INDONESIA and the Philippines both on the government-to-government and people-to-people levels have always been the neighbors most friendly to each other. Our diplomatic, commercial and cultural relations have proved this friendship to be enduring. It has been tested and found to be true for decades in international forums, even during the Cold War, when Indonesia leaned closer to the socialist bloc while we were “the Brown Americans.”
Intellectual Filipinos have been closer to peers in Indonesia than other Asians. The late beloved “Father of Indonesia” Sukarno was much admired here in the Philippines. Indonesians admire our Jose Rizal so much that he is taught in Indonesian schools.
When, against both Philippine and Indonesian interests, the British illegally annexed North Borneo in 1946 and tried to make it appear that Sabah was a British Crown Colony—like Hong Kong, Singapore and the Malay Peninsula—Indonesia assisted the Philippines in protesting that move. And in the efforts of British and their creation, the Federation of Malaysia, to ignore the Philippine ownership of Sabah, through the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo which handed over Sabah to the Philippine government, Indonesia has never wavered from taking the Philippine side.
Another proof of solidarity
Yet another proof of Indonesian and Philippine solidarity—and willingness to cooperate with each other—transpired on Friday May 23 when the two countries signed their agreement “Concerning the Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Boundary” during the state visit of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario and Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr. R.M. Marty M. Natalegawa signed the agreement at ceremonies in Malacañang. President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd and President Yudhoyono witnessed the signing.
The maritime agreement includes annexed charts showing the EEZ boundary of the Philippines and Indonesia in the Mindanao Sea and the Celebes Sea in southern Philippines and in the Philippine Sea in the southern section of the Pacific Ocean.
The agreement comes after 20 years of negotiation to delimit the overlapping EEZs of the two countries. It is a milestone for Philippines-Indonesia relations as the delimitation of the EEZ boundary. It will open opportunities for closer cooperation in the preservation and protection of the rich marine environment in the area. It will lead increased trade and greater maritime security.
The two countries reached the agreement on the basis of international laws including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and the state practice and decisions of international tribunals on maritime boundary delimitation. It is the result of a rules-based negotiation to peacefully resolve maritime issues between two archipelagic states.
This is the Philippines first ever maritime boundary treaty. The EEZ boundary line defines the limits of the sea space in the southern Philippines thereby giving our fishermen and other stakeholders a clear definition of the extent of the area where they can exercise their 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.
The agreement is the result of the hard work of the Philippines-Indonesia Joint Permanent Working Group on Maritime and Oceans Concerns (JPWG-MOC). Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Evan P. Garcia led the Philippine Delegation to the 8th Meeting of the JPWG-MOC on May 18, 2014 in Jakarta where the text of the Agreement and the charts were finalized. Mr. Gilberto G.B. Asuque, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo and head of the Philippine Technical Working Group on Maritime Boundary Delimitation, and his Indonesian counterpart assisted the JPWG-MOC.
The National Mapping and Resources Information Administration of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and its Indonesian counterparts assisted the JPWG-MOC in the preparation of the charts showing the EEZ boundary.
Experts from the Department of Transportation and Communications-Philippine Coast Guard, Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Defense’s Philippine Navy branch, the departments of Justice, Energy, Environment and Natural Resources and the Office of the Executive Secretary assisted the Philippine negotiators in the many meetings with Indonesia.
How about China?
Would a similar boundary delimitation agreement with the People’s Republic of China help reduce the tension between us the giant bully giant in the north?
No, firstly, because China seems unwilling to heed international laws on which the EEZ boundary agreement we have just signed with Indonesia is based.
No, secondly, because there is no overlap in the exclusive economic zones of China and the Philippines—so no EEZ boundary issue to resolve.