Territories claimed by the Philippines

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The Philippines has claimed many lands throughout its history. These include the Spratly Islands, Sabah, Scarborough Shoal, Palmias or Miangas Island, the Sangir Islands, Orchid Island, Marianas Islands and Caroline Islands.

Main territories claimed[edit]

Spratly Islands[edit]

The Philippines claims 52 features in the Spratly Island group. Among these, the Philippines was only able to occupy 7 islands and 2 reefs. These include (Pagasa) (2nd largest), West York (Likas) island (3rd largest), Northeast (Parola) cay (5th largest), Nanshan (Lawak) island, Loaita (Kota) island, Flat (Spratly) (Patag) island, Lankiam (Panata) cay, Commodore (Rizal) reef, Irving (Balagtas) reef and Second Thomas (Ayungin) reef. Other features claimed by the Philippines are either occupied by Vietnam, China, Taiwan or Malaysia or unoccupied by any other countries. Parts of the Spratly Islands group that are not claimed by the Philippines are those that are near to Vietnam. The farthest feature that it claims is Ladd Reef which is nearer to and occupied by Vietnam.

The Philippines established a municipality named Kalayaan under the province of Palawan for all the features that it occupies Pag-asa island


(Left) The first concession treaty was signed by Sultan Abdul Momin of Brunei on 29 December 1877, appointing Baron de Overbeck as the Maharaja Sabah, Rajah Gaya and Sandakan.[1]
(Right) The second concession treaty was signed by Sultan Jamal ul-Azam of Sulu on 22 January 1878, also appointing Baron de Overbeck as Dato Bendahara and Raja Sandakan, approximately three weeks after signature of the first treaty.[2]
Note: The Philippine government consider concession as "lease".
Map of the British North Borneo with the yellow area covered the Philippine claim to eastern Sabah, presented by the Philippine Government to ICJ on June 25, 2001.[3]

Between 1658 and 1700s, the Sultanate of Sulu acquiring the eastern part of the territory of northern Borneo after helping the Bruneian forces in settling a civil war. The Sulu Archipelago then came under the control of Spanish, while the area in northern Borneo was administered by the British. Under a series of agreements between the Sultanate of Brunei and Sulu, both the sultans agreed to cede their control on western and eastern part of northern Borneo to the British in which it became known as North Borneo.[1][2]

In a process of decolonisation since 1946, Great Britain included Sabah in the newly formed Federation of Malaysia. The Philippines (who already achieved its independence from the United States) under the administration of President Diosdado Macapagal however protested the formation of Malaysia and filed claims to the whole territory of northern Borneo. Meanwhile, during a meeting of Maphilindo, the Philippine government said that they had no objection to the formation of Malaysia but said the Sultan of Sulu wanted the payment of 5,000 although the British government never paid any compensation to the Sultanate.[4] The first Malaysian Prime Minister at the time, Tunku Abdul Rahman said he would go back to Kuala Lumpur and get back to them on the claim.[4]

The situation became worse under the administration of the then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos who then revive the claim and train a number of Moro fighters to reclaim the territory under a secret mission called "Operation Merdeka".[5] But upon the recruits realising their true mission, most of them demanded to be return home as they did not want to kill their fellow Muslim brothers in Sabah.[6] But Marcos soldiers did not sent them back instead execute most of the fighters in an event known as Jabidah massacre.[7] The tragedy has caused the South Philippines insurgency to emerged and the claim have been escalate by other new claimants from the defunct Sultanate of Sulu, mostly self-proclaim themselves as a new Sultan of Sulu with a support from politicians in the Philippine central government to take Sabah as part of the Philippines territory. Most new claimants and several Philippine politicians today using the Malaysian lease payment of 5,000 as their main excuse to overtake the territory as well using it as a reason on the International Court of Justice (ICJ).[4]

Scarborough Shoal[edit]

The Scarborough Shoal, more correctly described as a group of islands, atolls, and reefs than a shoal, is located in the South China Sea. The nearest landmass is Palauig town, Zambales province, Luzon Island, at 221 kilometers. It is about 123 miles west of but the Subic Bay.

Both the Philippines and the People's Republic of China claim it.

In April 2012, the Philippines accused Chinese boats of fishing illegally. The boats were asked to leave, but China also claims the Scarborough Shoal.

The Philippines is asserting jurisdiction over the shoal based on the juridical criteria established by public international law on the lawful methods for the acquisition of sovereignty. Among the criteria (effective occupation, cession, prescription,conquest, and accretion), the Philippines said that the country "exercised both effective occupation and effective jurisdiction over Bajo de Masinloc since its independence." Thus, it claims to have erected flags in some islands and a lighthouse which it reported to the International Maritime Organization. It also asserts that the Philippine and US Naval Forces have used it as impact range and that its Department of Environment and Natural Resources has conducted scientific, topographic and marine studies in the shoal, while Filipino fishermen regularly use it as fishing ground and have always considered it their own. Likewise, multiple engagements and arrests of Chinese fishermen were already (Google archived news articles) made at the shoal by the Philippine Navy for using illegal fishing methods and catching of endangered sea species.

The legal basis of the Philippine assertion is based on the international law on acquisition of sovereignty. Thus, the Philippine government explains that its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claim on the waters around Scarborough Shoal is different from the sovereignty exercised by the Philippines in the shoal itself.

The Chinese basis for claim is that the shoal would have been first discovered by Chinese in the 13th century and historically used by Chinese fishermen. Although a claim to sovereignty would require a deeper understanding then discovery and resource use.

Palmas or Miangas Island[edit]

It involved a territorial dispute over the Island of Palmas (or Miangas) between the Netherlands and the United States which was heard by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

This case is one of the most highly influential precedents dealing with island territorial conflicts.

