Manila backs Senate bill to officially rename disputed waters ‘Western Philippine Sea’ — Radio Free Asia

The Philippines’ Foreign Ministry said Thursday it supports legislative efforts to officially rename parts of the country from the South China Sea to the “Western Philippine Sea,” in a bid to bolster Manila’s territorial claims in the disputed waterway.

On Wednesday, Senator Francis Tolentino announced that he had introduced Senate Bill 405, a bill to “institutionalize” the use of “the Western Philippine Sea” as the official name for territories claimed by the Philippines. in waters that China and other neighbors are also contesting.

The airspace, seabed and subsoil on the western side of the Philippine archipelago would be renamed “to strengthen the Philippines’ claim to the disputed territories found on the western side of the archipelago”, according to an excerpt from SB405.

Maria Teresita Daza, spokesperson for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, said Tolentino’s bill was in line with a 2016 international arbitration tribunal ruling that sided with Manila.

“The Western Philippine Sea was already defined in 2012 by Administrative Order 29,” Daza said at a press briefing on Thursday.

“Nevertheless, the ministry recognizes what the legislative process can do in terms of clarity and institution building. And we look forward to supporting the process, should we be asked to do so,” she said.

The Tolentino Bill covers the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal, as well as the Luzon Sea, or the waters also known as the Luzon Strait between the northern Philippine island of Luzon and Taiwan.

The Philippine senator said the bill was crafted in response to the “archipelagic doctrine” embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Under it, the Philippines is granted a territorial sea up to 12 nautical miles, a contiguous zone up to 24 nautical miles, and an exclusive economic zone up to 200 nautical miles where the Western Philippine Sea is located. .

The bill also directs government offices to use the name in all communications, messages and public documents, and to “popularize the use of such [a] name to the general public both at home and abroad.

Six years ago, the Philippines won an arbitration award against Beijing before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The landmark decision nullified China’s extensive claims to the maritime region, including waters that reach neighbors’ shores.

Manila had filed the case in 2012, when the Chinese occupied areas near the Scarborough Shoal, a triangular chain of rocks and reefs that Filipinos consider a traditional fishing ground.

Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all claim parts of the sea. of the waterway. The line also straddles the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of another country, Indonesia.

And while the name “South China Sea” has gained near-universal acceptance, countries with claims to disputed waters have their own different names for it. Vietnam calls the maritime region “the East Sea” and to Beijing it is known simply as the “South Sea”.

In 2017, Indonesia renamed a resource-rich northern region around its Natuna Islands, which lie off the southern end of the South China Sea, as North Natuna Sea. The waters near the Natunas have seen tense clashes in recent years between Indonesian vessels and vessels from China and other countries, including Chinese coast guard vessels.

Jakarta’s decision to change the name of the maritime region north of the islands was spurred by the arbitral tribunal’s ruling in favor of Manila the year before that nullified China’s historic claim to the entire Sea of Southern China by the nine-dash line, Arif Havas Oegroseno, then deputy for maritime sovereignty in the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, told reporters at the time.

Since the arbitral tribunal ruled for Manila in 2016, Beijing has refused to budge from the area around Scarborough Shoal. On Thursday, Chinese embassy officials in Manila did not immediately respond to BenarNews’ efforts to seek comment on the Philippine bill.

The proposed official name change is a far cry from the disputed waters policy implemented by former President Rodrigo Duterte, who did not seek to enforce the decision when he took office in 2016, but instead pursued warmer ties with Beijing.

During his six-year term, Duterte, who left office on June 30, also alienated the Philippines from the United States, a longtime ally of the Philippines and main rival of China, until later in his mandate when he said the arbitration award was “beyond compromise.

The U.S. government, meanwhile, insisted on the doctrine of freedom of navigation and sailed its navy ships into the disputed waters.

Duterte’s successor, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in his first “state of the nationaddress to Congress last month, said he would not chair any process that would give “even a square inch of territory” to foreign rivals.

Marcos’ new military chief, Lt. Gen. Bartolome Vicente Bacarro, told his generals and other military officials at his first command conference on Wednesday that the armed forces support President Marcos’ statement.

“We are only doing what we are asked to do and what is important is that we are able to fulfill our mandate to protect (the state and) our people,” Col. Medel Aguilar told reporters. Army spokesman.

BenarNews is an online news service affiliated with RFA.

Norman D. Briggs