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House passes bill establishing sea lanes in Philippine waters

The House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading a bill establishing sea lanes in Philippine archipelagic waters.

House Bill 4153, authored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., amends Republic Act 9522 or the Philippine Baseline Law by prescribing the rights and obligations of foreign ships and aircraft exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage through the established Philippine archipelagic sea lanes and providing for the associated protective measures.

Under the bill, foreign ships and aircraft, exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage, should pass through or above the sea lane as quickly as possible in the normal mode solely for the purpose of continuous, expeditious and unobstructed transit.

The bill says foreign ships should refrain from making covert transmissions, interfering with telecommunications systems and communicating directly with an unauthorized person or group of persons in Philippine territory.

Foreign ships and aircraft may exercise the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in order to sail or fly from one part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone to another part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone through or over the Philippine territorial sea and its archipelagic waters.

Belmonte said the measure also provides for the geographic coordinates designating the sea lanes and air routes suitable for the continuous and expeditious passage of foreign ships and aircrafts through or over its archipelagic waters and the adjacent territorial sea.

“The archipelagic sea lane axes and connecting points shall be marked on navigation charts for appropriate publication,” Belmonte said.

The bill requires foreign ships/aircraft exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage to refrain from expelling oil, wastes or other noxious substances into Philippine waters, among others.

Foreign ships shall also refrain from stopping, dropping anchor or loitering, with the exception of a situation of force majeure or to render assistance to a person or a ship in time of disaster.

The bill also prohibits foreign fishing ships from conducting fishing operations; and foreign military aircraft and warships from using any type of weapons and ammunition for any war game exercises.

Moreover, the bill mandates foreign civil aircraft to observe the Rules of the Air established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) concerning flight safety.

The flag State shall bear international responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by the Philippines as a result of non-compliance with provisions by a foreign warship or aircraft while exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage.

“All rules and regulations relating to Associated Protective Measures (APMs) to be prescribed in accordance with the Conventions and Regulations of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) within areas along the archipelagic sea lanes shall be promulgated separately through an Executive Issuance,” Belmonte said.

The bill is co-authored by Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II (Lone District, Mandaluyong City) and Rep. Al Francis Bichara (2nd District, Albay).