Palmas, also referred to as Miangas, is an island of little economic value or strategic location. It is two miles in length, three-quarters of a mile in width, and had a population of about 750 when the decision of the arbitrator was handed down. The island is located between Mindanao, Philippines and the northernmost island, known as Nanusa, of what was the former Netherlands East Indies. In 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States and Palmas sat within the boundaries of that cession to the U.S. In 1906, the United States discovered that the Netherlands also claimed sovereignty over the island and the two parties agreed to submit to binding arbitration to resolve the dispute on January 23, 1925. The arbitrator in the case was Max Huber, a Swiss national.

The question the arbitrator was to resolve was whether the Island of Palmas (Miangas), in its entirety, was a part of the territory of the United States or the Netherlands.

The arbitrator ruled in favor of the Netherlands' position and stated that the Netherlands held actual title to Palmas:

For these reasons The Arbitrator in conformity with Article I of the Special Agreement of January 23, 1925 DECIDES that : THE ISLAND OF PALMAS (or MIANGAS) forms in its entirety a part of the Netherlands territory done at The Hague, this fourth day of April 1928 Max Huber, Arbitrator Michiels van Verduynen, Secretary-General

In the first of the United States' two arguments, the United States argued that it held the island because it had received actual title through legitimate treaties from the original "discoverer" of the island, Spain. The United States argued that Spain acquired title to Palmas when Spain discovered the island and the island was terra nullius. Spain's title to the island, because it was a part of the Philippines, was then ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris (1898) after Spain's defeat in the Spanish–American War. The arbitrator noted that no new international law invalidated the legal transfer of territory via cession.

However, the arbitrator noted that Spain could not legally grant what it did not hold and the Treaty of Paris could not grant to the United States Palmas if Spain had no actual title to it. The arbitrator concluded that Spain held an inchoate title when Spain “discovered” Palmas. However, for a sovereign to maintain its initial title via discovery, the arbitrator said that the discoverer had to actually exercise authority, even if it were a simple an act as planting a flag on the beach. In this case, Spain did not exercise authority over the island after making an initial claim after discovery and so the United States' claim was based on relatively weak grounds.

The United States also argued that Palmas was United States territory because the island was closer to the Philippines than to Indonesia, which was then held by the Netherlands East Indies. The arbitrator said there was no positive international law which favored the United States' approach of terra firma, where the nearest continent or island of considerable size gives title to the land in dispute. The arbitrator held that mere proximity was not an adequate claim to land noted that if the international community followed the proposed United States approach, it would lead to arbitrary results.

The Netherlands' primary contention was that it held actual title because the Netherlands had exercised authority on the island since 1677. The arbitrator noted that the United States had failed to show documentation proving Spanish sovereignty on the island except those documents that specifically mentioned the island's discovery. Additionally, there was no evidence that Palmas was a part of the judicial or administrative organization of the Spanish government of the Philippines. However, the Netherlands showed that the East India Company had negotiated treaties with the local princes of the island since the 17th century and had exercised sovereignty, including a requirement of Protestantism and the denial of other nationals on the island. The arbitrator pointed out that if Spain had actually exercised authority, than there would have been conflicts between the two countries but none are provided in the evidence.

Under the Palmas decision, three important rules for resolving island territorial disputes were decided:

Firstly, title based on contiguity has no standing in international law. Secondly, title by discovery is only an inchoate title. Finally, if another sovereign begins to exercise continuous and actual sovereignty, (and the arbitrator required that the claim had to be open and public and with good title), and the discoverer does not contest this claim, the claim by the sovereign that exercises authority is greater than a title based on mere discovery.

However, up to this day, several Philippine legislators claim that the island cannot be part of Indonesia today because the ethnic group living in this island is far more related by language to the Sarangani people of Mindanao than any ethnic group in Indonesia (e.g., Minahasa).[citation needed] However this is not entirely true,[according to whom?] since languages spoken in Miangas such as Sangir and Talaud are spoken also in North Sulawesi province with significant numbers.[citation needed]

Currently, the Philippine Government has no desire to contest the sovereignty of Indonesian Government over Miangas Island and respect the Indonesian administration over the Island.[vague][citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Rozan Yunos (21 September 2008). "How Brunei lost its northern province". The Brunei Times. Archived from the original on 17 June 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Rozan Yunos (7 March 2013). "Sabah and the Sulu claims". The Brunei Times. Archived from the original on 17 June 2014. Retrieved 20 September 2013. 
  3. ^ Mohamad, Kadir (2009). "Malaysia’s territorial disputes – two cases at the ICJ : Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge (Malaysia/Singapore), Ligitan and Sipadan [and the Sabah claim] (Malaysia/Indonesia/Philippines)" (PDF). Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations (IDFR) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia: 46. Retrieved May 16, 2014. Map of British North Borneo, highlighting in yellow colour the area covered by the Philippine claim, presented to the Court by the Philippines during the Oral Hearings at the ICJ on 25 June 2001 
  4. ^ a b c "Why 'Sultan' is dreaming". Daily Express. 27 March 2013. Archived from the original on 28 March 2013. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  5. ^ "Marcos order: Destabilize, take Sabah". Philippine Daily Inquirer. 2 April 2000. Retrieved 16 November 2016. 
  6. ^ Acram Latiph (13 March 2013). "Sabah – the question that won’t go away". New Mandala. Archived from the original on 23 September 2016. Retrieved 16 November 2016. 
  7. ^ Paul F. Whitman (2002). "The Corregidor Massacre - 1968". Corregidor Historic Society. Archived from the original on September 13, 2015. Retrieved 13 September 2015. 

Further reading[edit]