MANILA - The Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday insisted the Philippines should form "archipelagic sea lanes" within the country's waters for foreign vessels and aircraft.
The DFA said in a Senate hearing on foreign relations that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Philippines agreed to establish routes within its waters where foreign warships, submarines, aircraft can exercise non-suspendable navigation and overflights in their normal mode of operation "without our consent."
"This is the compromise we made during the negotiations in the 3rd United Nations Conference on the Law of the Seas from 1973 to 1982 . . . in order for the archipelagos such as the Philippines to be treated as a single unit," said DFA Asec. Igor Bailen of the Office of Treaties and Legal Affairs.
"While UNCLOS allows user states to pass (through) archipelagic waters, it also provides the archipelagic state such as the Philippines right to designate only specific sea lanes where archipelagic sea lanes can be exercised."
Bailen said that due to a lack of sea lanes, other countries are taking advantage of the situation every time their vessels pass through Philippine maritime waters.
"The routes normally used for international navigation has no precise definition under UNCLOS, and as such can be subject to varying interpretations by foreign countries in accordance to their own interests," said Bailen.
"In fact, this is exactly what China used to justify the passage of its warships over Sibutu passage between North Borneo and Sulu . . . therefore not designating ASLs (Archipelagic Sea Lanes) would allow foreign countries exercise archipelagic sea lanes passage in whatever route they consider or insist as routes normally used for international navigation," he emphasized.
Under Senate Bill 1890, or "An Act to Establish the archipelagic sea lanes in the Philippine Archipelagic waters," which is being pushed by Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, foreign ships and aircraft will be obligated to follow Philippine maritime rules, such as prohibition of lingering in the country's waters without force majeure or emergencies due to uncontrollable events.
The DFA said Congress should handle the proposal to establish ASLs.
Other groups have expressed their support for the proposition, including the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
"This doesn't necessarily affect the merchant marine traffic, but at least the military marine traffic can then be more rationally addressed with our limited resources," said UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea director Jay Batongbacal.
At present, the Philippines has territorial disputes with China over the Spratly group of islands in the West Philippine Sea.
China has made a number of aggressive moves in the contested region, including construction of military bases and missile tests, in what experts call as attempts to undermine the Philippines’ victory in a 2016 ruling on the South China Sea.
The 2016 decision on the arbitration case by the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled the Philippines had exclusive sovereign rights of the area and invalidated China’s “nine-dash line” over it. -- Report from Jasmin Romero, ABS-CBN News