A PROPOSED law defining the Philippines’ maritime zones in line with an international agreement providing a legal framework on sea borders and activities received unanimous support from officials in the executive branch, as tensions rise after the Chinese Coast Guard’s recent attack and harassment of Philippine supply boats.

A Senate panel on Monday discussed proposed Bills 2333 and 2289, or the Philippine Maritime Zones Act, which seek to mark out the country’s maritime zones anchored on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Efren P. Caranding, deputy administrator of the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), told the Senate committee on foreign affairs that the proposed legislation has long been overdue.

He said the Philippines committed to the United Nations in 1988 to harmonize its domestic legislation with the provisions of the convention.

More than three decades later, the country has yet to fully realize this, he said.

“As the central mapping agency, NAMRIA needs a definitive legal basis to be able to draw the outer limits of our maritime zones,” he said.

Justice Senior State Counsel Fretti G. Ganchoon said there are existing laws that need to be revised or updated since “we have an obligation under international law to make necessary modifications in our laws to make sure they are aligned with UNCLOS.”

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, who authored one of the bills, said the approval of the proposed measure would “preclude any unwarranted and undesirable disputes with other nations involving our maritime areas.”

Mr. Sotto also said it will provide flexibility in the passage of subsequent laws pertinent to the rights and obligations of the country in the disputed South China Sea.

Former Ambassador Gilberto G.B. Asuque, meanwhile, cautioned lawmakers about addressing the issue of territorial claims, which is a matter that must be ironed out in another spectrum of international law.

The proposed measure, he said, must be limited to the borders of sovereign rights.

Diplomacy will enable us to challenge China in its position and narrative, Mr. Asuque said during the hearing.

“If we have this legislation incorporating the entire position of the arbitral award, we are empowering and giving our diplomats the necessary tool to sit down with the other claimants in the South China Sea and resolve this issue by peaceful means.”

He was referring to the 2016 ruling by a United Nations-backed arbitral court in favor of the Philippines and invalidated China’s claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea.

In the most recent incident, China’s Coast Guard blocked and discharged water cannons at Philippine-flagged boats that were carrying supplies for marine troops stationed at the Second Thomas Shoal, which the country calls Ayungin.

Beijing did not apologize and asserted that the Philippine boats were in Chinese territory.

The Philippines eventually completed the supply delivery mission and denied China’s demand to remove the ramshackle Navy ship grounded on Ayungin, which serves as troop base.

Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana has asserted that the arbitral award and the 1982 UNCLOS, in which China is a signatory of, recognize the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone that extends 200 nautical miles from the country’s shore. Ayungin Shoal is 104 nautical miles from the baseline of Palawan.

Foreign Deputy Assistant Secretary Myca Magnolia M. Fischer, who is also executive Director of the Office of Asian and Pacific Affairs, said that since 2016, the Foreign Affairs department has filed 241 protests to date, with China responding to 152.

Of the total, 183 were filed this year, including daily protests against the presence of Chinese militia vessels in Philippine maritime zones. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan