Senate maritime committee approves archipelagic sealanes bill

The Philippine Star
Senate maritime committee approves archipelagic sealanes bill
Senator Francis Tolentino on January 16, 2024.
STAR / Jesse Bustos

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Francis Tolentino formed a technical working group (TWG) to fine tune the consolidated bills designating archipelagic sea lanes (ASLs) in the Philippines.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an archipelagic state like the Philippines may designate ASLs for “continuous and expeditious passage of foreign ships and aircraft through or over its archipelagic waters and the adjacent territorial sea.”

The TWG formed by Tolentino, chairman of the Senate special committee on maritime and admiralty zones, will be composed of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Justice, National Security Council, National Mapping and Resource Information Authority and Philippine Coast Guard.

“It’s about time to move forward, especially with the current geopolitical climate – to form a TWG that would consolidate all the six measures, including the House Bill calling for the adoption of the ASL,” Tolentino said during the panel’s deliberation on the bills.

Meanwhile, Philippine Ambassador to the UK Teodoro Locsin, who is also the Philippine permanent representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), affirmed the need for the ASL law.

“We are (one of) the only two serious archipelagos on the planet. As sprawling archipelagos, we are most vulnerable in this particular aspect; our major islands are the sizes of many countries; the waterways between them offer wide approaches. We can be taken piecemeal,” Locsin said.

While the ambassador explained that “it will take some time” for the IMO to adopt the Philippine proposal for ASLs, he expressed strong support on starting the conduct immediately.

The ASL measures subject to refinement by the TWG proposes three ASLs, namely, the Philippine Sea Balintang Channel in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), Celebes Sea Sibutu Passage-Sulu Sea Cuyo East Pass Mindoro Strait WPS and Celebes-Sea Basilan Strait Sulu Sea-Nasubata Channel Balabac Strait.

Several experts from different agencies and the academe also collectively reminded the committee to observe proper process in pushing for the ASL.

Tolentino, concluding the hearing, said that the expected output of the TWG will include a provision where the President will be given authority to designate the ASLs.

The maritime panel chairman further concluded that the final measure to be submitted to the Senate plenary will be finished before Holy Week.

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