In January 2020, the Philippines’ Supreme Court handed down its decision in a case between the Philippines and the provincial government of Palawan over the latter’s entitlement to an equitable share in the proceeds of the Camago-Malampaya Natural Gas Project located off the western side of the island-province. In this illuminating case, the Court interpreted and applied the country’s 1978 Presidential Decree No. 1596, which created the “Kalayaan Island Group” (KIG) and also referred to the 2016 South China Sea Arbitration Award. KIG refers to the Philippine-claimed features and waters of the Spratlys in the South China Sea enclosed in a hexagon with defined coordinates. The judgment exposed many contradictions and ambiguities revealing Manila’s dilemma between keeping KIG and relishing the South China Sea Arbitral Award.,The Philippines Supreme Court first confirmed the legal effect of PD 1596, holding that the establishment of KIG was consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and that the “territorial jurisdiction” of the Palawan Province included KIG and its continental shelf. However, the Court also decided that the natural gas project, located 51 nautical miles from the “Kalayaan municipality”, is not located in the “area” of Palawan and so the province has no “territorial jurisdiction” over it. Therefore, Palawan was not entitled to share in the proceeds of the project.,Throughout the decision, the Court neither denied KIG had continental shelf rights nor fully affirmed the same. The decision appears to be result-oriented. But in fact, it shows the fine line the Court has to tread to preserve the precarious balance between maintaining KIG while celebrating the Award.,In fact, in the Award, the Arbitral Tribunal used Palawan as a point of reference to describe the features in the Spratlys (Nansha Qundao) and never mentioned KIG. The Philippine Supreme Court rejected the Tribunal’s approach and instead reaffirmed the legal effect of KIG and arbitrarily declared that this interpretation was consistent with the Award, a self-serving move.,At the same time, based on the Award, there is no archipelago or island group in the Spratlys that can be claimed as a unit, let alone derive a continental shelf generated from the same. This has the effect of refuting the basis for KIG and any claims for extended maritime entitlements, like a continental shelf, drawn from it. Therefore, the Philippine Supreme Court deliberately evaded defining the extent of KIG’s continental shelf as doing so would contravene the Award. This is clever, but not quite as it will not stand rigorous scrutiny.,The ambiguous wording and wavering position of the Supreme Court on KIG reflects both the confusion and ambiguities in the Philippines’ maritime claims in the South China Sea. This is where the irony lies. Manila wants to rally the international community behind the Award, but it has yet to harmonize its domestic law to comply with the same. Other countries expressing support for the Award should be circumspect.,Author:,He Tiantian is an associate research fellow at the Institute of International Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS), which Foreign Policy rated as the top think tank in Asia. She is also an editor of the Chinese Review of International Law and specialises in international dispute settlement and the law of the sea. Her “Analysis on Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility of the Philippines-instituted Arbitration under Annex VII to the UNCLOS: A Discussion on Fact-Finding and Evidence” was published by the Chinese Journal of Global Governance. ([email protected]),Disclaimer: The opinion of the author does not reflect the position of Daily Tribune