South China Sea: Embattled Duterte defends decision to yield to China


PHILIPPINES President Rodrigo Duterte was scrambling to defend his decision to yield to China over the South China Sea after opponents accused his actions of being unconstitutional.

The maverick leader came under fire last week after giving Beijing a free pass to fish in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone. Calls for impeachment came thick and fast from opposition leaders, while lawmakers were also quick to point out Mr Duterte’s reported mistake. The pressure hasn’t subsided on the President, however, as his spokesperson was forced to defend more calls for his resignation today.

Instead of apologising or retracting his comment, Mr Duterte’s administration instead said the move would be good for the ordinary Filipino citizen.

Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said: “He is precisely going beyond that provision using Article 2 Section 4 of the Constitution which says that the prime duty of the government—which he (Duterte) heads—is to protect and to serve the people.

“He’s thinking about the 110 million Filipinos.”

Mr Duterte came under heavy criticism for allegedly violating Section 2, Article 12 of the Philippine Constitution after he allowed Chinese fishermen free reign in their waters.

He justified it by saying that Beijing would return the favour in the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

The article in question reads: “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”

But Panelo was quick to invoke fears of a potential conflict with China if they denied them this right.

Other nations are currently allowed to fish in the zone – but to many, the symbolism of Chinese ships in Philippine waters presents a bigger issue.

Amid disputes between Beijing and Manila over rights to supposed sovereign parts of the South China Sea, many have accused the government of yielding too easily to the Chinese.