Bill to protect and conserve archeological discoveries in the country

Lawmakers are strongly pushing for the passage of the proposed
Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage Act, in a bid to protect
and conserve underwater archeological discoveries in the country.

Reps. Michael Velarde, Jr. and Irwin Tieng (Party-list, Buhay) filed
House Bill 5723 seeking to ban diving, use of explosives, and use of a
pressure air hose, water hose or vacuum hose within a protected zone
or a non-protected zone to recover objects of underwater cultural
heritage.

“Underwater cultural heritage is an integral part of the Filipinos’
national pride, an important element not only in our history, but in
our relationship with other countries as well,” Tieng said.

Tieng said experts calculate that indiscriminate diggings and
underwater explorations have exposed the country’s cultural and
historical sites to desecration and priceless cultural artifacts to
destruction.

“The bill shall protect and conserve future underwater archeological
discoveries by providing a statutory mechanism for a permit system on
underwater exploration and excavation,” Tieng said.

“Upon approval of this measure, ownership of all objects of underwater
cultural heritage found in territorial waters, regardless of origin,
is vested directly in the State,” Tieng said.

Under the bill, only duly accredited scientific and education
institutions, duly registered non-stock and non-profit corporate
entities or organizations in the field of underwater archaeology,
government agencies or instrumentalities with proven ability to
conduct underwater archaeological work, foreign institutions in the
field of underwater archaeology registered with the Stock Exchange
Commission (SEC) and allowed to do business in the Philippines, and
individuals or juridical persons under sponsorship by a scientific or
by educational institutions may be granted permits to explore or
excavate.

The bill provides that any person who discovers, by chance, any
object of underwater cultural heritage is obliged to report his/her
find to the National Museum or any of its branches within seven days
from knowledge of its potential scientific, cultural, archaeological,
paleontological or historical value.

Violators face a 10 year jail term and a fine of not more than
P100,000. All watercraft, equipment, tools paraphernalia, other
instruments used for excavation and objects excavated in violation of
the measure shall be confiscated and forfeited in favor of the
National Museum. If the offender is an alien, he shall be under the
custody of the Commission on Immigration and Deportation for the
appropriate proceedings.

The bill mandates the National Museum and the Philippine Tourism
Authority conduct education campaigns and information drives about the
Philippine underwater cultural heritage to tourist-divers and local
divers’ clubs.

Likewise, the National Museum shall promulgate rules and guidelines
for the grant of permits/licenses to explore or excavate any
underwater site for protected underwater cultural properties in
Philippine waters subject to the provisions of this Act.

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