Fact #3: The archipelagic principle is a fundamental pillar of the Philippine concept of national territory
The guiding principle for resolving the issue about offshore islands is the archipelagic principle, which is enshrined in Art. 1 of the 1987 Constitution and has been one of the fundamental pillars of the Philippine concept of national territory. Since the 1950s, the Philippines has pushed this principle, which led to the so-called "Archipelagic Doctrine" in international law and has become the legal and political basis for considering our 7,107 islands as one political unit. The "Archipelagic Doctrine" is one of our most important contributions to the international legal system; without it, the widely scattered islands of our archipelago will be separated by international waters, and the Filipino nation will be deprived of the large tracts of marine resources between the islands that it has claimed since its inception.
Central to the archipelagic principle is the concept of equality between landmasses, where each island regardless of size is treated in the same manner as all others. Without such equality of treatment, small outlying islands like Tawi-Tawi and Batanes may be considered as mere territories not entitled to provincial or municipal status; at most they may be mere attachments to some province located in one of the 10 major landmasses of the country. Equally important to the archipelagic principle is the concept of unity between land and water, where the water forms the link between the disparate islands. The proper application of the doctrine demands that, as a national policy, we should treat all of our islands in the same manner, not allowing some of them to be insignificant as if they were mere parts of the water, and that we should not allow the waters to create highly fragmented political units.
Our foreign policy and legal positions before the international community cannot be inconsistent with our national law and policy. If we were not to apply the archipelagic principle to the component units of our country (the LGUs), then we would undermine the most fundamental pillar of our concept of national territory. We might as well allow foreign countries to also treat our outlying islands as insignificant pockets of land less important than the largest islands of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao; and the waters in between as thoroughfares open to everyone.
In this light, DAO 17 perfectly captures the spirit of and appropriately applies the archipelagic principle in our national law. It is not the first time that the principle has been applied, for even the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, in an official letter sent to the DENR during the term of Director Arsenio Camacho, has said that it has always adhered to the archipelagic principle in its implementation of the rules under the previous Fisheries Code.
DAO 17 is the first concrete and express manifestation of a fundamental concept that underlies our entire political system. The fact that the archipelagic principle is not expressly stated in previous laws is not a bar to its application, for some of the most essential principles of our laws are themselves not expressly or lengthily elaborated upon, such as the principles of separation of powers, separation of Church and State, civilian supremacy over the military, sovereign immunity, and the like.
Fact #4: DAO 17 promotes local autonomy
In applying the archipelagic principle, DAO 17 also directly implements and enhances the policy of local autonomy, decentralization, and devolution of powers to local governments. The Constitutional edict for promoting and enhancing local autonomy can only be achieved by ensuring that the LGUs are permitted to exercise the full breadth of their powers under the law. By providing for simplified boundaries in the interest of ensuring the enforceability of laws within the municipal jurisdiction, DAO 17 allows the LGUs to undertake their mandated responsibilities within a clearly defined jurisdictional area. By applying the archipelagic principle, recognizing that two or more islands of the same local government must be treated equally, and linking discrete islands through their municipal waters, DAO 17 ensures that the LGUs’ jurisdiction can be exercised effectively and equitably throughout their local territories, not only in small pockets.
In terms of procedure, instead of simply imposing the national government's own ideas, DAO 17 requires the LGUs to take the initiative in defining their own municipal waters by requesting for technical delineation using publicly-available procedures, subjecting the technical delineation to local consultation and discussions, allowing flexibility for negotiations and adjustments between LGUs with overlapping waters, and ensuring adoption of the final boundaries by the LGUs through their own local ordinance. In this manner, what would be a purely technical exercise by a NAMRIA employee sitting in his desk, becomes a truly participatory process by which the LGU and their constituencies, who are most directly affected by the delineation, have a direct hand in the definition of the boundaries to which they are entitled by law.
<insert pix: mapping.jpg>Delineation of municipal waters, Province of Masbate: LGU staff in a huddle to delineate their municipal waters under the supervision of NAMRIA experts.
By ensuring that the process is fully participatory, and in fact, by requiring the local governments themselves to initiate the delineation process and then use their own powers through the declaration of their boundaries in a municipal ordinance, DAO 17 recognizes the primacy of local policy and legislation in matters of local jurisdiction. More importantly, the delineation of municipal waters under DAO 17 ensures that the LGUs are able to manage clearly defined areas of municipal waters, enact effective conservation and management measures, impose revenue measures and regulations, and exercise enforcement and control functions over resource-use activities within the waters. Without DAO 17, local governments will remain unable to carry out the burdensome responsibilities for managing municipal waters, which Congress imposed on them under the Fisheries Code of 1998.