United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

UNCLOSsmA NAMRIA Officer (right) submits to the National Library copies of charts produced by NAMRIA and deposited to the Secretary General of the UN reflecting the maritime zones of the Philippines. [Carter Luma-ang]

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was adopted in 1982 in Montego Bay, Jamaica and entered into force on 16 November 1994. UNCLOS provides a comprehensive legal framework governing all activities and uses of the world's seas and oceans. The Convention establishes general obligations for safeguarding the marine environment and protecting freedom of scientific research on the high seas.

It defines the limits of territorial seas of countries from which they can explore and exploit marine resources. These are called Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and they are known as an innovation introduced by UNCLOS. The EEZ is an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea: it can extend to a maximum 200 nautical miles from the baselines. Within the EEZ, a coastal State enjoys sovereign rights over its natural resources. It can exercise its jurisdiction over certain activities for the purpose, among others, of protecting the environment, but it is also obliged to respect the rights of other States (UNCLOS as cited by the IUCN). The Philippines is the 11th country that ratified UNCLOS.

The Convention has created three new institutions on the international scene, as follows:
1. International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). This was established on 10 December 1982 as a judicial body that adjudicates disputes related to the Convention.
2. International Seabed Authority (ISA). This was established on 16 November 1994 as an autonomous organization under UNCLOS that regulates mineral resources exploration and exploitation in deep seabed areas beyond national jurisdiction called the "Area." The resources are administered under the principle that these are part of the common heritage of mankind.
3. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). This was established in 1997 is an institution that defines and sets the limits of the different maritime zones and provides scientific and technical advice to Coastal States submitting their claims.
Focal Office:
National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA)
Date Ratified:
December 10, 1984
Focal Persons/Offices:
High Level
Secretary, DENR
Tel. No. (632) 926 3011, 920 4301, 929 6626 loc 2258

For Maritime Delineation and Delimitation
Administrator, NAMRIA Tel No. (632) 810 4831

For Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity
OIC-Assistant Secretary for Staff Bureaus and Director, DENR-BMB Tel. No. (632) 924 6031 to 35 local 203 & 204, (632) 924 0109

For International Seabed Authority
Acting Director, DENR-MGB
Tel. No. (632) 920 9120, 920 1635
As a party to UNCLOS, the Philippines is required to ensure that its national laws conform to its rights and obligations under the Convention. 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 Philippines is obliged to define its maritime zones according to the limits set by the Convention.
State Parties to the UNCLOS need to settle their disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention through peaceful means. The Convention also offers the opportunity to settle maritime boundaries without recourse to the Courts. However, should the parties not reach an agreement on their own, they may settle their dispute in the different mechanisms set by the Convention such as the ITLOS established in accordance with Annex VI, the International Court of Justice, an arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VII, and a special arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VIII for one or more of the categories of disputes specified therein.
The Philippines is surrounded by several states with which it has overlapping maritime zones especially in its Exclusive Economic Zone. The Philippines has the commitment to delineate and delimit its maritime boundaries with the adjacent states in accordance with the UNCLOS.
Also, under UNCLOS, the Philippines is obliged to protect and preserve the marine environment within or outside its maritime zones. The Convention also requires States to cooperate in ensuring marine conservation and promoting the objective of optimum utilization of highly migratory species.
Sources / Relevant Links: clos_e.pdf
Status / Updates:
The Philippines, on its North, West and South side, is surrounded and has overlapping maritime zones with several states such as Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Palau. Thus, it needs to delimit its maritime zones with all these adjacent States. On the East side, the archipelago faces the Pacific Ocean making it possible to claim Continental Shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles from the baselines.

As of 2018, the Philippines has delimited its maritime boundary with only one adjacent state - the Republic of Indonesia. The agreement on delimitation of maritime boundaries between Philippines and Indonesia was finalized on 18 May 2014 in Jakarta, Indonesia. The agreement was signed by the former Secretary/minister of Foreign Affairs Alberto del Rosario (Philippines) and Marty Natalegawa (Indonesia) on 23 May 2014 at Malacanang Palace, Manila. The sea border agreement was ratified by the Indonesian Parliament on 27 April 2017 and adopted by the Philippines in a Senate Resolution on 3 June 2019.  Delimitation of maritime zones with the other States is still on-going.

