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The Philippines’ Territorial Integrity and the Julian Felipe Reef

The Philippines’ Territorial Integrity and the Julian Felipe Reef

The Philippine Foreign Affairs class (BAIS 118) of the Department of International Studies, in partnership with the Philippine Strategic Forum (PSF), organized the webinar titled China’s Incursion in the Julian Felipe Reef: Legal and Security Aspects. It was held on the 23rd of April 2021 through the Zoom platform. Dr. Jay Batongbacal was the guest speaker, who is also the Director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea (IMLOS) and a professor of Law of the Sea and Natural Resources.

The webinar was a huge success with around 300 participants from different institutions and schools around the Philippines. Ambassador Laura “Lullah” Quiambao-Del Rosario, President of Miriam College, also graced the event by welcoming the participants.

Dr. Batongbacal began by discussing the history of the long-standing maritime issue between the Philippines and China since the 1960s. He also emphasized that fishing activities in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea around that time were not a big problem as it is now due to the incorporation of the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the Philippines and other countries that have claimed some islands. Chinese fishermen have moved closer and closer to the Philippines, leading the government to continuously exert its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) rights and the limitations of the nine-dash line. Since the Philippine Constitution prohibits war and diplomacy was not working to stop China from militarizing disputed territories, the Philippines filed a case known as the South China Sea Arbitration. Although it was a victory for the Philippines, the dispute remains unresolved due to the unclear definition of the baseline and maritime boundaries around islands and rocks. There is also the concern of China’s international liability for maritime destruction and the construction of artificial islands. The issue of which country holds sovereignty over disputed islands such as the Scarborough Shoal still remains unresolved.

The speaker also stressed that China does not have a valid historic claim to the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea due to the limitations of the nine-dash line and UNCLOS. The islands and rocks found are entitled to only 12 nautical miles, not the EEZ. Sovereignty over these also remain legitimately disputed since UNCLOS deals with the sea, not the land. Also, the Philippines is entitled to 200 nautical miles, making Mischief Reef part of its territory. Lastly, it is important to note that the tribunal also discussed China’s activities on the Philippines’ EEZ, which goes against the latter’s territorial integrity, since it has determined which are disputed territories.

Several questions have been raised from the participants. One noteworthy question was from the discussant, Ms. Anna Patricia Saberon, who is also a member of the Editorial Review Board of the PSF. She asked, “since China’s aggressive actions have been going on for a long time, how can the Philippines approach this?” Dr. Batongbacal’s response goes back to the country’s legal claim, which strengthens the Philippines’ position. The maritime issue between the Philippines and China shows the interplay of international and domestic law. As it takes place, it remains a vital obstacle to the Philippines’ territorial integrity, wherein the government, security forces, fisherfolk, and diplomats all play a part in addressing it. Ms. Florence Principe Gamboa from the PSF concluded the event with the words of the late Filipino China scholar Dr. Aileen Baviera, "If one has to take a side, one must take the side of the Filipino people”. 

Written by: a Third Year BA International Studies student, taking the Philippine Foreign Affairs class

Below is a recording of the seminar. You may also view it on MC's YouTube Channel.


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