House OKs bill defining PH maritime zones on 2nd reading

Zandro Ochona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 29 2021 07:14 PM

Members of the Philippine Coast Guard participate during training on navigation, small boat operations, maintenance, and logistical operations in the West Philippine Sea in Palawan on April 24, 2021. Philippine Coast Guard handout photo
Members of the Philippine Coast Guard participate during training on navigation, small boat operations, maintenance, and logistical operations in the West Philippine Sea in Palawan on April 24, 2021. Philippine Coast Guard handout photo

MANILA — The House of Representatives on Monday approved on second reading a bill defining the maritime zones in the Philippines, as the country's tensions with China over claims in the West Philippine Sea continue.

In her sponsorship speech, House committee on foreign affairs vice chairperson Rep. Cyrille Abueg-Zaldivar highlighted the need to pass "immediately" House Bill 9981, or the act declaring maritime zones under the jurisdiction of the Philippines.

“May I emphasize the word immediate ... for us representatives of the Filipino people it is imperative that we take precedence on securing the Philippine maritime domain the core of this bill,” she said.

“This has long been overdue considering the recent incident in the Ayungin Shoal, this Congress cannot afford to sit back and allow any country to pursue their national interest at our expense,” added Abueg-Zaldivar, who represents the 2nd district of Palawan.

The bill seeks to proclaim the maritime entitlements of the country under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which the Philippines is a signatory.

If the bill becomes a law, Abueg-Zaldivar said that this will allow the country to further exercise its sovereignty over its waters.

Tensions spiked in the West Philippine Sea in the past weeks after Chinese coast guard ships water-cannoned Filipino boats trying to deliver supplies to personnel at the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

The 2016 ruling by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated China's expansive claims in the South China Sea, where the Philippines' exclusive economic zone is, but Beijing continues to disregard it.

Maritime experts have said the Philippines needs to pass legislation that will be the legal basis or reference of the country's maritime borders amid its maritime disputes with China.

Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea said lawmakers have to make the legislation regarding the Philippines' maritime borders explicitly clear.

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