CASE DIGEST: Magallona v. Ermita

G.R. No. 187167 : August 16, 2011 | PROF. MERLIN MAGALLONA, ET AL., Petitioners, v. EDUARDO ERMITA, ET AL., Respondents. CARPIO, J.:

FACTS: In 1961, Congress passed Republic Act No. 3046 (RA 3046) demarcating the maritime baselines of the Philippines as an archipelagic State. This law followed the framing of the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone in 1958 (UNCLOS I), codifying, among others, the sovereign right of States parties over their territorial sea, the breadth of which, however, was left undetermined. Attempts to fill this void during the second round of negotiations in Geneva in 1960 (UNCLOS II) proved futile. Thus, domestically, RA 3046 remained unchanged for nearly five decades, save for legislation passed in 1968 (Republic Act No. 5446 [RA 5446]) correcting typographical errors and reserving the drawing of baselines around Sabah in North Borneo.In March 2009, Congress amended RA 3046 by enacting RA 9522, the statute now under scrutiny. The change was prompted by the need to make RA 3046 compliant with the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), which the Philippines ratified on 27 February 1984. Among others, UNCLOS III prescribes the water-land ratio, length, and contour of baselines of archipelagic States like the Philippines and sets the deadline for the filing of application for the extended continental shelf. Complying with these requirements, RA 9522 shortened one baseline, optimized the location of some basepoints around the Philippine archipelago and classified adjacent territories, namely, the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) and the Scarborough Shoal, as regimes of islands whose islands generate their own applicable maritime zones.

Petitioners, professors of law, law students and a legislator, in their respective capacities as citizens, taxpayers or x x x legislators, as the case may be, assail the constitutionality of RA 9522 on two principal grounds, namely: (1) RA 9522 reduces Philippine maritime territory, and logically, the reach of the Philippine states sovereign power, in violation of Article 1 of the 1987 Constitution,embodying the terms of the Treaty of Parisand ancillary treaties,and (2) RA 9522 opens the countrys waters landward of the baselines to maritime passage by all vessels and aircrafts, undermining Philippine sovereignty and national security, contravening the country's nuclear-free policy, and damaging marine resources, in violation of relevant constitutional provisions.

In addition, petitioners contend that RA 9522s treatment of the KIG as regime of islands not only results in the loss of a large maritime area but also prejudices the livelihood of subsistence fishermen.To buttress their argument of territorial diminution, petitioners facially attack RA 9522 for what it excluded and included its failure to reference either the Treaty of Paris or Sabah and its use of UNCLOS IIIs framework of regime of islands to determine the maritime zones of the KIG and the Scarborough Shoal.


1. Whether petitioners possess locus standi to bring this suit;

2. Whether the writs of certiorari and prohibition are the proper remedies to assail the constitutionality of RA 9522; and

3. Whether RA 9522 is unconstitutional.

HELD: On the threshold issues, we hold that (1) petitioners possess locus standi to bring this suit as citizens and (2) the writs of certiorari and prohibition are proper remedies to test the constitutionality of RA 9522. On the merits, we find no basis to declare RA 9522 unconstitutional.

REMEDIAL LAW: Petitioners Possess Locus Standi as Citizens

Petitioners themselves undermine their assertion of locus standi as legislators and taxpayers because the petition alleges neither infringement of legislative prerogative or misuse of public funds,occasioned by the passage and implementation of RA 9522. Nonetheless, we recognize petitioners locus standi as citizens with constitutionally sufficient interest in the resolution of the merits of the case which undoubtedly raises issues of national significance necessitating urgent resolution. Indeed, owing to the peculiar nature of RA 9522, it is understandably difficult to find other litigants possessing a more direct and specific interest to bring the suit, thus satisfying one of the requirements for granting citizenship standing.

REMEDIAL LAW: The Writs of Certiorari and Prohibition Are Proper Remedies to Testthe Constitutionality of Statutes

In praying for the dismissal of the petition on preliminary grounds, respondents seek a strict observance of the offices of the writs of certiorari and prohibition, noting that the writs cannot issue absent any showing of grave abuse of discretion in the exercise of judicial, quasi-judicial or ministerial powers on the part of respondents and resulting prejudice on the part of petitioners.

