7th Anniversary of the Arbitral Tribunal Ruling

July 27, 2023

Forum in Commemoration of the
7th Anniversary of the Arbitral Tribunal Ruling,
Waypoints Project and The University of the Philippines
Institute for Maritime and Law of Sea
27 July 2023

Ensuring our country’s sovereignty is non-negotiable. This is enshrined in our Constitution, serving as the bedrock upon which we preserve and uphold the very essence of our forefathers’ legacy.

Long embroiled in territorial disputes with neighboring countries over the South China Sea, our country once again stands at a crucial point where it is expected to assert our rightful claims in the maritime domain. In 2016, an international tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Annex VII ruled in our favor, effectively invalidating China’s expansive claims in the region. However, despite this significant victory, we continue to struggle to fully assert our rights and enforce the ruling.

Consider the magnitude of what is on the line here. Justice Antonio Carpio revealed that at stake in the West Philippine Sea is an overwhelming expanse of 531,000 square kilometers, surpassing the entirety of our country’s land area, which measures 300,000 square kilometers. It includes up to 80 percent of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which spans over 381,000 square kilometers; and, 100 percent of our potential extended continental shelf (ECS), estimated to be at least 150,000 square kilometers of maritime space.

Furthermore, it is important to note that the Philippines is a maritime and archipelagic nation. 832 municipalities out of 1,500 and 57 cities out of 117 are coastal, and 64 provinces out of 79 have coastal domains. The data shows that Philippine waters have always played an important role in the lives of Filipinos and have helped shape Filipino identity and culture.

Alongside protecting our own, it is equally important to ensure legal stability in connection with maritime zones. We must unequivocally demarcate our maritime boundaries and we must do this by law. As Peter Drucker famously said, “We cannot manage what we cannot quantify.” In line with this principle, I filed Senate Bill No. 1649, which is known as the Philippine Maritime Zones Act, to create a comprehensive legal structure that conforms to the UNCLOS. This will reflect the essence of a rules-based system for maritime governance.

While UNCLOS provides the basis for measurements and the rights and obligations of each maritime zone, it is the role of Congress to translate the maritime zones provided by UNCLOS into specifically defined and bounded areas through domestic legislation.

Let us clearly define our EEZ. Having a solid foundation to confidently assert our rightful sovereignty will provide a legal basis for our country to more effectively control our maritime territories, and manage our maritime resources sustainably.

“Reciprocity and Mutual Respect” is fundamental to our approach to the management of our maritime zones. We acknowledge and honor the rights of other nations to their respective maritime zones, just as we expect the same courtesy towards our own.

Our interest in protecting the marine environment stems not only from territorial concerns but also from our collective responsibility to protect the habitats, migratory routes, and necessary areas for spawning and larval stages of marine resources. The capacity of this region, which makes up a substantial part of the Coral Triangle, to provide food for the entire region must never be compromised. As such, a foundational and comprehensive maritime security framework is essential, one that takes into account—with the same level of concern—both traditional and non-traditional security threats, including destructive activities such as dredging and island-building and other destructive practices.

I filed Senate Bill No. 1993 or the Blue Economy Act to ensure that our marine treasures are safeguarded as the lifeblood of our planet. To affirm the health and resilience of our marine ecosystems, we need to be holistic in our approach, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental aspects of our marine resources. We need to unlock the immense economic potential of our blue economy while warranting the responsible stewardship of our oceans.

The bill also encourages sustainable practices, innovation, and the preservation of marine ecosystems. By harnessing the potential of our oceans and coastal areas, we can also preserve our natural heritage for future generations. Sustainable industries such as fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, renewable energy, and maritime transport can flourish, driving economic growth and addressing pressing environmental challenges.

By consolidating all interventions to sustainably develop, manage, protect, and preserve our marine and coastal resources, we integrate maritime security into broader maritime governance. We want a maritime governance framework to effectively regulate activities within our maritime zones and ensure the continuous provision of ecosystem services. We also want to establish, as a basic foundation, the maritime zones within which our Blue Economy will be managed, nurtured, and made to prosper.

We need to measure so we can treasure and enhance important sectors such as energy, mineral resources, food, environmental, tourism, and maritime industries.
Our country is home to some of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests. Without a comprehensive governance framework in place, we leave our fragile ecosystems vulnerable to overexploitation, illegal fishing, and habitat destruction. Regulations can be established to protect defined coastal areas from uncontrolled development and preserve natural buffers.

A strong maritime governance framework will not only protect our sovereignty, unlock economic opportunities and protect marine ecosystems, it will also enhance climate resilience, promote sustainable fisheries, support maritime research and development, strengthen maritime security institutions, strengthen coastal resilience, and empower coastal communities.

The Maritime Zones Act will serve as a basic tool that will help us implement the arbitral ruling. It will incorporate the tribunal’s decision into domestic legislation, ensuring that it is binding and enforceable within the Philippine jurisdiction and enhancing the likelihood of such outside it.

Our coastal communities often face poverty, limited access to basic services, and lack of economic opportunities. A solid governance framework and economic valuation will ensure that our coastal communities can secure tenure over their traditional fishing grounds, and enable them to participate in decision-making processes, access financial resources, and benefit from the sustainable use of marine resources. This will also promote community-based tourism initiatives, empowering local communities to showcase their cultural heritage and natural attractions while generating income.

Our strategic location in the Asia-Pacific region makes us an important player in international maritime trade. We need to have a basis for bilateral or multilateral agreements with other countries in the region. This basis will enhance our nation’s credibility and foster regional cooperation with neighboring countries. We can regulate and monitor activities within our maritime zones and enforce laws, ensuring that they are consistent with our national security interests, and in accordance with the standards under international law.

As we commemorate the 7th anniversary of the landmark arbitral ruling, it is critical that we reflect upon its content and significance. The ruling also decried the damage wrought by the dredging activities and quantified it. It is inspired by that quantification that we saw the urgent need to implement the Maritime Zones Act as well as the Blue Economy Act. As a Philippine senator, I firmly believe that this ruling not only upholds our country’s claims, it also allows us to measure and efficiently oversee our maritime assets, safeguard our marine ecosystem, reflect their real value, and enforce regulations better within our maritime boundaries.

We need to make sure this victory is not merely symbolic but one that provides tangible benefits for our people. Let us seize this opportunity to circle the wagons, engage our legal system, our economy, and our citizenry to prevent further damage and incursions and usher in legal stability.

Thank you very much.

Isang luntiang Pilipinas sa ating lahat!