MANILA, Philippines — The constitutional provision on the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is not “thoughtless” and “senseless” as President Rodrigo Duterte claims, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said on Saturday.
A fierce critic of the Duterte administration’s handling of the country’s territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, Carpio said all the fish and mineral resources in the country’s EEZ, particularly in the West Philippine Sea, belonged exclusively to the Filipino people under the Charter.
“The Constitution mandates that the ‘use and enjoyment’ of these resources shall be reserved ‘exclusively’ for the Filipino people,” Carpio said in a speech at the recognition day of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Social Sciences and Philosophy in Quezon City.
“The use and enjoyment of these resources cannot be shared with, or given away, to foreign nationals. This exclusivity is not a ‘thoughtless’ and ‘senseless’ provision in our Constitution as President Duterte has unfortunately characterized,” he said.
The President on Thursday played down the constitutional provision that the country’s EEZ must be protected by the government.
“That is a provision for the thoughtless and the senseless. Protection of economic rights, of economic zones, resources? I am protecting the country and the 110 million Filipinos,” he said.
2016 deal with Xi
The President said he could not keep Chinese fishermen out of Philippine waters, citing a deal he struck in 2016 with Chinese President Xi Jinping allowing the Chinese access to the country’s EEZ.
He also said enforcing a ban on Chinese fishing in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 370-kilometer EEZ in the South China Sea, might lead to an armed confrontation with China, which also claims nearly the entire region on historical grounds.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario last week said the President could be impeached for allowing China to fish in the country’s EEZ.
Carpio explained that an EEZ was a sea zone prescribed by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), whose legal basis has been recognized by 167 states, including China.
“Unclos has reserved the use and enjoyment of all the natural resources in all the EEZs of the world exclusively to the respective adjacent coastal states. The framers of our Constitution have incorporated this exclusivity in our Constitution,” Carpio said.
Lose it forever
If the country fails to protect its territorial integrity in the West Philippine Sea and loses it to China, it will lose its EEZ in the area forever, he said.
Carpio said there could be no recovery “unless we defeat a nuclear-armed China in a war, which is of course impossible.”
The country, he said, “will lose and lose badly” if it goes to war with China to enforce the 2016 international arbitral ruling, which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.
“Only a fool will go to war with China. It is clear that the specter of war is being raised only to intimidate the Filipino people into submitting to China’s encroachment of our EEZ,” the magistrate said.
The controversy stemmed from the President’s playing down as just “a little maritime incident” the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat at Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea after it was hit by a Chinese trawler on the night of June 9.
The Chinese vessel, which was also apparently fishing in the area, then abandoned the 22 Filipino fishermen in the open sea.
The President said the fishing agreement with China was aimed at avoiding armed confrontation over the two countries’ territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
“It was a mutual agreement, Let’s give way to each other. You fish there, I fish here,” he said.
Congress should know
Sen. Richard Gordon on Saturday said the President’s agreement with Xi must be made known to Congress and to the people.
“Even if he has a private agreement, that should be told to us,” Gordon said in a radio interview. “Congress should know about that. The President doesn’t operate within a vacuum.”
But for Carpio, the correct recourse to protect the country’s territorial integrity in the disputed waterway is “through the rule of law.”
Carpio’s stand was supported by former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who on Friday urged the Filipino people not to succumb to the will of their leaders “who do not care about national sovereignty or territorial integrity.”
“It’s high time for the sheep to break its silence, [amid the] totalitarian tendencies of the wolves. This is where the rule of law comes in. The law is on our side,” an emotional Morales told 189 graduates of the UP School of Economics in Quezon City.