- The House of Representatives is seeking to create a West Philippine Sea Authority and a Center for West Philippine Sea Studies to strengthen the country’s sovereignty amid threats from foreign forces.
- The measures seek to protect the country’s maritime areas, particularly the West Philippine Sea, by upholding the arbitral ruling which invalidates the claims of other countries in the territory, particularly China.
- President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to visit Chinese President Xi Jinping on August 28 to invoke Philippines’ rights to the territory.
Amid the current Philippines-China standoff on territorial claims, House measures in the 18th Congress are seeking the creation of the West Philippine Sea Authority and the Center for West Philippine Sea Studies to strengthen the country’s sovereignty.
House Bill (HB) 363or the West Philippine Sea Development Authority Act seeks to create the West Philippine Sea Authority which will have primary jurisdiction over the development, management, and utilization of all resources within the West Philippine Sea Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines.
This refers to maritime areas within 200 nautical miles from the baselines on the western side of the Philippine archipelago including the Luzon Sea, and those within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island group and Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.
“Through such Authority, our country would be able to develop and harness the revenue-generating potential of the area arising from the capture of fish and fishery products, processing and marketing of all fisheries and aquatic products, marine energy exploration and development, as well as coastal and marine tourism,” said Tarlac 2nd District Rep. Victor Yap, author of HB 363.
The corporate body will be attached to the Office of the President and will act as central administrative and coordinating body of national and local government units responsible for fisheries, ecological protection, marine life, and other environmental issues within its jurisdiction. It will also be in charge of raising revenues for the use of waters for all beneficial purposes.
The West Philippine Sea Development Authority will have an authorized capital stock of P2 billion divided into two billion shares with par value of P1 each, to be fully subscribed and paid by the national government.
Meanwhile, Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez authored HB 3804 which will create the Center for West Philippine Sea Studies attached to the Department of Foreign Affairs to study the basis of claims of the Philippines over the disputed territory as stated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, international law, local laws, and historical data.
The center will be headed by an assistant secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
P50 million will be initially appropriated from the National Treasury for funding the creation of the center.
“It is imperative that a government office be created dedicated exclusively to the West Philippine Sea. It will focus on studying our claims and propose measures on how to defend and prosecute such claims,” said Rodriguez.
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo lauded the Palace for its previous announcement that President Rodrigo Duterte will invoke the arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea amid China’s continued rejection of the decision by the Hague-based court.
“In a way, we are glad with the statement that [the President] will insist on the decision of the arbitral tribunal because we have been waiting for this since 2016—that in a one-on-one with China, or during ASEAN or other events, he will invoke on the decision to assert our claims. The people have been asking for this for so long,” Robredo said on Sunday in her weekly radio show.
Duterte will visit China on August 28 to September 1 to hold his bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and is expected to bring up the code of conduct on the disputed territory, possible joint exploration for oil and gas, and the increasing presence of Chinese vessels in Philippine waters.
Critics earlier called on Duterte to make a turn around and reconsider his soft stance against China since assuming presidency in 2016.