Senate OKs bill defining Philippines maritime zones  

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Senate OKs bill defining Philippines maritime zones  
This photo taken on Feb. 16, 2024 shows Chinese coast guard personnel aboard their rigid hull inflatable boat (L) closely trailing another vessel (R) operated by Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) personnel from the BRP Datu Tamblot after they attempted to enter the China-controlled Scarborough Shoal in disputed waters of the South China Sea. The Philippines on February 17 accused Chinese coast guard vessels of "dangerous" manoeuvres for attempting to block a Filipino vessel dropping supplies to fishermen at a reef off the Southeast Asian nation's coast.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate has passed on final reading a bill that defines the maritime zones under Philippine jurisdiction in a bid to eventually fend off entities that seek to challenge the 2016 arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea. 

Senate Bill No. 2492, which was approved on Monday, draws the exact meters and bounds of the Philippines’ maritime entitlements under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and other international laws. This includes the internal waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZ) over which the Philippines exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction. 

In a press conference on Monday, Sen. Francis Tolentino, sponsor of the measure, said that the bill also considers the artificial islands and installations within the country's EEZ as part of its jurisdiction.

Even if the Philippines did not build the artificial island, it is considered “owned” by the country under the measure, Tolentino said.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration under the United Nations ruled in 2016 that China's nine-dash line claim and other activities in Philippine were unlawful. 

Since then, the arbitral ruling has been repeatedly invoked by the Philippines and other nations with overlapping claims in response to Chinese maritime aggression.

Beijing has largely dismissed the international ruling, claiming it has no legal basis.

Maritime expert Jay Batongbacal said that the passage of the measure marks a “significant milestone in the country’s long and difficult quest toward effectively managing our seas.”

“Foreign States will be obliged to ensure that their flag vessels comply with the laws and regulations of the country enacted in accordance with international law,” Batongbacal said.

The proposed Maritime Zones Act is also legislation that is “40 years in the making,” said Julio Amador III, senior adviser at Waypoints, a group of maritime security specialists, practitioners and experts.

“Since UNCLOS was adopted, the Philippines needed to align its national laws with international norms and laws. This historic act underscores the Philippines’ commitment to defend its rights in its waters,” Amador said.

The House version of the bill was passed on final reading in May 2023.

If the measure is passed into law, it may help the Philippines implement the 2016 tribunal ruling that invalidated China’s sweeping claims in the West Philippine Sea, Tolentino said in a radio interview in December.

Tolentino said that once the proposed Philippine Maritime Zones Act becomes law, the Philippine government will submit this to the United Nations to be recognized by other countries, which will solidify the country’s maritime claims.

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