ILOILO CITY – Senatorial candidates Neri Colmenares, Florin Hilbay and Chel Diokno faced off with former Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque at a forum in Iloilo City on Friday.
At issue at the forum organized by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines were the Philippines’ foreign policy and the West Philippine Sea.
Former Rep. Neri Colmenares mocked the President’s campaign promise of riding a jetski to fight for our rights in the West Philippine Sea.
“Sabi niya, ‘I will ride a jetski and stake our claim doon sa West Philippine Sea and kung patayin ako, I will also be a hero.’ Unfortunately, a few months later, ang sabi niya, that was a joke,” he said, drawing laughter from some 3,000 lawyers gathered at the Iloilo Convention Center for the 17th IBP National Convention.
The BAYAN MUNA chair and Makabayan senatorial candidate said he was surprised that when the UN arbitral ruling in favor of the Philippines came out in July 2016, the Philippine government came out with the statement: “We will study the decision and we are calling on everybody to exercise restraint.”
“Can you imagine a victorious party, pañero, nanalo ka na, panalo ka na sa judge, panalo ka na sa Supreme Court pero ang sasabihin mo, aaralin ko ang desisyon ng Korte Suprema? Saan ka nakakita ng panalo pero astang talo?” he asked.
Colmenares said that the Philippine position has become a policy of appeasement, which might lead to war someday because the stronger China’s position on the West Philippine Sea is, the more intractable it becomes, the harder the negotiation.
Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay also recalled the President’s reaction after a meeting with his entire cabinet following the release of the ruling.
“I remember the line of the President: ‘We need to do a soft landing.’ I didn’t know that that soft landing would involve a U-turn. And that’s exactly where we stand right now,” he said, noting that the country has not filed a single protest under this administration.
Hilbay accused the President of “culpable violation of the Constitution” in declaring that he is setting aside the dispute with China and the arbitral ruling in favor of the Philippines.
“The language of China has not changed: set aside the dispute, set aside the decision and look for compromise. The language of the President is the same: set aside the dispute, set aside, in fact, the decision…That is the kind of statement that is damaging to the national interest. I would, in fact, consider that as a culpable violation of constitution,” he said.
Human rights lawyer Diokno meanwhile accused President Duterte of “betrayal of public trust” in allowing China to “have its way in the West Philippine Sea.”
This, he said, is actually a violation of several laws which already recognized the West Philippine Sea as part of Philippine territory long before the 2016 UN arbitral tribunal ruling came out.
He cited the 1987 Constitution, the Fisheries Code and Presidential Decree 1599, which established an exclusive economic zone even before the Philippines became a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas.
“This betrayal of public trust will affect not only this generation of Filipinos but our children and their children as well,” he said.
Both culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust are grounds for impeachment.
But former Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque was quick to come to the President’s defense.