File photo of Partido Reporma standard-bearer Panfilo Lacson (left) with senatorial bet Guillermo Eleazar (right) when they visited Pag-Asa Island. (Photo: General Eleazar’s Media Friends)
By Tracy Cabrera
MANILA — With the approval of the proposed measure under House Bill 9981 by majority of members of the House of Representatives to define the maritime zones of the Philippines, the country is now one step closer to harmonizing its laws with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the protection of its maritime zones which include internal and archipelagic waters, territorial seas, contiguous and exclusive economic zones and continental shelves.
According to Zamboanga Sibugay 2nd District Representative Ann Hofer, who chairs the House committee on foreign affairs, the measure also underlines that the rights of the Philippines “relative to its maritime zone and entitlements shall be exercised in accordance with UNCLOS,” the 2016 arbitral awards, as well as well as other laws on the country’s maritime zones and entitlements and international law.
In saying, Hofer noted that the bill’s approval “marks an important step towards consolidating our maritime jurisdiction as declared in the historic arbitral award” even as a version of the measure and similar bills are still pending at the committee level of the Senate.
In the upper chamber, Senate President Vicente ‘Tito’ Sotto III filed in June Senate Bill 2289 or the Philippine Maritime Zones Act, which also aims to identify maritime zones of the country. Which will be mapped out to “preserve and protect” the country’s sovereign rights in the face of increased Chinese militarization of the West Philippine Sea.
“Let us make our own map, similar to China’s nine-dash line. Let’s insist on our own maritime zones. It is just a matter of really setting our foot down,” Sotto opined.
Partido Reporma senatorial aspirant Guillermo Lorenzo ‘Gaylor’ Eleazar welcomed the development, remarking that “defining the country’s maritime zones will help the government assert our sovereignty in its territorial waters, especially as tension in the West Philippine Sea flared up recently due to a close encounter between the Chinese coast guard and Philippine Navy supply ships in Ayungin Shoal.”
“I laud and support this proposed measure that was recently approved by the lower chamber of Congress. This is a huge step in the Philippine government’s continuous efforts to assert our sovereign rights in our territory without the need to fire a shot,” he continued.
The 56-year-old retired general, who recently flew to Pagasa Island in the West Philippine Sea to plant a Philippine flag with Partido Reporma standard-bearer senator Panfilo ‘Ping’ Lacson and other officials, said he believes that identifying the country’s maritime zones will send a strong message to the international community that it can find an equilibrium in defending its territory while maintaining its good diplomatic relations with nations that have similar claims within the country’s borders.
“Sa kabila ng patuloy na tensyon sa West Philippine Sea, kaisa ako ng buong sambayanang Pilipino sa laban para sa ating soberanya. Patuloy tayong maninindigan para sa ating karapatan sa ating teritoryo. An gating laban para sa West Philippine Sea ay hindi nagtatapos sa pagpasampa ng mga diplomatic protest laban sa mga bansang nais yumurak sa ating karapatan. Nararapat na samahan ito ng iba pang aksyon at ipakita natin sa mga dayuhang hindi tayo papayag na angkinin kung ano ang atin,” he said.
“We will assert our sovereignty but it does not mean that we will have to go to war with other countries. Remember that we already won in the arbitral ruling and the only thing left to do is to implement it,” he likewise concluded in reference to the 2016 arbitral award issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration which favored the Philippines’ claims in the South China Sea and rejected China’s nine-dash line claims. (ai/mtvn)