Senate bill seeks establishment of archipelagic sea lanes in PH waters
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III has filed a bill establishing archipelagic sea lanes in Philippine waters in a bid to protect the country’s security, economic and environmental interest.
“Non-designation of archipelagic sea lanes has the effect of waiving the right to designate in favor of other states who could freely exercise archipelagic sea lanes passage through Philippine archipelagic waters that they think are ‘the routes normally used for international navigation,’” Pimentel, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, said in the explanatory note of Senate Bill No. 1890.
“This obviously is detrimental to the Philippines’ interest,” he added.
The bill defines archipelagic sea lanes as “designated sea lanes and air routes in the archipelagic waters through which foreign vessels or aircraft may exercise the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage.”
Under the measure, foreign ships and aircraft may exercise the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations on the Law of the (UNCLOS) “in order to navigate or fly from one part of the high seas or an EEZ (exclusive economic zone) to another part of the high seas or an EEZ through or over the Philippine archipelagic waters and its adjacent territorial sea.”
“Such sea lanes shall be defined by a series of continuous axis lines from the entry points of passage routes to the exit points,” the bill added.
But under the measure, foreign ships, including fishing vessels, are prohibited from conducting “any fishing operation or exploitation” of marine resources of the Philippines while exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage.
Further, foreign vessels are not allowed to “load from a ship or unload from a ship persons, goods or currency in a manner that contravenes the laws and regulations concerning customs, immigration, fiscal matters and health, except when rendered necessary by force majeure or by distress.”
The bill also mandates foreign ships or aircraft, including research or hydrographic survey ships of aircraft, to first obtain prior permission from the appropriate agency of the Philippine government should they wish to conduct oceanographic or hydrographic surveys, whether with the use of detection equipment or sample gathering equipment.
Nevertheless, the bill stated that its provisions should not “diminish” the rights of foreign vessels to “exercise the right of innocent passage” in archipelagic sea lanes.
Under the measure, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is tasked to establish a mechanism for the designation of archipelagic sea lanes and “determine appropriate measures for the protection of areas along said sea lanes in accordance with international conventions and agreements to which the Philippines is a party.”
The DFA is also instructed to coordinate with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority, and other concerned agencies for the effective implementation of the bill should it be signed into law.
Earlier, DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. had already rejected a request from the PCG to open 11 archipelagic sea lanes in Philippine waters.
Aside from Pimentel’s recently filed bill, there are pending measures in Congress seeking to allow the Philippines to identify its archipelagic sea lanes and designate where civilian and military ships could pass through.
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