Expedite bill on Maritime Zones to establish legal bases in West PH Sea – expert

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 18) — A maritime law expert urged Congress Sunday to expedite the passage of a bill on maritime zones amid China’s continued aggression in the South China Sea.

Jay Batongbacal, executive director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the bill declaring the country’s maritime zones would establish the legal bases for activities that could be conducted in these areas.

The proposed Philippine Maritime Zones Act, or House Bill 7819, provides for a general declaration of the maritime zones under Philippine jurisdiction, which include internal waters, archipelagic waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.

The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on third and final reading last May and is pending in the Senate.

Batongbacal said the passage of the measure is also supported by the international community.

Kapag na-enact ang Maritime Zone Law, wala nang duda kung nasaan ang mga lugar sa loob ng EEZ ng Pilipinas. Hindi magagamit ng ibang bansa tulad ng China ang argumento na hindi niyo naman sinabi nasaan ang boundary ng EEZ,” Batongbacal said.

[Translation: Once the Maritime Zone Law is enacted, there will be no doubt as to where the areas within the Philippine EEZ are. Other countries like China cannot use the argument that you did not say where the boundary of the EEZ is.]

Batongbacal said the Philippine government should also consider constructing a permanent structure in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. A grounded vessel, BRP Sierra Madre, serves as the country’s outpost in the area.

Walang hadlang, walang legal impediment para gawin nating permanent base ang Sierra Madre dahil tayo lang ang may karapatan doon…Oras na iniwan natin ang Sierra Madre, oras na lumisan tayo diyan, sigurado ko hindi na tayo makakabalik diyan,” the expert said.

[Translation: There is no obstacle, there is no legal impediment for us to make the Sierra Madre a permanent base because we are the only ones who have the right there... Once we leave the Sierra Madre, once we leave there, I'm sure we can't go back]

Pag nangyari yun, mahaharang na nila tayo sa lahat ng mahahalagang parte ng West Philippine Sea. Hindi sila titigil sa Ayungin Shoal,” he added.

[Translation: When that happens, they will block us from all important parts of the West Philippine Sea. They will not stop at Ayungin Shoal.]

The Philippines successfully conducted a new resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal early in September, but not without another attempt by China to block the trip. 

The AFP’s recently conducted aerial patrols showed a “concerning resurgence” of Chinese fishing vessels swarming in the WPS.