By Ben Rosario
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs has placed bills protecting the country’s territorial integrity on top of its list of priority measures, it was gathered Monday.
Chaired by Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Ann Hofer, the foreign affairs panel listed six legislative proposals as priority among the 28 bills so far filed for its action.
Hofer said primary among the legislative measures were the bills seeking to establish the Philippine archipelagic sea lanes in the Philippine archipelagic waters, and the proposals to declare and define the maritime zones under the country’s jurisdiction.
The creation of the Center for West Philippine Sea Studies was also included.
The three other priority bills are:
– New passport law and the repeal of Republic Act 8239 or the Philippine Passport Act of 1996;
– The reorganization of the foreign Service Corps of the Philippines;
– Creation of a Foreign Policy Advisory Board.
Currently, with a membership of 44 congressmen, the House foreign affairs panel has jurisdiction over all legislative matters “directly and principally relating to Philippine relations with other countries, diplomatic and consular services, United Nations and its agencies and other international organizations and agencies.”
Hofer, together with Reps. Rozzano Rufino Biazon (PDP-Laban, Muntinlupa City) and Manuel Cabochan (Magdalo Partylist) authored the archipelagic sea lanes and maritime zone bills.
Passed on third and final reading in the previous Congress, the twin measures were seen as part of measures that would strengthen the country’s territorial integrity in the wake of controversies emanating from the West Philippine Sea dispute between the Philippines and China.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio has urged President Rodrigo Duterte to certify the bill as an urgent administration measure,
Hofer said the establishing the country’s sea lanes “ is consistent with the provision of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)” to which the Philippines is a signatory.”
The senior administration lawmaker said that countries that are signatories to the 1982 UNCLOS recognize the establishment of various maritime zones and jurisdiction of coastal states, including its own over which sovereignty and appurtenant sovereign rights can be exercised.”
Also authored by Hofer, HB 4148 or the “Revised Foreign Service Act” proposes to ensure a professional and responsive career foreign service system.
The lady lawmaker is also behind the filing of HB 4288 or the Philippine Passport Act of 2019” which will update and reflect current laws that affect the process of issuing passports.
Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez filed HB 3804 proposing to create the Center for West Philippine Sea Studies that will focus on studying Philippines claims over the West Philippine Sea and propose measures on how to defend and prosecute the said claims.
Cabochan wrote HB 1215 seeking to create the Foreign Policy Advisory Board that will be an “independent senior-level body on foreign policy”. To be attached to the Office of the President, the FPAB will also ensure a system of checks and balances with the DFA.