Maritime Zones Bill passed

Maritime Zones Bill passed
SunStar Local News GPX

THE Senate passed the Maritime Zones Bill on its third and final reading on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, seeking to establish the exact measurement of Philippine maritime zones in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and the 2016 arbitral ruling, which invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim.

If enacted into law, it sets the country’s archipelagic boundaries, and internal waters and exclusive economic zones over which the Philippine government exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction. The measure highlights the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its Exclusive Economic Zone in the West Philippine Sea, along with the Benham Rise now known as “Talampas ng Pilipinas,” the Senate said.

A similar bill has been passed by the House of Representatives.

Jay Batongbacal, a professor and senior adviser for Waypoints (a coalition of maritime security experts), said in a statement that he believes the bill will aid in securing maritime space and enhancing international cooperation.

“The enactment of the Maritime Zone law 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. This enables us to secure international cooperation in the conservation and management of our inter-island and offshore waters,” he said.

In his speech at the Senate plenary, Sen. Francis Tolentino, one of the primary authors of the bill, expressed gratitude to all the members and stakeholders who took part in the passage of the bill. He gave special mention to Filipino fishermen for entrusting the Senate with the responsibility of safeguarding the country’s maritime domain.

“The Philippine Maritime Zones [Bill] has made its mark in history and will stand as a monument of our independence. Let us celebrate this momentous occasion with a renewed sense of purpose and determination to continue working for the betterment of our beloved country,” said Tolentino, chairman of the special committee on maritime and admiralty zones, in Tagalog.

Senators Joel Villanueva and Ramon Bong Revilla echoed Tolentino’s sentiments.

Villanueva said the bill strengthens and emphasizes the Philippine territory’s integrity as recognized by the Unclos, and the country’s historic triumph at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016. Revilla, for his part, said through the proposed law, “we are not only waving our flag, but we are also highlighting our principles and resolve.”

Waypoints senior adviser Julio Amador said, “The passage of the Maritime Zones Act is national policy 40 years in the making; 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. This is an act of sovereignty by Congress. The House of Representatives have been steadfast in passing the bill and should be commended; the Senate’s efforts are equally worthy of commendation,” he said.

Amador hopes that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will sign the bill into law as soon as possible.

During the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III, the Philippine government initiated the arbitration case in 2013 against China to challenge the East Asian country’s vast territorial claims and activities in the South China Sea. The tribunal later ruled that China’s nine-dash line claim had no legal basis under Unclos, and its assertions of historic rights had no bearing on maritime entitlements. The ruling was handed down in July 2016, shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte took office.


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