Carpio calls on Senate to repudiate Duterte’s fishing deal with China



President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration in an interview that he and China have agreed to allow Chinese fishermen to fish in the country’s exclusive economic zone bound the Philippines to his commitment, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said on Thursday.

In an interview with GMA resident analyst Richard Heydarian, Carpio called on the Senate to immediately adopt a resolution either repudiating the agreement outright or indicating that it needed a concurrence from the chamber.

Carpio said that prior to Duterte’s pronouncement in his interview with Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, there was still a debate in the government whether the verbal fishing deal was legally binding.

“But the President came out yesterday and said, ‘Yes, there was verbal agreement.’ Now the problem is, that binds us,” Carpio said.

“The only way we can stop this is for the Senate as soon as they convene to pass a resolution repudiating it. That stops it,” he added.

“Or the Senate can, if they want to diplomatic about it, say that verbal agreement cannot take effect until we ratify it. That is our only defense now,” Carpio said.

Carpio said the verbal fishing deal with China which supposedly also allows Filipino fishers to fish in China-controlled areas in the South China Sea was an international agreement on a substantive issue and needed Senate concurrence.

“Those are sovereign rights. It’s not procedural… And so it needs ratification by the Senate,” Carpio said.

Carpio said a Senate resolution on the need for its concurrence would also give Duterte a way to save face.

“I don’t think the Senate will ratify,” Carpio said.

Sought for comment, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the chamber would first have to organize the Senate committees before senators could discuss the matter.

“First things first, we have to form the commitee on foreign relations first before we can tackle any resolution to that effect,” Sotto told GMA News Online.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, the president of Duterte’s party PDP-Laban, echoed Sotto’s stand.

“Let’s wait for SP Sotto to agenda that in a meeting of senators,” he said in a separate text message.

Senator Francis Tolentino said there is no need for Senate concurrence for such a grant of fishing rights since the country already ratified UNCLOS.

“Because of the temporary nature of the fishing rights, there is no need for Senate imprimatur. Under international law and the Constitution, the President acted correctly,” he said in a text message.

Critics have alleged that Duterte may have committed an impeachable offense over his verbal fishing deal as they pointed out that only the Philippines has the right to fish in the country’s waters including the 200-nautical mile EEZ.

But presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte’s pronouncement was actually an assertion of sovereign rights over the resources in the area, because the Philippines will still be retaining its right to exploit the resources in its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea despite allowing China to fish.

Former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario last month asked if allowing Chinese fishermen to fish within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone can be viewed as a successful Chinese invasion without firing a shot.

Professor Jay Batongbacal, Director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea (IMLOS) at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Duterte was wrong when he said it was fine for China to fish in the Philippines’ EEZ because the two countries are “friends.”

Batongbacal even agreed that upholding a supposedly unconstitutional policy could be grounds for impeachment of a public official.

Batongbacal also urged government agencies not to follow “blatantly illegal orders,” saying they could be charged if they turn the president’s statement into a policy.

The maritime expert as well called on Malacañang to retract its statement that it will allow the Chinese to fish within the country’s EEZ.

Duterte said last week that he might use his fourth State of the Nation Address on July 22 to “educate” his critics on his verbal fishing deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Duterte has been criticized for setting aside the United Nations-backed tribunal’s ruling invalidating China’s massive claims in the South China Sea in pursuit of warmer relations with China.

He has repeatedly said the Philippines cannot win a war, arguing it will only result in a massacre of troops. —with Amita Legaspi/NB/MDM, GMA News