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President Arroyo signs baselines bill into law

MANILA, Philippines - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has signed into law the controversial bill setting the country's maritime boundaries, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita announced Wednesday. In a press conference, Ermita said the new Baselines Law or Republic Act 9522 was signed by the President on Tuesday, March 10. "Now we can say with much authority that the RP government in its claim of its area is official as far as our exclusive economic zone is concerned because we already have officially the baselines under the new law," he said. The new law classifies the Kalayaan Island Group and the Scarborough Shoal as a "regime of islands under the Republic of the Philippines." This means that the country continues to lay claim over the disputed islands. The Philippine Congress' approval of the measure last February 17 prompted the Chinese Foreign Minister to lodge a “stern protest" through Philippines' charge d' affaires Maria Barber, saying the bill violated China's "indisputable sovereignty" over the Kalayaan Island Group and the Scarborough Shoal. Ermita reiterated that China's protest over the Philippines' claims on the Kalayaan Group of Islands and the Scarborough Shoal was "expected" but said China was also conscious of the existence of the Asean-China Agreement on the Code of Conduct of claimant countries. He said with the signing of RA 9522, the Philippines is asserting its national sovereignty. "We are sending a message to the whole world that we are affirming our national sovereignty, we are affirming our national interest as far as being an independent country (is concerned)," Ermita said. "Whatever problems we may have and may be contested, whatever action may have to [be] contested will have to be done in accordance with the Code of Conduct we have agreed upon between Asean and China because we are conscious that there are six claimant countries in the territory in the Spratlys. So we are telling them that we are asserting our sovereignty because that's the right thing to do," Ermita said. Earlier, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the Philippines needs the Baselines Law to meet the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS) deadline in May. "It will be then up to the UN to resolve the issue," Remonde said, referring to the May 13, 2009 deadline for the submission of the "the extended continental shelf" or the list of territories of a country. - Johanna Camille Sisante, GMANews.TV