House body approves measure delineating Philippine maritime zones

Posted on September 13, 2014

A BILL defining the country’s maritime zones has been approved on first reading at the House of Representatives.

The House committee on foreign affairs approved House Bill (HB) 4889, sponsored by Reps. Francisco Ashley L. Acedillo (Magdalo party-list), Rodolfo G. Biazon (Muntinlupa), Jose F. Zubiri III (Bukidnon, 3rd district), and committee chairman Rep. Al Francis C. Bichara (Albay, 2nd district), in a meeting held Thursday.

“The passage of this proposed legislative measure aims to provide for the necessary flexibility in the enactment of subsequent laws pertinent to the rights and obligations to which the Philippines is entitled and may exercise over its maritime zones in accordance with the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” the bill reads.

The measure seeks to clearly define the maritime zones under the jurisdiction of the Philippines to help protect the country’s rights on marine coasts.

HB 4889 or the Philippine Maritime Zones Act declares that the Philippines “shall exercise sovereign rights” over all internal and archipelagic waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zones, contiguous zone, and contingent shelf which fall within the provisions of the UNCLOS.

In particular, the measure draws the following territory lines:

- for territorial sea: 12 nautical miles from the baseline or low-water line;

- for contiguous zone: 24 nautical miles from the baseline;

- for the exclusive economic zone, 200 nautical miles from the baseline;

- and for the continental shelf, 200 nautical miles from the baseline, including the seabed and subsoil of submarine areas.

Baselines refer to the outermost points of the outermost islands of the archipelago, as defined by Republic Act 9522 or the Philippine Baselines Law, which delineates the maritime territories of neighboring coastal states.

“The Philippines shall exercise sovereign rights over this area, including the right to explore and exploit living and nonliving, organic and inorganic resources in accordance with the UNCLOS and other existing laws and treaties,” HB 4889 reads.

The proposed measure adheres to the UNCLOS treaty signed by the Philippines in 1982 along with other UN member-states as a multilateral agreement governing sea territories.

The country has invoked the UNCLOS treaty to support its claim on disputed maritime territories, such as the islands in the West Philippine Sea against Vietnam and China. -- Melissa Luz T. Lopez