Magallona v. Ermita

G.R No. 187167
August 16, 2011

Congress passed RA 3046 in 1961 demarcating the maritime baselines of the Philippines as an archipelagic State, This is pursuant to the framing of the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone in 1958 UNCLOS I and UNCLOS II.

RA 5446 was passed to correct the typo errors under RA 3046 and included reserving the drawing of baselines around Sabah in North Borneo. In March 2009, Congress amended RA 3046 by enacting RA 9522, to make RA 3046 compliant with the terms of the UNCLOS III, which the Philippines ratified.

The requirements complied with are: to shorten one baseline, to optimize the location of some basepoints and classify the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) and Scarborough Shoal as ‘regime of islands’.

Petitioner now assails the constitutionality of the law for three main reasons:

1. it reduces the Philippine maritime territory under Article 1;
2. it opens the country’s waters to innocent and sea lanes passages hence undermining our sovereignty and security; and
3. treating KIG and Scarborough as ‘regime of islands’ would weaken our claim over those territories, thus may not only result in the loss of a large maritime area but also prejudices the livelihood of subsistence fishermen

Whether or not Republic Act 9522 is unconstitutional as it reduces the Philippine Maritime Territory 

UNCLOS III has nothing to do with acquisition or loss of territory. It is a multilateral treaty regulating sea-use rights over maritime zones (i.e., the territorial waters [12 nautical miles from the baselines], contiguous zone [24 nautical miles from the baselines], exclusive economic zone [200 nautical miles from the baselines]), and continental shelves that UNCLOS III delimits.

UNCLOS III was the culmination of decades-long negotiations among United Nations members to codify norms regulating the conduct of States in the world’s oceans and submarine areas, recognizing coastal and archipelagic States’ graduated authority over a limited span of waters and submarine lands along their coasts.

On the other hand, baselines laws such as RA 9522 are enacted by UNCLOS III States parties to mark-out specific basepoints along their coasts from which baselines are drawn, either straight or contoured, to serve as geographic starting points to measure the breadth of the maritime zones and continental shelf. Article 48 of UNCLOS III on archipelagic States like ours could not be any clearer:

Article 48. Measurement of the breadth of the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf. – The breadth of the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf shall be measured from archipelagic baselines drawn in accordance with article 47. (Emphasis supplied)

Thus, baselines laws are nothing but statutory mechanisms for UNCLOS III States parties to delimit with precision the extent of their maritime zones and continental shelves. In turn, this gives notice to the rest of the international community of the scope of the maritime space and submarine areas within which States parties exercise treaty-based rights, namely, the exercise of sovereignty over territorial waters (Article 2), the jurisdiction to enforce customs, fiscal, immigration, and sanitation laws in the contiguous zone (Article 33), and the right to exploit the living and non-living resources in the exclusive economic zone (Article 56) and continental shelf (Article 77).

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