Soundings Papers: The Philippines-Indonesia Maritime Border Agreement: Strengthening Relations towards Regional Stability in Southeast Asia

Soundings No. 43
Soundings No. 43

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LCDR Arnold Enriquez

In his investigation of the historical and political trend of global maritime boundary disputes, Østhagen described how states’ perspectives of maritime ownership and rights have evolved over the past millennia - from the international community holding an “oceans as global commons” perspective to coming together to develop a comprehensive legal framework for the oceans, which has provided the legal rationale for states to justify increasing the scope of their respective territorial seas. Since the end of World War Two, instability in the international system can be traced back to contentions related to maritime territoriality; hence, issues on this matter have only continued to rise to the forefront of the international security sphere. 

Binder noted that though the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defined the scope of extending sovereign economic rights, including establishing an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as a means of securing rights for resource extraction, it lacks the sanctioning mechanisms to protect states from infringements, seizure of territory, and application of force. Further, he concluded that the lack of territorial integrity and guaranteed sovereignty, resulting from ill-defined borders, leads to intensifying conflicts, and, in response, military protection should assume a greater role to compensate for the lack of legal protection of territories. Relatedly, Kim noted that many of Northeast Asia’s maritime disputes are not only rooted in the colonial history of the region but are also aggravated by the disparities in the interpretation of the 1982 UNCLOS.

Seemingly, the institution of an international law framework for settling maritime disputes has not diminish maritime boundary disputes across all continents. Moreover, contest involving political, economic, and historic interests compound differences which obtain from the vague delineation of maritime boundaries. 

In contrast, over the course of years of negotiations, the Philippines and Indonesia have succeeded in resolving the longstanding territorial border disputes concerning their respective overlapping maritime boundaries in the EEZs and have reached a final agreement that is largely in accordance with the governing principles of the UNCLOS. In view of the foregoing, this paper offers an assessment of the current situation of the Philippines–Indonesia Maritime Border Agreement and how the adherence by these nations to a framework of international law has been instrumental in the collaborative undertaking to solve a decades-long border issue, and shall consequently continue to cement the foundation for both nations to enhance their maritime security functions.