• DOJ says no to Zambales marine watch system

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    The Department of Justice has rejected a proposed ordinance by the province of Zambales to establish a marine surveillance and environment monitoring system, saying that the measure was illegal, and would usurp the functions of the Philippine Coast Guard and other national agencies.

    In 2015, Zambales adopted Provincial Ordinance 28 (PO28), which authorized the establishment of “a coast watch surveillance and monitoring system in all ports and provincial waters of the Province.” Through a memorandum of agreement signed on April 13, 2015, a Canadian firm called Xanatos was to provide the necessary equipment, installation, and operation services for the system.

    Xanatos agreed to provide the equipment and services at no cost to the province, with revenue to be collected from ships “using the system” and shared between the provincial government and the company.

    The opinion of the DOJ was sought by Jose Luis M. Alano, executive director of the National Coast Watch Council (NCWC) secretariat.

    The DOJ rejected PO28 in strong terms, pointing out that, “it violates the 1987 Constitution, Republic Act (RA) No. 7160 (the Local Government Code), RA No. 9993 (Philippine Coast Guard Law of 2009), Presidential Decree No. 857, as amended by Executive Order (EO) No. 513, S. 1978 and EO No. 159, s. 1987 (Providing for the Creation/Reorganization of the Philippine Ports Authority), and EO No. 57, s. 2011 (Establishing a National Coast Watch System).”

    The DOJ explained that the province could not usurp powers and responsibilities already given to the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Ports Authority, and the National Coast Watch Council through the various laws and executive orders cited.

    In addition, the DOJ said that through PO28, the provincial government was attempting to exercise the authority of the national government under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) with respect to the collection of fees from foreign vessels passing through provincial waters. Under the UNCLOS, no nation may levy fees against a foreign ship for reason of its simply transiting territorial waters.

    Finally, the DOJ said that the Zambales ordinance violated the Local Government Code in levying fees against vessels rather than basing any fees on the goods or merchandise carried in them.

    The DOJ opinion was published by the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) on March 9 and posted on the agency’s website.

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