MANILA, Philippines — Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s remarks on the West Philippine Sea row are confusing the public, Malacañang said Sunday, as it maintained that President Rodrigo Duterte is fulfilling his constitutional duty to serve and protect the public.
Carpio, a known advocate of the Philippines’ interests in the West Philippine Sea, previously said allowing the Chinese to fish within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is unconstitutional. He noted that the 1987 Constitution requires the the government to protect the nation’s marine wealth in its EEZ and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.
Duterte responded by calling Carpio “stupid” and by claiming that the constitutional provision on the country’s EEZ is for the “thoughtless and the senseless.” The president also claimed China would not recognize the provision and might even treat it as a mere “toilet paper.”
Carpio was unfazed by Duterte’s tirades, noting that the rest of the world is accepting exclusivity in the use and enjoyment of resources in the EEZs.
But presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo claimed Carpio was not thoughtful with regard to Duterte’s remarks. He said what the president called “thoughtless” and “senseless” was considering the provision on the EEZ without situating it in the context of the entire constitution.
“What he (Duterte) was saying was while the constitution obliges the government to give protection to the minerals and other natural resources, marine resources, we
need to take care first of the welfare of the entire country and our countrymen,” Panelo said in a radio interview.
“According to our constitution, the primary duty of the government, which is being led now by President Duterte, is to protect and to serve the people and that is being done. All provisions that seek to protect everything in the Philippines and its territory emanate from that (provision) to serve and to protect the people,” he added.
‘Don’t isolate provision on EEZ’
Panelo said Carpio should not isolate the provision on EEZ with the constitutional duty of the president.
“We (lawyers) were taught not to read the provision in isolation but you relate them to other provisions especially that very provision that commands the president to serve and protect the people,” the presidential spokesman said.
Panelo said Carpio’s statements are causing confusion but expressed belief that the magistrate has good intentions.
“Sa tingin ko dinadagdagan niyan ang di pagkakaunawaan ng mga kababayan natin, kumbaga nalilito lang mga kababayan sa halip na tulungan natin si presidente upang pangalagaan natin ang kaligtasan ng ating bayan sa pangkalahatan (I think he is just adding to the misunderstanding, people are becoming confused instead of helping
the president protect our nation),” Panelo said.
“He (Carpio) is not helping in that sense although perhaps he has honest intentions. But not all honest intentions are helpful. Even good intentions can lead to negative consequences,” he added.
Palace: War if Philippines takes aggressive stance
Duterte previously said he would not go to war over the West Philippine Sea row because it would lead to a “massacre” of Filipino troops. He recalled that Chinese President Xi Jinping had given him a warning when he talked about his plan to dig oil in the South China Sea. The president also challenged Carpio to teach him how to counter China in the maritime dispute.
“Xi Jinping (said) there will be trouble. So answer me justice, give me the formula and I’ll do it,” he said in an interview last Thursday.
Panelo said armed confrontations would ensue if the administration follows the suggestion of its critics to take an aggressive stance on the dispute.
“If we follow their suggestion that we should be aggressive, and we send armed ships and personnel…we will put at risk our nation because if a conflict erupts, there would be deaths,” the presidential spokesman said.
“Pag ito ay lumawak at lumaki, ano pa pangangalagaan natin kung tayo mismo ang mawawala na? How can we protect when the people we are supposed to protect e nagkamatayan na? Yan ang sinasabi ni presidente (If it spills over to other areas, will there be a need to protect our resources if we are dead? How can we protect the resources when the people we are supposed to protect are dead?)” he added.
Panelo said the aggressive stance of countries like Vietnam has resulted in skirmishes.
Panelo did not specify which incidents he was referring to, but China and Vietnam clashed in 1988 over Johnson South Reef.
According to reports about the clash, Vietnam sent two armored transport ships and around 100 soldiers to Johnson South Reef, Collin Reef, and Lansdowne Reef in the Spratlys in March 1988. China responded by sending frigates.
The resulting skirmish left 64 Vietnamese soldiers dead and 11 wounded. One Chinese soldier was injured.
“Is that what we want? We are going to sacrifice the lives of our countrymen? Even if only a few are involved, it could increase. If you assert, they would fight back until we reach the point that the damage caused by the conflict has become too extensive,” he said.
Carpio has said the “specter of war” is being raised “only to intimidate the Filipino people into submitting to China’s encroachment” of the Philippine EEZ.
Panelo insisted that the Philippines should continue to solve the dispute through diplomatic means.
Critics of the government’s policy in the West Philippine Sea, including Carpio, have likewise been calling on the Duterte administration to assert the country’s rights through diplomatic means.
“Since we can also get what we want through diplomatic relations, they have become our friends. As President Xi said, there is nothing that we cannot solve, we can cooperate in some areas. Let’s talk about that first. That’s better isn’t it? That we have a meaningful and peaceful talks with our friends?” he added.