‘Don’t worry about China’: Mindanao solon asks Congress to enact maritime zones bill

Congess must pass a bill delineating the country’s maritime boundaries as well as its 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), House Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez said on Tuesday, Oct. 11.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (Facebook)

According to Rodriguez, Congress should enact into law a maritime zones bill after the Philippines and Indonesia reportedly agreed on having rules on how to delimit their overlapping territorial boundaries.

This agreement was an offshoot of last month’s visit to Jakarta of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

“The projected talks between the Philippines and our neighbor Indonesia should prompt Congress to now approve a maritime zones bill,” Rodriguez, a representative of Cagayan de Oro City’s 2nd district, said.

Such measure, the lawmaker noted, would serve as the framework for negotiations on territorial limits among nations claiming islets and maritime areas in the South China Sea.

He also stressed that establishing maritime zones will protect the country’s security and environmental interest.

“It will also be our weapon in enforcing our laws, exploring resources and protecting our fishermen in these areas,” he said.

The House leader added that Congress should not worry about China’s reaction to the enactment of the bill.

“Enacting it is our right under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Let us not worry about what the Chinese will say. Let us think of our own national interest,”

Rodriguez authored House Bill (HB) No. 2467, or “An Act declaring the maritime zones under the jurisdiction of the Philippines,” which he filed in the 18th Congress. The House of Representatives passed the bill but it was not enacted by the Senate.

His proposed measure defined the country’s maritime territory that includes the Chinese-occupied Scarborough or Panatag Shoal off Zambales and Pangasinan, locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, a tradition fishing ground of Filipinos.

In his bill, Rodriguez said the Philippines, as a signatory and party to the 1983 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 said 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.”

Rodriguez pointed out that UNCLOS allows party-states to define their maritime territory.