Philippines rewords bill on disputed South China Sea atolls The Philippine government has watered down its claims to the disputed Spratly Islands in the face of diplomatic pressure from China, which also claims the islands. Lawmakers from both chambers of Congress agreed on Monday to adopt legislation which does not describe the islands as lying within the so-called archipelagic baseline of Philippine territory. The South China Sea atolls are instead claimed as 'a regime of islands under the Republic of the Philippines'. While the definition does not represent the abandonment of Philippine claims to the islands, it is a substantial retreat from a controversial description of the Spratlys approved by the House of Representatives last week, which prompted a swift response from Beijing. The definition, contained in the so-called 'baseline bill' defining Philippine territory, said that the 'Kalayaan Island Group' - which comprise 53 of the Spratly Islands - and the Scarborough Shoal were both within the Philippines archipelago. China refers to Scarborough Shoal as the Huangyan Islands, and the Spratlys as the Nansha Islands. The House passed the wording last week. It took less than 24 hours for Beijing to express its displeasure. 'China has undisputable sovereign rights over the Huangyan Islands, Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters,' Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said. She expressed the hope that the Philippines would 'refrain from taking actions that may complicate and increase disputes'. Beijing's response prompted Philippine Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to call for the final bill to adopt a 'more realistic approach to the problem', since Manila lacked 'battleships and squadrons'. The baseline bill has long been a sore point of relations between Manila and Beijing. In December 2007, the Philippine House foreign relations committee initially approved inclusion of the Spratlys within the Philippine baseline. China then sent a memo to the Philippine embassy in Beijing saying: 'China is shocked by and gravely concerned with this negative development. 'If the Philippine side forcefully puts Scarborough Shoal and some other Nansha reefs and islands inside the baseline of Philippine territorial sea, it will ... disturb China-Philippine co-operation in the area, exerting negative impact on the healthy development of our bilateral relations.' The tone of the response prompted Congress to shelve the baseline bill for two years. Congressman Roilo Golez, who attended Monday's bicameral committee meeting, said lawmakers respected China's stand. 'It's their prerogative,' he said. 'I think we are both very civil. This is something we can discuss ... among civilised nations.' He denied media reports that the meeting became heated. 'It was very cordial, very intellectual and very scholarly,' he said. Senator Enrile, who drafted the final version of the bill that is now destined for approval by both houses, insisted that the new text did not undermine the Philippines' claim to the Spratlys. He said the text would state explicitly that the islands were considered part of the Philippine province of Palawan. It would also reiterate the nation's historical claim to Scarborough Shoal, traditionally known as Bajo de Masinloc. The presidential palace said it backed the new wording. The new impetus for enacting the baseline bill has been prompted by a May 13 deadline under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, requiring Manila to define the basis for its claim to territory on the extended continental shelf. The Spratlys are claimed in part or whole by mainland China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.