Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez has asked the House of Representatives to truly consider as priority legislation a bill defining the country’s maritime areas and territory, saying this will “counter” the much criticized Coast Guard Law passed recently by China.
Rodriguez is one of the several authors of bills similarly proposing to declare and define the maritime zones under the jurisdiction of the Philippines. This bill, he said, will give China notice of the territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines.
The Cagayan de Oro lawmaker said he filed on February 2020 House bill 6156 entitled “An Act declaring and defining the maritime zones under the jurisdiction of the Republic of the Philippines.”
The Rodriguez proposal is one of two legislative measures that have been re-filed numerous times in the Lower House but have many times fallen short of being passed into law.
Together with bills proposing to establish the archipelagic sea lanes of the country, the maritime zones measure was among the legislative proposals that the Committee on Foreign Affairs has vowed to prioritize for the 18th Congress.
However, Rodriguez appeared unconvinced by the vow of the House panel.
“I am urging the House leadership to take up and approve the bill which will strengthen our position on the West Philippine Sea. This will counter the Chinese law allowing its coast guard to fire at perceived intruders in the entire South China Sea, which illegally includes our West Philippine Sea,” he said.
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 traditional 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.
Filipino fishermen have expressed fears they might be fired upon by Chinese patrols.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has protested the enactment of the Chinese law allowing its Coast Guard to fire on foreign vessels in the South China Sea, which it claims as part of its territory.
In Bill No. 6156, 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 added that 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.