Respondent's submission holds true in ordinary civil proceedings. When this Court exercises its constitutional power of judicial review, however, we have, by tradition, viewed the writs of certiorari and prohibition as proper remedial vehicles to test the constitutionality of statutes, and indeed, of acts of other branches of government.Issues of constitutional import are sometimes crafted out of statutes which, while having no bearing on the personal interests of the petitioners, carry such relevance in the life of this nation that the Court inevitably finds itself constrained to take cognizance of the case and pass upon the issues raised, non-compliance with the letter of procedural rules notwithstanding. The statute sought to be reviewed here is one such law.

POLITICAL LAW: RA 9522 is Not Unconstitutional - RA 9522 is a Statutory Tool To Demarcate the Country's Maritime Zones and Continental Shelf Under UNCLOS III, not to Delineate Philippine Territory

Petitioners submit that RA 9522 dismembers a large portion of the national territory because it discards the pre-UNCLOS III demarcation of Philippine territory under the Treaty of Paris and related treaties, successively encoded in the definition of national territory under the 1935, 1973 and 1987 Constitutions. Petitioners theorize that this constitutional definition trumps any treaty or statutory provision denying the Philippines sovereign control over waters, beyond the territorial sea recognized at the time of the Treaty of Paris, that Spain supposedly ceded to the United States. Petitioners argue that from the Treaty of Paris technical description, Philippine sovereignty over territorial waters extends hundreds of nautical miles around the Philippine archipelago, embracing the rectangular area delineated in the Treaty of Paris.

Petitioners theory fails to persuade us.

UNCLOS III has nothing to do with the acquisition (or loss) of territory. It is a multilateral treaty regulating, among others, 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 worlds 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 shelfshall be measured from archipelagic baselines drawn in accordance with article 47.

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).

Even under petitioners theory that the Philippine territory embraces the islands and all the waterswithin the rectangular area delimited in the Treaty of Paris, the baselines of the Philippines would still have to be drawn in accordance with RA 9522 because this is the only way to draw the baselines in conformity with UNCLOS III. The baselines cannot be drawn from the boundaries or other portions of the rectangular area delineated in the Treaty of Paris, but from the outermost islands and drying reefs of the archipelago.

UNCLOS III and its ancillary baselines laws play no role in the acquisition, enlargement or, as petitioners claim, diminution of territory. Under traditional international law typology, States acquire (or conversely, lose) territory through occupation, accretion, cession and prescription, not by executing 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. Territorial claims to land features are outside UNCLOS III, and are instead governed by the rules on general international law.

POLITICAL LAW: RA 9522s Use of the Framework of Regime of Islands to Determine the Maritime Zones of the KIG and the Scarborough Shoal, not Inconsistent with the Philippines Claim of Sovereignty Over these Areas

Petitioners next submit that RA 9522s use of UNCLOS IIIs regime of islands framework to draw the baselines, and to measure the breadth of the applicable maritime zones of the KIG, weakens our territorial claim over that area.Petitioners add that the KIGs (and Scarborough Shoals) exclusion from the Philippine archipelagic baselines results in the loss of about 15,000 square nautical miles of territorial waters, prejudicing the livelihood of subsistence fishermen.A comparison of the configuration of the baselines drawn under RA 3046 and RA 9522 and the extent of maritime space encompassed by each law, coupled with a reading of the text of RA 9522 and its congressional deliberations,vis-visthe Philippines obligations under UNCLOS III, belie this view.

The configuration of the baselines drawn under RA 3046 and RA 9522 shows that RA 9522 merely followed the basepoints mapped by RA 3046, save for at least nine basepoints that RA 9522 skipped to optimize the location of basepoints and adjust the length of one baseline (and thus comply with UNCLOS IIIs limitation on the maximum length of baselines). Under RA 3046, as under RA 9522, the KIG and the Scarborough Shoal lie outside of the baselines drawn around the Philippine archipelago. This undeniable cartographic fact takes the wind out of petitioners argument branding RA 9522 as a statutory renunciation of the Philippines claim over the KIG, assuming that baselines are relevant for this purpose.

Petitioners assertion of loss of about 15,000 square nautical miles of territorial waters under RA 9522 is similarly unfounded both in fact and law. On the contrary, RA 9522, by optimizing the location of base points,increased the Philippines total maritime space (covering its internal waters, territorial sea and exclusive economic zone) by 145,216 square nautical miles, as shown in the table below:

Extent of maritime area using RA 3046, as amended, taking into account the Treaty of Paris delimitation (in square nautical miles)
Extent of maritime area using RA 9522, taking into account UNCLOS III (in square nautical miles)
Internal or archipelagic waters
Territorial Sea
Exclusive Economic Zone

Thus, as the map below shows, the reach of the exclusive economic zone drawn under RA 9522 even extends way beyond the waters covered by the rectangular demarcation under the Treaty of Paris. Of course, where there are overlapping exclusive economic zones of opposite or adjacent States, there will have to be a delineation of maritime boundaries in accordance with UNCLOS III.

Further, petitioners argument that the KIG now lies outside Philippine territory because the baselines that RA 9522 draws do not enclose the KIG is negated by RA 9522 itself. Section 2 of the law commits to text the Philippines continued claim of sovereignty and jurisdiction over the KIG and the Scarborough Shoal:

SEC. 2. The baselines in the following areas over which the Philippines likewise exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction shall be determined as Regime of Islands under the Republic of the Philippines consistent with Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS):
a) The Kalayaan Island Group as constituted under Presidential Decree No. 1596 and

b) Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.
Had Congress in RA 9522 enclosed the KIG and the Scarborough Shoal as part of the Philippine archipelago, adverse legal effects would have ensued. The Philippines would have committed a breach of two provisions of UNCLOS III. First, Article 47 (3) of UNCLOS III requires that [t]he drawing of such baselines shall not depart to any appreciable extent from the general configuration of the archipelago. Second, Article 47 (2) of UNCLOS III requires that the length of the baselines shall not exceed 100 nautical miles, save for three per cent (3%) of the total number of baselines which can reach up to 125 nautical miles.

Although the Philippines has consistently claimed sovereignty over the KIG and the Scarborough Shoal for several decades, these outlying areas are located at an appreciable distance from the nearest shoreline of the Philippine archipelago, such that any straight baseline loped around them from the nearest basepoint will inevitably depart to an appreciable extent from the general configuration of the archipelago.

Hence, far from surrendering the Philippines claim over the KIG and the Scarborough Shoal, Congress decision to classify the KIG and the Scarborough Shoal as Regime[s] of Islands under the Republic of the Philippines consistent with Article 121of UNCLOS III manifests the Philippine States responsible observance of its pacta sunt servanda obligation under UNCLOS III. Under Article 121 of UNCLOS III, any naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide, such as portions of the KIG, qualifies under the category of regime of islands, whose islands generate their own applicable maritime zones.

POLITICAL LAW: Statutory Claim Over Sabah under RA 5446 Retained

Petitioners argument for the invalidity of RA 9522 for its failure to textualize the Philippines claim over Sabah in North Borneo is also untenable. Section 2 of RA 5446, which RA 9522 did not repeal, keeps open the door for drawing the baselines of Sabah:

Section 2. The definition of the baselines of the territorial sea of the Philippine Archipelago as provided in this Act is without prejudice to the delineation of the baselines of the territorial sea around the territory of Sabah, situated in North Borneo, over which the Republic of the Philippines has acquired dominion and sovereignty.

POLITICAL LAW: UNCLOS III and RA 9522 not Incompatible with the Constitutions Delineation of Internal Waters

As their final argument against the validity of RA 9522, petitioners contend that the law unconstitutionally converts internal waters into archipelagic waters, hence subjecting these waters to the right of innocent and sea lanes passage under UNCLOS III, including overflight. Petitioners extrapolate that these passage rights indubitably expose Philippine internal waters to nuclear and maritime pollution hazards, in violation of the Constitution.

Whether referred to as Philippine internal waters under Article I of the Constitutionor as archipelagic waters under UNCLOS III (Article 49 [1]), the Philippines exercises sovereignty over the body of water lying landward of the baselines, including the air space over it and the submarine areas underneath. UNCLOS III affirms this:

Article 49.Legal status of archipelagic waters, of the air space over archipelagic waters and of their bed and subsoil.
1.The sovereignty of an archipelagic State extends to the waters enclosed by the archipelagic baselines drawn in accordance with article 47, described as archipelagic waters, regardless of their depth or distance from the coast.

2.This sovereignty extends to the air space over the archipelagic waters, as well as to their bed and subsoil, and the resources contained therein.

x x x x

4. The regime of archipelagic sea lanes passage established in this Part shall not in other respects affect the status of the archipelagic waters,including the sea lanes,or the exercise by the archipelagic State of its sovereignty over such waters and their air space, bed and subsoil, and the resources contained therein.
The fact of sovereignty, however, does not preclude the operation of municipal and international law norms subjecting the territorial sea or archipelagic waters to necessary, if not marginal, burdens in the interest of maintaining unimpeded, expeditious international navigation, consistent with the international law principle of freedom of navigation. Thus, domestically, the political branches of the Philippine government, in the competent discharge of their constitutional powers, may pass legislation designating routes within the archipelagic waters to regulate innocent and sea lanes passage. Indeed, bills drawing nautical highways for sea lanes passage are now pending in Congress.

