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Merlin Magallona vs Secretary

Eduardo Ermita
In March 2009, Republic Act 9522, an act defining the archipelagic baselines of the
Philippines was enacted the law is also known as the Baselines Law. This law was meant
to comply with the terms of the third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
(UNCLOS III), ratified by the Philippines in February 1984.
Professor Merlin Magallona et al questioned the validity of RA 9522 as they contend, among
others, that the law decreased the national territory of the Philippines hence the law is
unconstitutional. Some of their particular arguments are as follows:
a. the law abandoned the demarcation set by the Treaty of Paris and other ancillary treaties
this also resulted to the exclusion of our claim over Sabah;
b. the law, as well as UNCLOS itself, describes the Philippine waters as archipelagic
waters which, in international law, opens our waters landward of the baselines to maritime
passage by all vessels (innocent passage) and aircrafts (overflight), undermining Philippine
sovereignty and national security, contravening the countrys nuclear-free policy, and
damaging marine resources, in violation of relevant constitutional provisions;
c. the classification of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), as well as the Scarborough Shoal
(bajo de masinloc), as a regime of islands pursuant to UNCLOS results in the loss of a
large maritime area but also prejudices the livelihood of subsistence fishermen.
ISSUE: Whether or not the contentions of Magallona et al are tenable.
HELD: No. The Supreme Court emphasized that RA 9522, or UNCLOS, itself is not a
means to acquire, or lose, territory. The treaty and the baseline law has nothing to do with
the acquisition, enlargement, or diminution of the Philippine territory. What controls when it
comes to acquisition or loss of territory is the international law principle on occupation,
accretion, cession and prescription and NOT the execution of multilateral treaties on the
regulations of sea-use rights or enacting statutes to comply with the treatys terms to delimit
maritime zones and continental shelves.
The law did not decrease the demarcation of our territory. In fact it increased it. Under the
old law amended by RA 9522 (RA 3046), we adhered with the rectangular lines enclosing
the Philippines. The area that it covered was 440,994 square nautical miles (sq. na. mi.).

But under 9522, and with the inclusion of the exclusive economic zone, the extent of our
maritime was increased to 586,210 sq. na. mi. (See image below for comparison)
If any, the baselines law is a notice to the international community of the scope of the
maritime space and submarine areas within which States parties exercise treaty-based
rights.