(File photo courtesy of PTV)

MANILA – Various government agencies shall be mandated to strengthen the country's assertion of rights over the West Philippine Sea (WPS) if Senate Bill No. (SBN) 405 will be passed into law, Senator Francis Tolentino said on Wednesday.

Tolentino, vice-chairperson of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations who filed the bill, said the proposal seeks to "institutionalize" the West Philippine Sea claim by formalizing the designation of its nomenclature as part of the existing laws of the land.

As patriotic citizens, he said Filipinos should assert their sovereign rights over the country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving, and managing its natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and subsoil with the concomitant duty to protect and preserve the marine environment.

Section 2 of SBN 405 mandates the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) to produce and publish charts and maps of the Philippines reflecting the nomenclature “West Philippine Sea” or the “Kanlurang Dagat ng Pilipinas.”

It also mandates the national government through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to deposit a copy of the measure if passed into law, and other relevant documents with the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) and notify accordingly all relevant International and intergovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN), and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).

SBN 405 also directs all departments, subdivisions, agencies, and instrumentalities of the Philippine government to use and employ the name West Philippine Sea or "Kanlurang Dagat ng Pilipinas" in all communications, messages, and public documents, and “to popularize the use of such name with the general public, both domestically and internationally.”

It also requires that all private institutions, organizations, and establishments, whether organized under Philippine law or foreign law, operating within the Philippines, or transiting in Philippine territory are hereby directed to use the name West Philippine Sea or Kanlurang Dagat ng Pilipinas in all communications, announcements, and messages, both domestically and internationally.

"During the past decade, the actions of China in establishing control over the region for economic and military purposes intrude upon the sovereign rights of the Philippines over its EEZ. China's buildings and offshore harbor in Mischief Reef, which are well within our EEZ, required major excavation and destruction of significant coral reef areas," Tolentino pointed out.

He also emphasized the archipelagic doctrine embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which grants the Philippines a territorial sea of up to 12 nautical miles, a contiguous zone of up to 24 nautical miles, and an EEZ of up to 200 nautical miles.

"This shall all be measured from the archipelagic baselines drawn in accordance with the Article 47 of the UNCLOS," Tolentino said.

SBN 405 also labels the Luzon Sea and the waters around, within, and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group in Palawan and Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal in Zambales, among others, as WPS territories.

During the recent 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Cambodia, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) asserted its territorial ownership of the disputed territories by citing the arbitral award, noting that The Hague ruling, as well as the 1982 UNCLOS, are the twin anchors of policy and actions of the Philippines on the WPS. (PNA)