FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Tuesday, August 13, backtracked on his previous statement that he has banned foreign marine surveys in Philippine waters, explaining that the country cannot ban marine surveys under an international sea treaty.
In a tweet, he said: “I am reliably informed that under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) we cannot ban marine surveys but that marine surveys need our permission to be conducted.”
“This is then is the new rule: if we grant permission to one legitimate say U.S. concern we will grant to France, China, Japan, any non-haosiao survey,” he added.
Following recent sightings of Chinese vessels sailing through the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Locsin announced Monday, August 12 that he has banned marine survey ships even of China, adding that granting an exception to one country “will automatically lift ban universally” and will “invite bribes.”
The foreign affairs chief maintained that he does not want to “show preference for or bias against any country” and that the country’s policy in the contested waters should apply to “everybody or nobody.”
“The principle of our policy in the South China Sea is this: we will never look like we favor anybody and I mean anybody alien; it will always be all or nothing; everybody or nobody. Period. Duterte has ordered: no bribe-taking nor the appearance of it by selectivity. Period,” Locsin tweeted.
He also said that through a consultation with a Singaporean expert from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, he learned that “foreign navies enjoy freedom of navigation through our EEZ (exclusive economic zone).”
Afterwards, he asked Filipino maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal to “double check this.”
In response, Batongbacal said that under UNCLOS, all States – whether coastal or
Land-locked – enjoy freedom of navigation and overflight, other high seas freedoms, and related internationally lawful uses in the EEZ of coastal State.
“Exercise of such freedoms must be with due regard to the rights of the coastal State (particularly EEZ) and comply with coastal State rules and regulations adopted in accordance with UNCLOS and other international law not incompatible with UNCLOS EEZ provisions,” he tweeted.
“Yes, foreign navies and merchant ships entitled to FON (freedom of navigation) thru all EEZs; one purpose of UNCLOS is to ensure maritime mobility,” Batongbacal added.
Locsin then stated that the country would grant permission based on the “surveyor’s seriousness and capability.
“I refuse to show a preference for or bias against any country. The rule should not change with circumstances,” he said.
“If marine surveys require PH permission it is only to determine surveyor’s seriousness and capability; not our fears and favoritism,” Locsin added.