The House Committee on Foreign Affairs has currently four pending bills—House Bill Nos. 1095, 2465, 2843, and 3984—which establish archipelagic sea lanes (ASL) in Philippine waters to prevent arbitrary international passage in Philippine waters.
The Philippines is an archipelago making it prone to external maritime threats, environmental pollution, and exploitation. On 3 April 2023, Malacañang announced four new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites which aims to strengthen the country’s defense and disaster response.
However, this will increase the military presence of the United States (US) in the Philippines, including prepositioning of material and the use of US vessels and aircraft to conduct operations in the agreed locations, which poses security risks in the country if handled improperly.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an archipelagic state has sovereignty over its air space and archipelagic waters including its seabed, subsoil and resources contained therein.
Article 53 of UNCLOS states that an archipelagic state may designate sea lanes and air routes suitable for the continuous and expeditious passage of foreign ships and aircraft through or over its archipelagic waters and the adjacent territorial sea. However, the Philippines has not yet established its archipelagic sea lanes, preventing the country from fully benefiting from the provisions of the UNCLOS including the rights of a country that has sea lanes.
The pending bills state the rights and obligations of foreign ships and aircrafts exercising the right of archipelagic sea lane passage through the established ASL. These include forbidding foreign ships and aircraft from using force or threat, conducting war games, communicating with unauthorized individuals, conducting research and survey activities, fishing operations, marine pollution, exploiting Philippine marine resources and penalties for violators.
The bill tasked the President, with the assistance of relevant national agencies to promulgate all rules and regulations relating to management and security of ASLs.
Non-designation of ASLs will let foreign vessels to transit through the country using any route within the Philippine waters and airspace. This will put the country’s marine environment, and national security in peril.
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