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Congress urged to enact maritime baselines bill

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez today urged Congress to finally pass a bill delineating the country’s maritime boundaries, including its 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

He made the appeal in the wake of the reported agreement between the Philippines and Indonesia on rules on how to delimit their overlapping territorial boundaries.

The agreement was an offshoot of the visit to Jakarta of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. last month.

“The projected talks between the Philippines and our neighbor Indonesia should prompt Congress to now approve a maritime zones bill,” Rodriguez said.

He said such a law would serve as the framework for negotiations on territorial limits between and among nations claiming islets and maritime areas in the South China Sea.

“It will also be our weapon in enforcing our laws, exploring resources and protecting our fishermen in these areas,” he said.

He added that Congress should not be afraid of how China would react to the enactment of such a law.

“Enacting it is our right under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Let us not worry about what the Chinese will say. Let us think of our own national interest,” Rodriguez stressed.

The Mindanao lawmaker has filed Bill No. 2467, which is titled, “An Act declaring the maritime zones under the jurisdiction of the Philippines.”

He introduced the measure in the last Congress. The House passed it but the Senate sat on it.

Rodriguez’s proposed definition of the country’s maritime territory includes the Chinese-occupied Scarborough or Panatag Shoal off Zambales and Pangasinan, locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, a tradition fishing ground of Filipinos.

The Chinese Coast Guard routinely patrols this area, which Beijing seized in 2012 after a standoff between Chinese and Philippine Coast Guard vessels.

In Bill No. 2467, Rodriguez said the Philippines, as a signatory and party to the 1983 United Nations Convention on the Law os the Sea (UNCLOS) “recognizes the establishment of various maritime zones and jurisdiction of coastal states, including its own, over which sovereignty and appurtenant sovereign rights can be exercised.”

“Thus, the country exercises sovereignty over its internal waters, archipelagic waters, territorial sea and airspace over it, as well as its seabed and subsoil in accordance with UNCLOS and other existing laws and treaties,” he said.

He said the Philippines also exercises sovereign rights over its “contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, including the right to explore and exploit living and nonliving, organic or nonorganic resources.”

The House leader pointed out that UNCLOS allow party-states to define their maritime territory.

Under the Rodriguez bill, aside from its internal and archipelagic waters and territorial sea, the country’s maritime territory includes its
200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that is measured from its shoreline and its continental shelf.

A large part of the Philippine EEZ is claimed by China, which has transformed some disputed islets in that area into military installations.

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