FOR months now there’s been a great deal of protestations from our government authorities concerning alleged incursions of Chinese survey ships and warships into Philippine waters allegedly without notification to Philippine defense authorities and which they consider as violations of our sovereign rights.
The protestations have generated much negative publicity for China-Philippine relations, clouding what otherwise is a period of sunshine diplomacy with President Rodrigo R. Duterte making his fifth visit to President Xi Jinping this month to, among others, sign an historic oil and gas joint development agreement at the WPS/SCS in favor of the Philippines.
President Duterte has stepped in to clarify and define what the Philippines should expect from foreign ships when entering the different ranges of what may be waters or seas within the range of what the UNCLOs grants the Philippines, from territorial sea to its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Extended Continental Shelf (ECS).
The President asserted the final word when he announced that only in the 12 nautical miles of the Philippine Territorial Waters shall foreign ships, commercial or warships, be obliged to notify the Philippines authorities to enjoy Innocent Passage and/or Freedom of Navigation. Now its clear, notification by foreign vessels is not necessary in the EEZ or the ECS.
A great deal of confusion has been caused by information and satellite photos emanating from U.S. agencies such as the AMTI and a U.S. Naval War College blogger Ryan Martinson citing various alleged offences by Chinese vessels in the Pagasa Islands, the East coast areas of the Philippines such as Benham Rise and all the way down to the Sibutu Passage.
Now with President Duterte’ clarification the allegations against China’s oceanographic vessels have turned out to be inaccurate, likewise the passage of Chinese warship in the Sibutu Passage which is 18 miles wide and provides ample leeway beyond the 1- mile limit of Philippine territorial waters.
We do hope the President’s elucidation will restore calm and reason in relation to coordination of all these seaward activities of foreign ships and warships which the UNCLOS guarantees right of free passage for peaceful purposes.
However, Justice Antonio Carpio raised another ripple, averring that even foreign warships passing Philippines waters don’t need clearance under the UNCLOS.
“Under UNCLOS, in the exercise by foreign merchant ships and warships of innocent passage thru the territorial sea or archipelagic waters (hence including Sibutu Passage), the coastal state cannot require prior permission or prior notification”, he said.
What Carpio prescribes is for the Philippines to pass the Archipelagic Sea Lanes Passage bill where the President can designate sea lanes where foreign merchant ships and warships could pass.
There is a House Bill, HB 5487, pending for years now. So, again it turns out...
...that the Philippines has been remiss in its duties to set out the rules where Philippine sovereignty can be harmonised with international pacts to avoid confusion within the country and with our international partners.
Our Department of National Defense (DND) which has been at the forefront of many of the false alarms, should coordinate more closely with experts in UNCLOS in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and justice department (DOJ) to ensure they do not place the Republic of the Philippines in awkward positions relative to our closest international partners.
Our Independent Foreign policy demands no less, and our special relations with our main economic partner China and security partner the U.S. will be better preserved.