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MANILA, Philippines – During an hours-long inaugural hearing of the Senate’s Special Committee on Philippine Maritime and Admiralty Zones, Senator Francis Tolentino made a proposal: Why not rename the area in the South China Sea under the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone the Great West Philippine Sea?
Tolentino is the chairperson of the newly-formed special committee, which will have jurisdiction over legislation or legislative probes related to the country’s maritime and admiralty zones. The ultimate goal of the committee is drafting a bill that will define the country’s maritime zones.
Resource persons during the hearing included representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), experts from think-tanks based overseas, members of the academe, and Philippine maritime experts.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega, chief of the DFA’s Migrant Workers Office but was once a member of the DFA’s legal team, met Tolentino’s suggestion with enthusiasm.
“We’re not going to say hindi puwede (that we can’t), Sir,” said De Vega, after Tolentino asked if Congress had the power to rename the West Philippine Sea. De Vega, who represented Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo in the hearing, said it was fine “as long as it doesn’t say that the sea is Philippine territory, because that would be a violation [of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] itself.”
The West Philippine Sea, defined via Administrative Order No. 29 issued by then-president Benigno Aquino III, span the maritime areas to the west of the Philippine archipelago, which includes the Luzon Sea and the waters surrounding the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo De Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.
It is within the South China Sea, which China has claimed in its entirety – despite a 2016 arbitral award that sided with the Philippines and said China’s claim was illegal.
“We know one country, large country, that should be offended by the term…but I like the term, Sir, Greater Philippine Sea! Sounds great,” added De Vera.
The hearing comes amid rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea due to China’s continued aggressive actions against Philippine vessels sailing through the area.
Tolentino lso said during the hearing that the special committee’s proceedings are especially important, given threats to the country’s food and power supply.
The West Philippine Sea is teeming in marine sources. It’s also potentially rich in oil and gas – crucial especially since the Malampaya gas field may be completely depleted by 2027.
The committee is expected to hold four more hearings. – Rappler.com