Bill establishing PH maritime zones gets resounding 'yes' in Lower House

Published November 29, 2021, 7:47 PM

by Ben Rosario

The House of Representatives approved on second reading on Monday night, Nov. 29, the bill declaring the maritime zones of the Philippines to firmly establish it legal rights to conduct social, economic, commercial and other activities in the covered areas.

West Philippine Sea image

House Bill 9981 received a resounding ‘yes’ via viva voce vote of lawmakers amid the continued controversy surrounding the West Philippine Sea disputes, the latest of which involving the water cannoning by China’s Coast Guard of a Philippine ship passing through Ayungin Shoal which is well within the country’s territory.

Palawan Second District Rep. Cyrille Abueg Zaldivar, vice chairperson of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and a principal author of HB 9981, delivered the sponsorship speech for the measure.

Committee chairperson and Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Anne Hofer also submitted her sponsorship speech seeking the swift passage of the measure.

“This will institutionalize the country’s gains from our resounding victory in the arbitration case against China confirming the Philippines sovereign rights over its vast exclusive economic zone and continental shelf,” stressed Zaldivar.

HB 9981 consolidates three bills proposing to declare and define the maritime zones under the jurisdiction of the country. Authors of the said bills included Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez; Magdalo Partylist Rep. Manuel DG Cabochan and Hofer.

The bill provides for a general declaration of the maritime zones of the country that include internal waters, archipelagic waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, EZ and continental shelf.

It follows the delineation provided under Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas that states that continental shelves extend beyond 200 nautical miles.

According to the bill’s authors HB 9981 provides for the sovereign rights over the maritimes zones, thus, will establish the country’s rights to explore, exploit living and non-living resources found in the zones.

Zaldivar said Philippines, an archipelagic state, is a signatory of UNCLOs which it ratified in 1984.

She explained that despite being a party of UNCLOS, Philippines has not benefitted from it until Congress passed in 2009 Republic Act 9522 or the Philippine Archipelagic Baselines Law.

“It (RA 9522) allowed the country to demarcate the meets and bounds of its maritime territory and jurisdiction, enhancing the security and territorial integrity of the Philippine archipelago by removing the pockets of high seas,” she said.

However, the Palawan solon underscored the need for the passage of a law declaring the country’s maritime laws, saying that this will “bolster Philippines quest for international recognition as an archipelagic state.”

“It will enable the Philippines to exercise sovereignty over its internal waters, archipelagic waters, territorial sea, continuous EEZ, continental shelf and all other territories, in accordance with international law,” she said.