The Philippines has also successfully delineated its continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles from the baselines in the Philippine Rise Region of the archipelago. This was confirmed by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) in 2012. The Philippines is yet to determine whether it can claim continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles from the baselines on the Southeastern part and the West Philippine Sea region.

NAMRIA is the central mapping agency of the Government of the Philippines and its Hydrography Branch is the national hydrographic office. Thus, it provides the technical documents needed for maritime delineation and delimitation. It provided the technical support on the delimitation of their maritime  boundaries between the Philippines and Indonesia in over two decades of work. NAMRIA also gathered the data and produced the chart needed for the Philippine claim of its continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles in the Philippine Rise region. On 12 July 2016, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea released the final Award on the case initiated by the Philippines against China on the maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea. In the ruling, the five judges unanimously declared the following: China's claim to historic rights to the living and non-living resources within the 'ninedash' line is incompatible with the Convention to the extent that it exceeds the limits of China's maritime zones as provided for by the Convention.

The survey data used for the arbitration case of the Philippines against China was gathered by the Hydrography Branch of NAMRIA.

While NAMRIA's functions involve the delineation of the national maritime jurisdiction in accordance with the UNCLOS, 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.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with its partners are currently working towards a new international legally binding instrument (ILBI) under the UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (General Assembly resolution 72/249) that will close important gaps in governance. The ongoing negotiation for the said new ILBI/treaty will provide a measure of protection and conservation of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ), or the 'Area'. where there is none at present.

The DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) has, since 2015, been actively participating in the negotiation on the said ILBI under UNCLOS. To date, four Preparatory Sessions and two formal Negotiations or Intergovernmental Conferences have already been conducted, all of which were attended by DENR-BMB. Representatives from EMB and the DENR-Legal Services have also participated in the latest negotiation on areas that are covered by contracts for exploration for manganese nodules, cobalt-rich crusts and massive sulfides are in the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and the Mid Atlantic Ocean.
Latest Activites:
First Session of the Intergovernmental, Conference (IGC) on an International Legally Binding Instrument Under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), 4-17 September 2018; United Nations Headquarters, New York -- OIC-Dir. Crisanta Marlene P. Rodriguez, OIC-Asst. Dir. Vizminda A. Osorio (EMB), Ms. Desiree Eve R. Maano (BMB), Engr, Reginal Paula D. Eugenio (EMB)
Related Projects:
1. Hydrographic survey for the crafting of the RA 9522 Archipelagic Baselines Law (2001-2008)
2. Hydrographic survey of the Philippine Rise Region for the claim of continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured (2007-2011)
3. Compilation of the chart for the Philippines-Indonesia maritime delimitation (finalized 2014)
4. Hydrographic (multi-beam) survey of the West Philippine Sea (1999-2015)
Next Steps:
1. Delimitation of maritime zones with adjacent States (Exclusive Economic Zones with Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Palau).
2. Pursue the claim for the continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured in the Southeastern region and the West Philippines Sea region.
3. Designation of archipelagic sealanes as required by the UNCLOS, including enacting an Archipelagic Sealanes Law.
4. Compilation of a large scale chart of the Kalayaan Island Group.
5. Passage of the Philippine Maritime Zones Bill into law.
6. Conduct Joint Philippine-Indonesia Hydrographic Survey and Marine Scientific Research in the Celebes Sea.
7. Determine the flow of ocean currents to help in the conservation and promoting the objective of optimum utilization of highly migratory species.
8. Formulate a deep seabed mining legislation that would, among others, ensure that the stringent environmental standards set by ISA are complied with. This deep seabed mining law can cover exploration activities in the legal continental shelf beneath the 200 nautical miles EEZ and the extended continental shelf (such as the one in the PH Rise), and possible contracting or sponsorship for the international seabed (the Area).
9. The Philippines is to explore the possibility of seeking for membership in the Council of the ISA. This should be discussed by MGB with relevant government agencies such as NAMRIA and DFA.
10. Philippines must actively review exploration license applications that are submitted to and endorsed by ISA. Also, once a deep seabed mining legislation is enacted, the Philippines needs to consider endorsing the exploration license applications filed by a state or private company.
11. Participate in trainings and opportunities that would develop the country's expertise in marine exploration and marine environment management.
This Page was updated on 11 December 2019 and will be updated on 11 March 2020