United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

Map depicting the agreed Exclusive Economic Zone boundary between the Philippines and Indonesia. The boundary delimitation between the two archipelagic States was conducted under the principles of internal law and UNCLOS 2014 (Photo credit: NAMRIA)

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) establishes a comprehensive legal framework to govern all activities and uses of the world's seas and oceans. The Convention defines the limits of territorial seas of countries from which they can explore and exploit marine resources.   

It was adopted in 1982 in Montego Bay, Jamaica after nine years of negotiations involving representatives from more than 150 countries. UNCLOS entered into force in 16 November 1994. As of January 2015, 166 countries and the European Union have joined the Convention. The Philippines is the 11th country that ratified the Convention. 
Focal Office:
National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA)
Date Ratified:
Signed the convention on December 10, 1984
Focal Persons:
High Level
       National Mapping and Resource Information Authority
       Tel No. - (632) 241 3494
After a State becomes a party to UNCLOS, it is compelled to bring its maritime claims and national laws into conformity with its rights and obligations under the Convention.   It is a fundamental principle of international law that a State cannot use its domestic law as an excuse not to conform to its obligations under an international treaty to which it is a party. Hence, the provisions of UNCLOS prevail over any contrary provisions in the national laws of the State.

The Convention mandates member states to promote the development and transfer of marine technology "on fair and reasonable terms and conditions", with proper regard for all legitimate interests. 

All parties to the Convention are obligated to settle disputes concerning the application of the Convention through peaceful means. Disputes are coursed through to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea under the UNCLOS to the International Court of Justice for arbitration. Conciliation is also available and, in certain circumstances, submission to it would be compulsory. 

A vital function of NAMRIA involves the delineation of the national maritime jurisdiction in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  However, matters related to the Philippines' maritime dispute with China on the country's claims in the West Philippine Sea are dealt with through the Office of the President and the Department of Foreign Affairs. 
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A vital function of NAMRIA involves the delineation of the national maritime jurisdiction in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). However, matters related to the Philippines’ maritime dispute with China on the country’s claim in the West Philippines Sea are dealt with through the Office of the President and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Eight months after the Philippines presented its oral arguments in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, a 501-page decision in favor of the Philippines was promulgated on July 12, 2016. The Permanent Court of Arbitration, in its decision, invalidated China’s nine-dash line maritime claim and concluded, using the UNCLOS, that the said claim lacks legal basis. It stated that China’s claim is excessive and encroaching into the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Furthermore, the Tribunal opined that China had violated the Philippines'; sovereign  rights in its EEZ by interfering with fishing and petroleum exploration and constructing artificial islands. Chinese authorities also did not fulfill their obligation to stop Chinese fishermen from harvesting endangered sea turtles, corals, and giant clams on a substantial scale in the South China Sea.

However, despite the promulgated ruling affirming Philippines’ rights to the West Philippine Sea, the dispute between Philippines and China still stands because of China’s refusal to accept the verdict. After the decision was published, China released a statement saying that their territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interest in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by the said decision. It further stated that China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on those awards.

A ruling was already released by the International Tribunal on the Philippine case challenging China's claims by 2016 even as China continues to refuse any participation in the arbitration proceedings claiming "indisputable sovereignty"over the entire South China Sea. The International Tribunal gave China until January 1, 2016 to comment on the arbitration proceedings in writing, citing a provision under Article 5 of Annex VII to UNCLOS that the tribunal must "assure each party a full opportunity to be heard and present its case."

China's incursions and massive land reclamation and construction works in the territorial seas claimed by the Philippines prompted the filing of the case before the international court.
This Page was updated on 25 January 2017 and will be updated on 25 April 2017
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