By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Maximo Rodriguez Jr. is proposing the creation of the Center for West Philippine Sea Studies that would propose measures on how to defend and prosecute the country’s claims over the disputed islands.
He said the overlapping claims in the Spratlys Islands and the Scarborough Shoal have long been feared as Asia’s next source of tension which could lead to armed conflict.
“Aside from China, we should also be cautious and be prepared to defend our territory against the claims of other countries over the islands and areas in the West Philippine Sea, ” Rodriguez said in filing House Bill 7560.
Spratlys Islands and the Scarborough Shoal are being claimed by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan and are believed to be rich in oil and gas.
“It is therefore imperative that a government office be created dedicated exclusively to the West Philippine Sea. It will focus on studying our claims and propose measures on how to defend and prosecute our claims,” Rodriguez said.
“It will also propose measures on how we can develop the area and all the natural resources there for the benefit of our country,” he added.
Rodriguez said the Center shall be attached to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) under the Office of Special and Ocean Concerns.
Under HB 7560, the Center is tasked to study the basis of the claims of the Philippines over the waters and the islands in the West Philippine Sea under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, international law, local laws and historical data.
It shall perform other duties and responsibilities that would strengthen our sovereignty and other claims over the area and perform other functions as may be directed by the President of the Philippines.
The Center shall be headed by an Assistant Secretary of the DFA.
The bill provides an initial funding of P50 million for the creation of the Center. It shall be sourced from the National Treasury and subsequent appropriations shall be provided by Congress in the annual budget of the DFA under the General Appropriations Act (GAA).