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House Speaker sees passage of Archipelagic Sea Lanes Act.

The House leadership assured yesterday the immediate passage of a measure seeking to establish the archipelagic sea lanes in the country's waters before the 16th Congress ends its session in June, 2016.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. expressed confidence that his colleagues would urgently pass House Bill 4888 or the proposed Philippine Archipelagic Sea Lanes Act following the tension in the West Philippine Sea.

"I am quite sure this bill would hurdle this Congress," he said, pressing on the need to set out the rights and obligations of foreign ships and aircraft when exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage over Philippine waters in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Albay Rep. Al Francis Bichara, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said the 290-man Lower Chamber will likely approve the measure by March.

The assurance was made after Rear Admiral Alexander Lopez disclosed that China deployed a dredging ship at the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, signaling that Beijing is "substantially" expanding its facilities on the disputed submerged reef, which is within the country's exclusive economic zone.

Bichara, who principally authored HB 4888 along with MAGDALO partylist Rep. Francisco Ashley Acedillo, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon and Bukidnon Rep. Jose Zubiri III expressed readiness to defend the measure in the plenary after his panel approved the bill last week.

HB 4888 empowers the President to designate the archipelagic sea lanes which may be used for the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage and to promulgate rules and regulations relating to associated protective measures to be prescribed in accordance with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Conventions and Regulations within areas along the archipelagic sea lanes.

AKO Bicol partylist Rep. Rodel Batocabe, who co-authored the bill and a senior member of the House committee on foreign affairs, Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano, and Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle against Corruption party-list had batted for the immediate passage of the bill not only to define the country's sea lanes in accordance with UNCLOS but to deter unwarranted exploitation of the Philippine waters.

"While the bill, once enacted into law, might not be effectively enforced against China, it nonetheless gives us legal and moral authority to claim what is ours," Batocabe pointed out.

"Foreign ships and aircraft that are conducting archipelagic sea lanes passage shall not deviate more than 25 nautical miles to either side of the axis line of the sea lane. Provided that such ships and aircraft shall not navigate closer to the coast more than 10 percent of the distance between the nearest points on islands bordering the sea lane," it said.

The bill also provides that foreign ships and aircraft, while exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage, shall refrain from any threat or use of Force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of the Republic of the Philippines, or in any other manner in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.

The measure also prohibits foreign ships and aircrafts, including military aircraft and warships from engaging in any war game exercises or exercises using any type of weapons.

"Except when rendered necessary by force majeure or by distress, aircraft exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage shall not land in Philippine territory," it said.

HB 4888 also provides that foreign ships exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage shall refrain from stopping, dropping anchor or loitering, except when rendered necessary by force majeure or by distress in order to render assistance to a person or persons or a ship or ships experiencing distress; and from making covert transmissions, interfering with telecommunication systems and communicating directly with an unauthorized person or group of persons in Philippine territory

Last week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) handed a note verbale to the Chinese Embassy to express its strong protest on China's reclamation activities. The government accused China of violating the country's exclusive right to authorize the construction of artificial islands, installations or other structures in the vicinity of Panganiban Reef as provided under the UNCLOS.

China claims sovereignty over South China Sea's 3.5 million square kilometers, part of which falls under the Philippine territory.

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Title Annotation:National
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:0PACI
Date:Feb 10, 2015
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