House panel approves bill on printing of West Philippine Sea, Sabah on PH passports

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 23) — The House Committee on Foreign Affairs has approved a substitute measure which requires the printing of the Philippine map, including its 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and Sabah, on Philippine passports.

House Bill 6399, which was consolidated into a bill that would amend the Philippine Passport Act of 1996, "aims to emphasize and insist on our victory on the West Philippine Sea over China in their International Arbitral Tribunal in the Hague, Netherlands, and our legal and historical rights over Sabah," said Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez who authored the bill.

He added: “The inclusion of the map on our travel document is a strong statement that we are asserting our sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea and our EEZ."

The unnumbered bill, which was approved last Thursday, also pushed for a 32 percent discount on the processing, issuance, and renewal fees of passports. to senior citizens.

The amendment also seeks to criminalize the illegal withholding of passports and impose stiffer penalties on violators. Alien offenders may also be deported and blacklisted after service of sentence.

The measure may now be forwarded to the plenary for further deliberations.

The Philippines recently lodged diplomatic protests against China's aggression in the West Philippine Sea, a move which the latter claimed as "illegal provocation" in contested waters.

China insists on owning almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting a Hague tribunal’s ruling that invalidated its sweeping claim. The landmark decision recognizes the Philippines’ sovereign rights in areas within its exclusive economic zone that China claims.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who has nurtured close ties with China, agreed to set aside the ruling to pursue cordial relations with the East Asian giant.