Coming out soon: ‘Phl Maritime & Admiralty’

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

A proposed bill delineating “maritime and admiralty zones” and establishes by law the country’s maritime territorial boundaries, including the West Philippine Sea (WPS), is finally advancing at the legislative mills of the Senate. In fact, the newly created Senate Special Committee on Philippine Maritime and Admiralty Zones will have its organizational meeting on Sept. 14, Senator Francis “Tol” Tolentino announced during the Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday.

On top of the agenda of the new Senate special committee is the proposed House Bill (HB) No. 7819, or “An Act Declaring the Maritime Zones under the Jurisdiction of the Republic of the Philippines” that was initially referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

HB 7819 consists of four bills consolidated into one by the House committee on foreign relations and approved on May 29 this year on second and third reading at the Lower House. Tolentino filed his own counterpart version under Senate Bill (SB) 2294.

Tolentino vowed to shepherd these bills in the 19th Congress as he conceded that the existing Philippine Baseline Law is obviously insufficient. Baselines serve as basis for a country’s maritime jurisdiction and a means to establish maritime boundaries with neighboring coastal States. On April 17, 2009 former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed into law Republic Act (RA) 9522. This was immediately protested by China and Vietnam.

For the longest time, he noted, the Philippines invoked international rules and laws – being a signatory-country to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) along with 136 other signatories. And lately, he cited, the Arbitral ruling at The Hague that rejected in July 2016 Beijing’s imaginary “nine-dash line” claims on the South China Sea (SCS).

Tolentino believes these bills, along with another proposed legislation to establish the Philippine Archipelagic Sea Lanes, can add teeth to our domestic laws that can help support to our WPS claims.

As the country’s treaty-ratifying body, the Philippine Senate adopted Resolution No. 718 on Aug. 2. It condemned in strongest terms the continued harassment of Filipino fishermen and the persistent incursions in the WPS by the Chinese Coast Guard and militia ships. The same Senate Resolution provided the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) a five-pronged approach to asserting our country’s sovereign rights – including filing a UN Resolution to call for the cessation of all activities that harass Philippine vessels and violate the established rights in the WPS.

Tolentino finds “not unusual” that China might again not recognize the establishment of Philippine boundaries under these twin measures once passed into laws. “We don’t expect – as they (China) don’t recognize the Arbitral ruling – but again, we’re asserting something that have a legal basis because we will now be domesticating international law,” he pointed out.

Just recently, Beijing published a new “standard” map showing the “ten-dash line” claims of China in the SCS. Our DFA vehemently rejected Beijing’s publication of this new map that also included the Taiwan Strait and the northeastern areas of India bordering China. No less than President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) publicly echoed the DFA’s rejection of China’s new map.

Despite being an archipelagic country, Tolentino rued, the Philippines has no Maritime Zone Law to invoke. At present, he cited, there are 152 countries that have Maritime Zone laws. Our country has about 7,641 islands and only about 2,000 islands are reportedly inhabited, and more than 5,000 are yet to be officially named.

Speaking as vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Tolentino first proposed the creation of a permanent Senate committee that would solely address the country’s maritime and archipelagic interests and related concerns, with HB 7819 and SB 2294 for starters.

According to him, this Special Committee should be created “to hear and sponsor all measures related to maritime zone bills as well as the Baseline Acts.” Thus on Aug. 2, the Senate in plenary session unanimously elected Tolentino to chair the Senate Special Committee on Philippine Maritime and Admiralty Zones. Tolentino will be joined in the newly created committee by Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa, Robin Padilla, Christopher Lawrence ‘Bong’ Go, Juan Edgardo ‘Sonny’ Angara, and Risa Hontiveros.

An international law expert himself, Tolentino underscored the need to tackle issues and other maritime concerns like smuggling, trafficking and piracy that impinge our country’s porous sea borders and be considered as “admiralty matters.”

The term “admiralty” means the system of law administered by courts having jurisdiction over questions of maritime laws.

Once these bills become laws, Tolentino cited, it will strengthen our country’s stature at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN specialized agency responsible for ensuring maritime safety and security and protecting the marine environment.

Sen. Tolentino knows where he is coming from, especially after having completed his third Master of Laws degree from the Ivy League-institution Columbia Law School in New York City where he graduated last May 16 this year. Tolentino earlier acquired two Master of Laws degrees from the University of London and the Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor.

He, however, humbly brushed aside his credentials as an expert on international laws. “The more important matter is we address the lingering issues on our territorial boundaries, our baselines, our exclusive economic zone or EEZ, our continental shelf, including our sea lanes being an archipelagic country,” Tolentino stressed.

Tolentino disclosed “international experts” from the UN, Singapore, and even professors from the Beijing University are invited as resource persons, either physically attending or via zoom conferencing on their first public hearing next week.

And soon coming out will be our Philippine Maritime and Admiralty Act.

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