MANILA, Philippines — China cannot demand traditional fishing rights in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said on Tuesday in an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel.
“The Chinese cannot demand to fish in our EEZ based on traditional fishing rights because that has been done away with,” Carpio said. “What is meant by traditional fishing is the other state has a right to demand to fish in an area. That right has been extinguished for the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). China cannot demand to fish in our EEZ.”
The senior magistrate made this statement a day after President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his fourth State of the Nation Address, where he said the Philippines “may enter in a fishing agreement with other states” based on the 2016 ruling of the Permament Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
“I was invoking the traditional fishing rights. It was in the arbitral ruling. Ayaw niyo lang tingnan [You just don’t want to look at it]. It is mentioned there that even before countries were in existence, people around an ocean or a lake had already been fishing there for generations,” the President said.
“And that is why fishing rights are allowed in the so many cases between Finland and Germany, decided by UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he added.
According to Caprio, however, traditional fishing rights are longer applicable to the EEZ.
“The ruling is very clear that the traditional fishing applies only to the territorial sea and the archipelagic waters. We’re talking here of EEZ and the ruling says that traditional fishing has been extinguished, has been ended by the UNCLOS for the EEZ,” he said.
“However, of course, a sovereign state being sovereign can allow — out of the goodness of their own heart — other countries to fish. But we are 105 million people. There’s not enough fish for us in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
In June, President Duterte bared a verbal agreement he struck with Chinese President Xi Jinping allowing China to fish in the Philippines’ EEZ after Beijing granted Filipino fishermen access to Scarborough Shoal.
Critics, including Carpio, earlier said that it was unconstitutional to allow another country to have access to resources in Philippine waters.
“There are only two areas where traditional fishing is recognized: In the territorial sea, that’s Scarborough Shoal; and archipelagic waters, that’s all the water within our baselines,” Carpio explained.
“In the EEZ, it’s our exclusive right to get the fish, but we can allow anyone. Our Constitution prohibits that because the Constitution says, the use and enjoyment of the resources in the EEZ is reserved exclusively for the Filipinos,” he added.
In other words, exercising that option to let other countries fish in the EEZ is “prohibited” in the Constitution.
“We have something in our Constitution that’s unique. It may not be in the Constitution of other states, but we have to follow our own Constitution,” he said. “Besides, it’s our option whether to allow China or any other country to fish in the EEZ, but we cannot exercise that option because it’s prohibited in the Constitution.”