Philippines - Spratlys within West Philippine Sea of 200 NMEEZ

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson prefers to describe a portion in the disputed Spratlys claimed to be within the country’s maritime jurisdiction as the “West Philippine Sea” instead of lumping it in the general tag “South China Sea.”

This was “in keeping with our tradition and history, as well as reflective of its proper geographic location,” Assistant Foreign Secretary Ed Malaya told the Inquirer last week

On May 31, the DFA used the term in a statement seeking clarification from the Chinese embassy on “recent sightings of a China Marine Surveillance Vessel and other People’s Liberation Army Navy ships at the vicinity of the Iroquois Bank in the West Philippine Sea.”

The same waters, Malaya said, “have long been called Dagat Luzon, or Luzon Sea by our fisherfolk and the rest of our people, and referred to as such in published maps since time immemorial after the major Philippine island of Luzon.”

“On the other hand, South China Sea in Chinese is simply South Sea, while for the Vietnamese it is East Sea,” he said.

Economic zone

“The Iroquois Bank is located southwest of Recto (Reed) Bank and east of Patag Island, and is well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone,” the DFA’s May 31 statement said.

Patag Island, or Flat Island, is one of nine geological features in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), which the Philippine government claims ownership. It is part of the Spratlys, one of the three island groups in the South China Sea.

The other eight islands, islets or reefs in the KIG being occupied by Philippine troops are Pag-asa (Thitu), Lawak (Nanshan), Likas (West York), Parola (Northeast Cay), Panata (Lankiam), Kota (Loaita), Rizal (Commodore Reef) and Balagtas (Irving Reef).

The legal basis of the country’s claim to the KIG is stated in Presidential Decree No. 1596, issued on June 11, 1978, by then President Ferdinand Marcos.

Manila’s claim was based on a “theory that the islets are adjacent or contiguous to the main Philippine islands; that this region is vital to the country’s security and economic survival; that the islets were abandoned after World War II, and that the recent (Philippine) occupation of some of the islets gives it title, either through discovery or prescriptive acquisition. The Philippines further based its claim on continental shelf extension.”

UN convention

Last week, Malaya called on China and other Spratlys claimant-countries to “follow Unclos,” or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Unclos “says when you own an island, you own its adjacent waters,” said Malaya, who was recently appointed as the Philippine ambassador to Malaysia.

A senior Philippine diplomat also has disputed Beijing’s claim that some of its vessels were merely conducting normal maritime research activities in disputed areas in the South China Sea.

“Scientific marine research in another country’s exclusive economic zone is allowed only after prior notice and consent. However, no such request (from China) has been received,” said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.

The diplomat cited PD 1599, also issued on June 11, 1978, which established the country’s exclusive economic zone up to a distance of 200 nautical miles. The decree bans exploration in the area in the absence of an agreement.


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