MANILA – Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez on Wednesday urged Congress to pass House Bill No. 2465 that seeks to establish designated sea lanes in the country to prevent foreign ships and aircraft from encroaching on Philippine waters.

“I have refiled my bill and I urge Congress to approve it. No Chinese or any foreign vessel should be allowed in our waters without our approval unless for innocent passage in the designated archipelagic sea lanes,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

HB 2465 sets the coordinates designating the sea lanes and air routes for the continuous and expeditious sailing or flight of foreign ships and aircraft exercising the right of innocent passage.

The bill also prescribes the rights and obligations of foreign ships and aircraft exercising the right of archipelagic sea lane passage.

In filing the bill, Rodriguez said "it is very important that the Philippines establishes its sea lanes in order to be able to fully benefit from the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)."

Article 53 of the UNCLOS states that “an archipelagic State may designate sea lanes and air routes suitable for the continuous and expeditious passage of foreign ships and aircraft through or over its archipelagic waters and adjacent territorial sea.”

Article 22 of the UNCLOS provides that “the coastal State may, where necessary, having regard to the safety of navigation, require foreign ships exercising the right of innocent passage through its territorial sea to use such sea lanes and traffic separation schemes as it may designate or prescribe for the regulation of the passage of ships.”

HB 2465 authorizes the President to promulgate rules and regulations relating to the management and security of the country’s archipelagic and adjacent waters.

Under the proposed measure, foreign ships and aircraft shall pass through and above the archipelagic sea lanes as quickly as possible solely for the purpose of continuous, expeditious and unobstructed passage.

The vessels or planes shall not deviate more than 25 nautical miles from the designated passage routes; they shall not make any activity other than transiting expeditiously, and they shall not make any threat against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of the Philippines.

The measure prohibits transiting ships and planes from conducting any oceanography or hydrographic survey or research activity unless permitted by the Philippine government.

It also bans foreign fishing vessels exercising the right of archipelagic sea lane passage from conducting any fishing operation or exploitation of Philippine marine resources.

“The proposed law would penalize arbitrary passage by Chinese and other foreign ships and planes in our archipelagic waters and the adjacent territorial waters,” Rodriguez said.

The bill imposes the penalty of imprisonment for at least six months and one day to two years and two months, or a fine of USD1.2 million, or both upon the discretion of the court, on the ship master or captain of the plane or owner or operators of the vessel or plane found violating the provisions of this Act. If the owner is a corporation or a business entity, the penalty shall be imposed on its president or head.

A similar measure was filed by Rodriguez during the 18th Congress. It was approved on final reading by the House of Representatives, but the Senate failed to pass it. (PNA)