ON his first year in office, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has performed well in managing the West Philippine Sea dispute with China, experts in maritime law and civil maritime security said.
However, the challenge to the administration is how to enforce the 2016 international arbitral tribunal award, which invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China, Sea, and affirmed the Philippine claim over the islands and reefs as part of its exclusive economic zone.
Julio Amador III, founder and CEO of Amador Research Services, said he would give a seven “7” rating to Marcos’s performance on the West Philippine Sea dispute.
“First, there’s consistency in the way that the administration has been going about in terms of the South China Sea. It has allowed the appropriate agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs to regularly make a statement on the South China Sea arbitration ruling. There are no conflicting messages in terms of our victory in the arbitral tribunal which I think is quite good,” Amador said.
Prof. Jay Batongbacal, Director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea of the University of the Philippines Law Center, echoed Amador’s assessment.
“I would rate it very highly at this point. So far, the signals have been good so I hope that this is sustained over the longer period,” Batongbacal said.
In a press conference via Zoom, the two maritime experts called on President Marcos to declare the proposed Maritime Zone Law as a priority bill in his upcoming State of Nation Address (SONA) to enable the country to implement the arbitral award and transition the Philippines to the blue economy.
“What we need are concrete measures to actually move the process forward, make sure that we are implementing the arbitration award because it is binding on us,” Amador said.
Although the Philippines is the second largest archipelago in the world, with a 36,000-km coastline, most of the legislation are geared towards an economy anchored on land-based industries.
In May, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading the Maritime Zone bill. This provides for the harmonization of domestic and international laws and regulations, identifying the maritime zones such as internal waters, archipelagic waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and continental shelf.
Amador said they need the support of the Senate to push the legislation forward.
Batongbacal said the enactment of the Maritime Zone law would “cement” the legacy of Marcos Jr.’s father, former President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
It was during the first Marcos administration when the Philippines fought for the maritime rights of archipelagic states in the international community.
“The enactment of a maritime zone law would actually cement the legacy of his father to the nation and really conclude in a sense the effort of the Philippines — the government and the nation as a whole—to try to establish for itself the maximum extent of what we now know as the Philippine archipelago,” Batongbacal said.
Image credits: AP