Arroyo government’s new Baseline Bill is a sellout to China

By Information Bureau
Communist Party of the Philippines

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) today slammed the 2009 Baseline Bill, saying that it kowtows to the demands of the Chinese government for the Philippines to surrender its claim of sovereignty over the Kalayaan Islands (Spratly Islands, in international nomenclature) and nearby Scarborough Shoals. The bill was approved Wednesday by the Senate and House of Representatives and will soon be signed into law by Arroyo.

"This is nothing but a sellout to China in exchange for the largesse that Gloria and Mike Arroyo have been receiving from corrupt Chinese bureaucrats and big compradors," said the CPP. "Since Gloria Arroyo began entering into numerous anomalous deals with Chinese officials and corporations, she has been pressing for the outright elimination of the Kalayaan Islands and Scarborough Shoals from the Philippine baseline in order to give way to the claim of the Chinese government of sovereignty over the islands."

While formally maintaining "territorial jurisdiction" over the Kalayaan Islands and Scarborough Shoals, the new baseline bill decisively downgrades the Philippine claim of sovereignty over these through their recategorization as a "regime of islands."

The recategorization, supposedly in recognition of claims by other countries, upsets the old baseline bill that was passed into law as Republic Act 3046 (in 1961) amended by Republic Act 5446 (in 1968) and which includes all areas covered by the archipelagic theory, the surrounding 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and all other areas covered by international treaties since 1898 and presently under the jurisdiction of the Philippines. The old national baseline includes the Spratly Islands, which are only 25 kilometers from the southern tip of Palawan and currently under the jurisdiction of the provincial government of Palawan and garrisoned and occupied by Philippine military forces.

Interest in the Spratlys was heightened after the first major Philippine natural gas discovery in 1976 occurred within the scope of the islands, which now accounts for 15% of all petroleum consumed in the country. The Spratlys, a cluster of islands, shoals, islets, cays and reefs at the edge of the South China Sea, and their surrounding waters harbor rich mineral and oil reserves and other natural resources.

With the recategorization of the areas as a "regime of islands," albeit supposedly "under Philippine sovereignty", the Philippine government has surrendered its exclusive claim over the group of islands and its waters, thus decisively weakening the Philippine claim. In response, China has reiterated its absolute and exclusive claim to the islands. Despite the watering down of the Philippine claim, the Chinese government has formally objected to the wording of the new Philippine baseline bill which still posits a token claim of national sovereignty over the islands.

Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are also claiming ownership over the Kalayaan Islands in part or in whole. "The new baseline bill is the pound of Philippine flesh that the Arroyos are paying back to big Chinese bureacrats and corporations in exchange for the millions of dollars in bribe monies Gloria and Mike Arroyo have accumulated from highly overpriced government contracts, including the anomalous NBN-ZTE deal, North Rail and South rail projects, Cyber-education projects, Mount Diwalwal mining deal and other bribery and corruption-ridden deals with Chinese corporations," the CPP stated.

The CPP said further that "The Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) which Arroyo signed with Chinese officials in 2004 was a particularly heinous act of national treachery. The deal allowed China to undertake exclusive seismic exploration and data acquisition in and around the Spratlys, resulting in the Philippines' loss of valuable pieces of information regarding the natural wealth in the disputed area." After the study was completed by the end of 2005, China's Geology and Mineral Resources Ministry had estimated that the Spratlys area holds oil and natural gas reserves of 17.7 billion tons, much bigger than the oil reserves of Kuwait, which has the fourth biggest oil reserves in the world. "None of this information has been shared with the Philippines," said the CPP.