Lower House approves on final reading clamored PH Maritime Zones Act

Published December 6, 2021, 4:13 PM

by Ben Rosario

The House of Representatives on Monday, Dec. 6 approved on third and final reading the proposed Philippine Maritime Zones Act that will establish the country’s legal rights to conduct social, economic, commercial and other activities in the covered areas.

Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Ann Hofer

With 188 affirmative votes House Bill 9981 will now be elevated to the Senate where it will await the Upper Chamber’s version of the measure.

HB 9981 entitled “An Act Declaring the Maritime Zones Under the Jurisdiction of the Republic of the Philippines” consolidated 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 Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Anne Hofer.

Hofer is the chairperson of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs that acted as the principal sponsor of the measure. She lauded her colleagues and the House leadership for pursuing passage of the measure.

Passage of the measure came amid controversies in the West Philippine Sea that has been triggered by China’s continued ‘bullying’ tactics against the Philippines.

Elucidating further on the bill’s impact, Hofer pointed out that, taken together with the bill on the Archipelagic Sea Lanes, the Philippine Maritime Zones Act brings to realization the other half of said twin measures which will complete the Philippines’ archipelagic house. The approval of HB 9981 marks an important step towards consolidating our maritime jurisdiction as declared in the historic Arbitral Award.

Hofer expressed the optimism that the Upper House’s counterpart bill for HB 9981 will see swift passage in the Senate and that the measure will eventually be signed into law before the end of the 18th Congress.

Palawan Second District Rep. Cyrille Abueg Zaldivar, vice chairperson of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and a sponsor of HB 9981, also congratulated the Lower House for the bill’s passage.

“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 in her sponsorship speech of the measure.

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.