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Arroyo will sign baselines bill — Palace

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Joel Guinto

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) Unfazed by a strong protest from China, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will sign the baselines bill defining the disputed Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal as a regime of islands within Philippine territory, her spokesman said.

At the same time, Manila is “seriously” considering summoning the Chinese ambassador for a dialogue on the baselines bill, which Beijing claimed have violated its “indisputable sovereignty” over the two areas, a foreign affairs official said.

“The bill will be put into law,” deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez told a news conference in Malacañang on Thursday.

Arroyo might sign the bill into law as early as next week, when an enrolled copy reaches the Palace, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Wednesday.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Bayani Mangibin said the department was “looking forward to enlighten them [China].”

“It is our hope that the bill will be respected. That’s then the reason why we’re very optimistic that this particular misunderstanding will be resolved,” he told the same briefing.

But Mangibin was evasive when asked whether or not the Philippines would file a diplomatic protest against China, a move he described as a “very serious policy decision.”

Mangibin said China made its claim to the disputed islands “one step ahead” of the Philippines, but the government did not recognize this. He said Manila had raised “concern” about it in the past.

China claims that the contested islands are within its territory while the Philippines recognizes that these are being disputed, Mangibin said.

“The important thing is that we did not abandon our claim, it’s still there,” the DFA spokesman said.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said China’s reaction was “not surprising,” since it had long claimed sovereignty over the Spratlys and the Scarborough Shoal.

“That is why we need the Baselines Bill to meet the UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] deadline. It will be then up to the UN [United Nations] to resolve the issue,” he said in a text message.

Under the UNCLOS, countries have until May 2009 to define its baselines or territorial waters.

The Philippines, China, and Taiwan are claiming ownership of the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

Aside from the Philippines and China, the reportedly oil-rich Spratlys are being claimed in whole or in part by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

All claimants, except for Taiwan, are signatories to a Code of Conduct that prevents the build-up of military forces in the Spratlys.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has around 60 soldiers stationed on eight islands in the Spratlys, majority of which are on Pag-asa Island, where a satellite system was installed in 2008.

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Written by joelguinto

ThuUTC2009-02-19T15:25:57+00:00UTC02bUTCThu, 19 Feb 2009 15:25:57 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm02

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