Our rights  in  territorial sea  vs our rights in EEZ

Published August 15, 2019, 12:51 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

E CARTOON AUG 15, 2019The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)  established  the concept of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),  an area in the sea measuring 200 miles (370 kilometers) from  a country’s  coast. It established special rights on the exploration and use of marine resources,  such as energy from  any  petroleum deposits in the land under the sea. But the EEZ waters themselves are  international waters.

Distinct  from the EEZ is the concept of territorial waters. In earlier times, territorial waters  extended  three  miles  from the coast, but  in modern times,  territorial water limits were extended to 12 miles (22 kilometers) from the coast. Countries exercise sovereignty over their territorial waters, but  not  over their EEZ.   They  have  “sovereign rights” to develop resources in the land under the sea within the EEZ.

These two concepts – territorial waters  and  EEZ – are very much in the news today. Last  week, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo commented there is nothing wrong with Defense Secretary Delfin  Lorenzana’s proposal  to seek  the help of the United States in monitoring  the Philippines’  EEZ,  following reports of Chinese  vessels passing through without informing Manila.

If  they are merely passing through our EEZ, foreign vessels need not inform Manila, as the EEZ are international waters.  Panelo  said   China should have asked permission, or at least informed the Philippines  that its survey ships would be passing  through  our EEZ. Permission  is not required under the UJNCLOS, but informing us  as a matter of courtesy  would have been appropriate and appreciated .

In connection with our right to develop resources in the seabed within our EEZ, we will be exercising that right very soon when we explore for oil in the Reed Bank which is within our EEZ near  Palawan,  in a joint project with a Chinese  oil  firm. This will be similar to our natural gas project in Malampaya, also within our EEZ, with the Anglo-Dutch Shell company.  In  both cases, the Philippines  gets 60 percent of the proceeds.

There is so much dissension in the South China Sea today because of conflicting claims by various nations.  The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei  have claims to some islands within their EEZ as well  as in the clusters of islands in the Paracels and Spratleys in the middle of the SCS. But China is claiming virtually all of the SCS on the basis of a map it produced in 1947  enclosing  its claimed territory with a nine-dash line.

The US maintains  the SCS is part of international waters and  exercises freedom of navigation;  its warships thus ignore the China’s claim as they pass through the sea. The small Southeast Asian nations have to deal with the situation as best they can and have thus agreed with China that a Code of Conduct be drawn up help ensure a peaceful settlement of any disputes in the sea.

This is the situation today with regards to the South China Sea. We must  assert our sovereignty in our 12-mile territorial  sea but we must take care against  claiming rights  in our200-mile  EEZ that are  not  based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.