Exercise Rights Over Territory

(First published by Philippine Daily Inquirer)

I have read recently about a group of Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) lawyers who are contemplating of filing a petition before the Supreme Court for the grant of the writ of kalikasan. These lawyers seek to enjoin China-contracted firms, which are tasked to build artificial lands in West Philippine Sea (WPS) areas over which the Philippines is recognized to have sovereign rights and jurisdiction. This is because of the irreparable damage which any building activity related thereto may cause to the coral reefs found in the WPS.

Since our sovereign rights had been recognized and upheld by virtue of the ruling promulgated by the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), and allegedly “respected” by China itself, the Philippines is entitled to reasonably exercise such rights over these WPS areas. Consequently, given that these areas are under our country’s control and jurisdiction, I likewise believe that our environmental and other laws shall be operative thereat.

This is certainly in accordance with law. Article I of the 1987 Constitution provides, to wit:

“The national territory comprises the Philippine archipelago, with all the islands and waters embraced therein, and all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction, consisting of its terrestrial, fluvial and aerial domains, including its territorial sea, the seabed, the subsoil, the insular shelves, and other submarine areas. The waters around, between and connecting the islands of the archipelago, regardless of their breadth and dimensions, form part of the internal waters of the Philippines.”

Hence, I am inclined to support the theory of these IBP lawyers that a writ of kalikasan may be issued by the Supreme Court in order to enjoin and/or admonish any transgressor of Philippine environmental laws over the Benham Rise and other WPS areas under Philippine sovereignty and/or jurisdiction.

As a Filipino citizen whose frustration on this subject matter becomes severe every single day, I’d like to call on our leaders and remind them that it is not enough for the Philippines to possess sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines MUST exercise them.

Corollary to the exercise of these rights is our state’s duty and responsibility to safeguard all maritime natural resources found in said areas for the benefit of the present generation and those that are yet to come. As a consequence, our government may adopt and enforce any measure to ensure the protection and preservation of these resources.

I believe that the Philippines need not go to war against China in order to assert its rights over the disputed West Philippine Sea. All it has to do is perform overt and positive acts that shall manifest—with conviction—its sovereign rights thereto. Should it materialize, the IBP’s initiative of filing a petition for the issuance of writ of kalikasan is indeed a positive act on the part of the Philippines, which validates the existence and enforcement of its sovereign rights over these encroached areas.

Meanwhile, if China indeed believes in peaceful coexistence and recognizes the Philippines’ sovereign rights over these WPS areas, having any bad blood on any protective measure our country may adopt in the years to come should never be in its vocabulary.