Congressmen file bill establishing PH archipelagic sea lanes


Administration and opposition congressmen have filed a bill proposing to establish the archipelagic sea lanes of the country in a bid to prevent a repeat of the controversy brought about by the passage of Chinese warships in Philippine waters without prior clearance from Manila.

Three bills on the archipelagic sea lanes were filed separately by Reps. Ann Hofer (PDP-Laban, Zamboanga Sibugay); Rozzano Rufino B. Biazon (NP, Muntinlupa City); and Manuel Cabochan III (Magdalo partylist). A similar bill was previously approved by the House of Representatives but failed to get the nod of the Senate.

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 contested areas of the West Philippine Sea.

It was recalled that 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 is necessary as it 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 (EEZ) 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 includes 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 aircraft 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.”

Dumping of waste, expelling oil and noxious substances in Philippine waters are also taboo.

Biazon, vice chairman of the House Committee on National Defense and Security, said the enactment of an archipelagic sea lanes bill has become important since the Philippines has already “established and defined its archipelagic baselines through the enactment of Republic Act No. 9522.”

“Said law established the territorial boundaries of the country. What needs to be done now is to establish our archipelagic sea lanes in order that the country may fully benefit from the provisions of the UNCLOS,” said Biazon.