By Genalyn Kabiling
In light of the country’s concerns over the West Philippine Sea, the government is pushing for the passage of two bills defining the country’s maritime zones, as well as the establishment of archipelagic sea lanes.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the two measures would pave the way for a “code of conduct” whenever foreign ships pass through the country’s waters.
The maritime measures are included in the list of the executive branch’s priority measures that will be raised in the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council next month.
“With what is happening now in the West Philippine Sea, and the President’s pronouncement that all ships must get clearance, anybody who uses those sea lanes of ours, it puts into light the urgency of the bills on the Philippine maritime zone and the archipelagic sea lanes,” Nograles said during the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum in Manila.
“I think they clearly define the archipelagic sea lanes and the code of conduct whenever they pass our archipelagic sea lanes. It will also strengthen our Philippine maritime zones,” he added in Filipino.
Nograles recognized that the measures would send a strong signal to the international community about the country’s resolve to protect its territory.
“We hope to send the message to the international community, clarify the message that we are really very serious about our maritime zones and archipelagic sea lanes and we must have a code of conduct when they pass or use our sea lanes especially in light of national security” he said.
He noted that these two bill have been proposed in the past but “never saw the light of day.”
“These are bills that have been languishing in Congress but for some reason or another has never been passed into law,” he added.
A previous measure filed in Congress sought to define the country’s maritime zones, including internal waters, archipelagic waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone, and continental shelf over which sovereignty and sovereign rights can be exercised.
The other measure dealt with identifying the archipelagic sea lanes and establishing the rights and obligations of foreign ships and aircraft passing through the country’s archipelagic waters.
Last Tuesday, President Duterte has ordered that all foreign ships must notify and get clearance from the government before passing the country’s territorial waters.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the government would drive away foreign ships who fail to comply with the President’s directive.
The latest presidential order was issued following the unannounced passage of several Chinese warships in Philippine waters in recent months.
Getting prior clearance for foreign ships would avoid any misunderstanding in the future, Panelo said.