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Senators ratify Maritime Zones bill, China says it ‘complicates’ SCS

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The Senate on Monday ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed Philippine Maritime Zones Act, which China says will only make “the situation in the South China Sea more complex.”

“This law represents more than just a legal framework. It is a symbol of our resolve to protect our marine environment and secure the livelihood of our coastal communities,” said Senator Francis Tolentino.

Tolentino, chair of the  chair of the Senate’s special panel on maritime and admiralty zones, said the bicameral conference committee adopted the Senate version and is now being circulated for signatures of their counterparts in the House.

“Once the bill becomes the Maritime Zones Act after the President signs it into law, the Philippines shall exercise all other maritime rights and jurisdictions per United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 2016 South China Sea arbitral award, international law, and other pertinent laws and regulations of the Philippines,” he pointed out.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said that the implementation of this measure will fortify the nation’s stance on the West Philippine Sea and is “crucially important in the face of ongoing Chinese aggression against the Philippine Coast Guard and Filipino fishermen.”

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“We have full confidence in the swift enactment of this measure into law, ” he said.

“It stands poised to strengthen the country’s legal framework, bolstering its ability to assert and defend its maritime sovereignty,” added Gatchalian, a co-author of the proposed legislation.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning has said the Philippines is attempting “to put a legal veneer on its illegal claims and actions in the South China Sea” through the  proposed law.

“This completely horrendous act will inevitably make the situation in the South China Sea more complex,” Mao claimed.

“China firmly opposes it and has lodged solemn démarches to the Philippines,” she said.

In a related development, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III expressed openness in supporting Senate Bill No. 654 (SBN 654), the proposed Philippine Navy  Archipelagic Defense Act, which seeks to establish forward operating bases for the Navy in strategic locations across the country.

Pimentel said he’s willing to discuss the measure as long as it’s in the best interest of the Philippines and not influenced by any other state or power.

“Let this be the product of our independent thinking, planning and analysis. If that’s the result, then let’s discuss it extensively,” Pimentel said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Robert Ace Barbers reiterated his call for establishing a naval facility in his home province of Surigao del Sur under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States.

Barbers, chairman of the House dangerous drugs committee, said the country’s eastern seaboard, which includes the Philippine Rise, lacks enough security and protection and has been subject to Chinese and other foreign intrusions.

“Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro and the AFP’s move to build a naval detachment in Casiguran, Aurora province was laudable as this would play a role in protecting and guarding the country’s eastern seaboard,” he said.

Barbers however said his province is also facing the Pacific Ocean and there is a similar and urgent need to secure and protect the area from foreign intruders and drug smugglers.

Rep. Barbers and his brother Surigao del Norte Gov. Lyndon Barbers had invited Filipino and American military officials to check out on their province as a possible EDCA site where the US military can build facilities and preposition supplies, equipment and material.

The Philippine archipelago has a long coastline on both its eastern and western seaboards. The distance between the northern tip of Surigao del Norte and Pag-Asa, the biggest island in the WPS occupied by Filipinos is about 1,220 kilometers.

The southern tip of Taiwan is more than 1,400 kilometers north of Surigao del Norte.

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