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Philippines Moves to Enact Maritime Zones Act Amid Regional Disputes

QUEZON CITY – The Philippines is poised to adopt the Maritime Zones Act, a crucial legislation aimed at safeguarding the nation's marine resources, including fish stocks and energy reserves, from overexploitation. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has highlighted the Act's importance in aligning the country's maritime governance with international standards.

According to Philippines News Agency, DFA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Maritime and Ocean Affairs Maria Elena Cristina Maningat, the forthcoming Act demonstrates the Philippines' dedication to observing international laws, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Ruling. The legislation is expected to bolster the regulation of maritime activities, fostering economic growth and enabling local community participation.

The enactment of the Maritime Zones Act is viewed as a critical step in reinforcing the Philippines' stance as a nation that adheres to international law, ensuring that its maritime policies are in sync with UNCLOS. The UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea's Director, Jay Batongbacal, regards the law as an essential tool for the Philippines to independently enforce the South China Sea arbitration decision.

The National Mapping and Resource Information Authority's Deputy Administrator, Efren Carandang, also underscored the law's significance following the Philippines' ratification of UNCLOS, asserting that it would fully align the country's maritime zone definitions with those outlined in the international treaty.

Amidst these developments, the enactment of the Maritime Zones Act faces objections from China, particularly concerning the inclusion of the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal in the legislation. China warns that the Act could exacerbate disputes and impact bilateral relations. Nevertheless, Presidential Assistant for Maritime Concerns and former AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Andres Centino remains optimistic about the law's timely enactment and its role in affirming the Philippines' maritime rights.

The law's proponents dismiss China's opposition as an attempt to influence Philippine legislative processes, asserting the country's right to enact laws safeguarding its interests without foreign interference. Senator Francis Tolentino, a key advocate for the Act, has stated that China's objections will not deter the Philippines from enforcing its sovereign rights and adhering to international legal rulings, despite China's non-recognition of the 2016 Arbitral Award.