tribunal, when the time comes, to rule as to who really has the superior claim over the islands that will be listed in our baselines law as part of our territory),” he said.

The Philippines on July 12, 2016 won its petition filed against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands after the arbitration court ruled that Beijing’s sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea have no legal basis.

China, however, has repeatedly ignored the PCA ruling. (PNA)