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Philippines as archipelagic state

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MERRY-GO-ROUND

By FLORO MERCENE

Floro Mercene

Floro Mercene

The Philippines, unlike its Asian neighbors, has a unique geographical location that former ambassador and academician Alberto Encomienda calls a mid-ocean archipelago. It is distinguish by the fact that its main islands “are closely grouped together and interspersed with rocks, low-tide elevation, reefs, and other marine geological features.”

In a blue paper he wrote, the former ambassador to Greece, Malaysia, and Singapore points out the various implications of our country’s unique position, thus avoiding the current impassioned arguments that shed more heat than light on the issue.

It is Encomienda’s view that Filipinos must learn exactly how we stand in the world vis-à-vis our special location, and thus his highly technical paper— which we tried to reduce to layman’s term — to shed more light than heat on our foreign policy stand.

As an archipelagic state, under the definition of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Philippines, he said, “is accorded a special international legal regime.” This has given the country exclusive sovereign rights to explore and exploit marine and seabed resources, whether living or non-living, including energy, in an exclusive economic zone (EEC), the Continental Shelf, and an extended continental shelf, which are novel maritime jurisdictions.

Although the country has pioneered framing the political/legal concept of the archipelagic state, “the essential defining work remains to be done related to the application, implementation, and interpretation of   accompanying rights, obligations, and duties.”

To achieve that goal, the former head of Maritime and Ocean Affairs Center in the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Philippines must initiate the creation of a “Caucus of Archipelagic States to serve as a ‘marketplace’ and ‘clearing house’ of ideas to galvanize a common position that would make for state practice leading to customary international law, especially when there are perceived gaps in the UNCLOS affecting archipelagic states.”

Encomienda said the situation in the South China Sea issues and ocean governance concerns  is the “volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous setting of Philippines permanent national interests, foreign policy, and international relations imbued with delicate geo-strategic/geopolitical/geo-economic balancing and rebalancing; in a strategic foreign policy vacuum.”

 

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