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Exerting ownership

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The Senate recently approved on third and final reading the proposed Philippine Maritime Zones Act, which defines Filipino’s rights over the country’s waters and undersea features – including all artificial islands.

According to bill sponsor Senator Francis Tolentino, under Senate Bill No. 2492, all artificial islands within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) “are owned” by the Philippines. “Even if we were not the ones who built the [artificial islands] as long as it is within our EEZ, it’s ours,” he added.

Such provision is not included in the version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives in May last year, he noted.

Tolentino acknowledged that the proposed bill “might deter but it will not prevent the harassment being done by China right now.”

“But it will show our compliance with the law of the sea, arbitral ruling, maritime law. If we will pass this maritime zones law, it will prove that we have rights over that maritime area. Whoever will not recognize that will have to face accountability. We can file a case… I believe the entire global community is supportive,” he said.

SB 2492 is described as a landmark piece of legislation that establishes the Philippine Maritime Zones, in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 arbitral ruling which upheld the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and explore resources within its EEZ. It sets the boundaries of the Philippine archipelago, as well as the country’s internal waters over which the government exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction.

The measure likewise protects the rights of Filipino fisherfolk over the vast resources of the West Philippine Sea, as well as the untapped energy resources in the area.

In the face of aggressive expansion and harassment by China in our own EEZ, every effort, whether diplomatic, legal, or God forbid, military, will be necessary for the Philippines to protect our territorial rights. If the proposed Philippine Maritime Zones Act will help, then it is a welcome addition to our arsenal and bag of tools that we will need to protect our sovereignty and rights.*

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