By Ben Rosario
Muntinlupa City Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon yesterday batted for the passage of the archipelagic sea lanes bill which he called “urgent and imperative” to address the current controversies brought about by the ongoing territorial dispute between the Philippines and China over areas in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Biazon, vice chairman of the House Committee on National Defense, said that recent events that happened in the WPS area are vastly different than what the country experienced since the first time the bill was filed.
“The degree of urgency of passing the bill is higher now because of the actions of China which have become a cause for concern for us,” the administration solon said.
He cited the Sibutu Strait incident last month when Chinese warships were sighted but did not notify Philippine authorities.
“In fact, the warship turned off their automatic identification systems,” he said.
Previously approved by the House of Representatives but failed to get Senate nod, three archipelagic sea lane bills were re-filed separately by Reps. Ann Hofer (PDP-Laban, Zamboanga Sibugay); Rozzano Rufino B. Biazon (NP, Muntinlupa City); and Manuel Cabochan III (Magdalo partylist).
Hofer, chairperson of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, is reportedly planning to prioritize the measure which could help address many controversies that have emanated from the Philippines-China dispute over the WPS.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio had earlier urged President Duterte to certify the bill as an urgent administration measure.
He said the swift congressional approval of an Archipelagic Sea Lanes Passage bill will allow the President to “designate the sea lanes where foreign and merchant marines could pass.”
“The law can require foreign ships exercising the right to archipelagic sea lane passage to turn on their Automatic Identification System (AIS) and for submarines to surface and show their flag,” stated Carpio in reaction to the government’s decision to lodge a diplomatic protest over the passage of Chinese warships through the Sibutu Straits situated in the southern tip of the Philippines.
The bill empowers the president to designate the archipelagic sea lanes that may be used for the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage of foreign ships.
Hofer said the establishment of sea lanes of the Philippines is “consistent with the provision of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” to which the Philippines is a signatory.
“Archipelagic sea lane passage refers to the exercise by foreign vessels or aircraft, in accordance with the provisions of UNCLOS, of the rights of navigation and overflight in the normal mode solely for the purpose of continuous, expeditious, and unobstructed transit between one part of the high sea or an exclusive economic zone to another part of the high sea or an EEZ through or over the Philippine archipelagic waters and its adjacent territorial sea,” explained Hofer in filing HB 4194.
Under the bills, foreign ships and aircraft will be allowed to exercise the right of archipelagic sea lanes passages in accordance with the provisions of UNCLOS.
Common provision among the three bills include the prohibition for foreign military aircraft and warships to conduct any war game exercises using any type of weapons, especially involving the use of ordnance.
Foreign ships and aircraft exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage are barred from “making covert transmissions, interfering with telecommunications systems, and communicating directly with an unauthorized person or group of persons in the Philippine territory.”
These foreign ships and aircrafts are enjoined to pass the archipelagic sea lane of the Philippines “as quickly as possible without delay and in the normal mode solely for the purpose of continuous, expeditious, and unobstructed transit.”
The dumping of waste, expelling oil and noxious substances in Philippine waters are also prohibited.