In the absence of municipal legislation, international law norms, now codified in UNCLOS III, operate to grant innocent passage rights over the territorial sea or archipelagic waters, subject to the treatys limitations and conditions for their exercise.Significantly, the right of innocent passage is a customary international law, thus automatically incorporated in the corpus of Philippine law.No modern State can validly invoke its sovereignty to absolutely forbid innocent passage that is exercised in accordance with customary international law without risking retaliatory measures from the international community.

The fact that for archipelagic States, their archipelagic waters are subject to both the right of innocent passage and sea lanes passagedoes not place them in lesser footingvis-viscontinental coastal States which are subject, in their territorial sea, to the right of innocent passage and the right of transit passage through international straits. The imposition of these passage rights through archipelagic waters under UNCLOS III was a concession by archipelagic States, in exchange for their right to claim all the waters landward of their baselines,regardless of their depth or distance from the coast, as archipelagic waters subject to theirterritorial sovereignty. More importantly, the recognition of archipelagic States archipelago and the waters enclosed by their baselines as one cohesive entity prevents the treatment of their islands as separate islands under UNCLOS III.Separate islands generate their own maritime zones, placing the waters between islands separated by more than 24 nautical miles beyond the States territorial sovereignty, subjecting these waters to the rights of other States under UNCLOS III.

Petitioners invocation of non-executory constitutional provisions in Article II (Declaration of Principles and State Policies)must also fail. Our present state of jurisprudence considers the provisions in Article II as mere legislative guides, which, absent enabling legislation, do not embody judicially enforceable constitutional rights. Article II provisions serve as guides in formulating and interpreting implementing legislation, as well as in interpreting executory provisions of the Constitution. AlthoughOposa v. Factorantreated the right to a healthful and balanced ecology under Section 16 of Article II as an exception, the present petition lacks factual basis to substantiate the claimed constitutional violation. The other provisions petitioners cite, relating to the protection of marine wealth (Article XII, Section 2, paragraph 2) and subsistence fishermen (Article XIII, Section 7), are not violated by RA 9522.

In fact, the demarcation of the baselines enables the Philippines to delimit its exclusive economic zone, reserving solely to the Philippines the exploitation of all living and non-living resources within such zone. Such a maritime delineation binds the international community since the delineation is in strict observance of UNCLOS III. If the maritime delineation is contrary to UNCLOS III, the international community will of course reject it and will refuse to be bound by it.

UNCLOS III favors States with a long coastline like the Philippines. UNCLOS III creates asui generis maritime space the exclusive economic zone in waters previously part of the high seas. UNCLOS III grants new rights to coastal States to exclusively exploit the resources found within this zone up to 200 nautical miles.UNCLOS III, however, preserves the traditional freedom of navigation of other States that attached to this zone beyond the territorial sea before UNCLOS III.

POLITICAL LAW: RA 9522 and the Philippines Maritime Zones

Petitioners hold the view that, based on the permissive text of UNCLOS III, Congress was not bound to pass RA 9522.We have looked at the relevant provision of UNCLOS III and we find petitioner's reading plausible. Nevertheless, the prerogative of choosing this option belongs to Congress, not to this Court. Moreover, the luxury of choosing this option comes at a very steep price. Absent an UNCLOS III compliant baselines law, an archipelagic State like the Philippines will find itself devoid of internationally acceptable baselines from where the breadth of its maritime zones and continental shelf is measured. This is recipe for a two-fronted disaster:first, it sends an open invitation to the seafaring powers to freely enter and exploit the resources in the waters and submarine areas around our archipelago; and second, it weakens the country's case in any international dispute over Philippine maritime space. These are consequences Congress wisely avoided.

The enactment of UNCLOS III compliant baselines law for the Philippine archipelago and adjacent areas, as embodied in RA 9522, allows an internationally-recognized delimitation of the breadth of the Philippines maritime zones and continental shelf. RA 9522 is therefore a most vital step on the part of the Philippines in safeguarding its maritime zones, consistent with the Constitution and our national interest. DISMISS.