After 20 years of negotiations, the Philippines and Indonesia on Friday signed an agreement on the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) boundary in the Mindanao and Celebes seas.
The accord was inked during the state visit of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that coincided with the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement the agreement was signed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr. R.M. Marty Natalegawa.
The signing was witnessed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd and Yudhoyono.
In a joint statement with Yudhoyono, President Aquino said the “milestone agreement” is founded on the principles of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
Aquino described the accord as a “solid proof” that the country is committed to settle border problems with its neighbors amicably and equitably.
Earlier this week, negotiations on the agreement were finalized by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Evan Garcia, head of the Philippine delegation, and Wiwiek Setyawati Firman, acting director general for legal affairs and international treaties in the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Officially, the text will read as the “Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of Indonesia Concerning the Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone Boundary.”
The two officials presided over the 8th Meeting of the Joint Permanent Working Group on Maritime and Ocean Concerns (JPWG-MOC) held on May 18 in Jakarta where their delegations reviewed the text of the agreement and the chart showing the EEZ boundary.
“The conclusion of the negotiations attests to the friendship, patience, goodwill and commitment of the governments of the Philippines and Indonesia to peacefully address maritime issues,” Garcia said in a statement.
The agreement includes the annexed charts showing the EEZ boundary of the Philippines and Indonesia in the Mindanao and Celebes seas.
The DFA said the agreement “is the result of 20 years of negotiation to delimit the overlapping EEZs of the two countries.”
“The agreement is a milestone for Philippines-Indonesia relations as the EEZ boundary will open opportunities for closer cooperation in the preservation and protection of the rich marine environment in the area, increased trade and enhanced maritime security,” the department added.
The accord was also based on the state practice and decisions of international tribunals on maritime boundary delimitation.
This is the first maritime boundary treaty of the Philippines.
The EEZ boundary line, according to the statement, defines the limits of the sea space in southern Philippines “thereby giving our fishermen and other stakeholders a clear extent of the area where they can exercise the sovereign rights over the waters as provided for by national laws and treaties including the 1982 Unclos.”
The EEZ boundary will also enhance the efforts of government agencies to enforce Philippine fishing, maritime and security laws.
In contrast, the Philippines has a long-standing dispute with China over the waters and islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), an equally resource-rich territory that borders the Philippines’ west side.
The basis of the disputes is founded on China’s centuries-old map that shows the nine-dash line covering almost 90 percent of the sea, up to coastal waters of Beijing’s neighbors.
The Philippines, along with Vietnam, has questioned the validity of the map and invited China to prove its claims before a UN tribunal court.
China refused to participate in the arbitration and said instead that bilateral negotiations will work better to resolve the dispute.
Tensions mounted between the two countries in the past years, with China now occupying and taking control of Philippine-claimed territories such as the Mischief Reef, Scarborough Shoal and until recently, the Mabini Reef.
Yudhoyono called on all parties involved in the sea conflict to refrain from conducting violent acts and make diplomatic solution a priority instead.
He admitted challenges facing Asia, but stressed that “any of the tension must be resolved peacefully without the use of military force.”
”Therefore, it is my view that it is time that we invite, we call upon all parties who have an interest to maintain order, to maintain stability in our region, they should return to the spirit that we have agreed upon and that we have in possession,” Yudhoyono said.
On a three-day state visit to the Philippines, he also attended the World Economic Forum on East Asia held in Metro Manila on May 21 to 23.