FOREIGN Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said Thursday the Philippines remains open to bilateral talks with China and President Rodrigo Duterte himself asked former President Fidel Ramos to serve as the country’s special envoy to start the dialogue.
But, speaking hours before Duterte made the request at a dinner hosted by his college cronies, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio warned such talks should not include joint development of the West Philippine Sea as that would be a violation of the Constitution.
“I would like to respectfully ask former President Fidel Ramos to go to China and start the talks,” Duterte told fellow alumni of the San Beda College of Law who hosted a testimonial dinner in his honor at the Club Filipino in San Juan City.
But Ramos, president from 1992 to 1998, said he was uncertain whether the incumbent president was serious or was just making a joke.
“I think he just made that in jest because I’m busy writing my legacy for young people and China is only one of my areas of interest,” the former president said. “I have not seen the offer. I was out of range when he said it.”
But Yasay, who was preparing to go to Mongolia for the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting, said he would also urge the 51 leaders there to support the arbitration ruling that invalidates China’s nine-dash line claims.
“We are open to making sure that we will have bilateral talks with China in the implementation of this decision of the arbitral tribunal,” Yasay said in a radio interview.
He added that the government is still formulating the next steps to make sure that the decision will be carried out peacefully.
But Carpio warned the government would be violating the Constitution if it enters into an agreement with China for the joint development of the country’s exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
Carpio said the Constitution mandates that the government protect its EEZ, including the West Philippine Sea, which the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled belongs to the Philippines.
Carpio said the 381,000 square kilometers of marine space that the court awarded to the Philippines do not overlap with China’s EEZ.
“The Constitution says that the state shall protect its marine wealth in the EEZ and reserve its use exclusively—use and enjoyment—to Filipino citizens,” Carpio said, in an interview over ANC’s Headstart.
Carpio said President Duterte cannot enter into agreement for a joint development with China within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“It’s prohibited by the Constitution,” he said.
Nonetheless, Carpio admitted that the Constitution allows the government to contract foreign companies to drill, and be paid for the service, but not through a joint development.
“It cannot be a joint development state-to-state because that is our sovereign territory,” Carpio said.
Since the PCA has upheld the freedom of navigation and overflight afforded to all nations, Carpio expressed optimism that other naval powers like the United States will do their part in enforcing the law.
“That part of the ruling will be enforced by the naval powers. They’ve already said that,” said Carpio, who has been at the forefront of the campaign to establish sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea.
Carpio expressed hopes that China will comply with the international court’s decision, just like the other 95 percent of losing parties in the PCA’s arbitration cases.
He said compliance would take time because China must prepare its populace to accept the PCA decision.
“It will take time, but it will happen in the end. So we have to look at this from a very long-term perspective,” he said.
With the PCA award, Carpio said the Reed Bank may be the country’s replacement for Malampaya, a natural gas field from which the country gets most of its supply. The Malampaya supply is expected to ran out in about a decade.
Tension in the area rose in 2015, after the Philippine Navy found a large steel marker bearing Chinese inscriptions and hundreds of yellow buoys in the waters near the Reed Bank.
“The ruling says the Reed Bank is ours. We will send there our survey ships again and please don’t harass them anymore. We will have to say that because we will have to alert them that we are sending our survey ships,” Carpio said.
While communication lines with China remain open, Manila should take some steps before meeting with Beijing, the magistrate said.
“We will have consultations with Asean friends—those who are also prejudiced by the nine-dash line but they are now free from the nine-dash line. We consult our friends and allies, and then we talk to China,” Carpio said.
The Philippines should also discuss with Beijing steps for establishing a code of conduct for fishing in the Scarborough Shoal, which has been awarded as a common fishing ground, Carpio added.
“Let’s sit down with them first because the tribunal says it’s common and we have to lay down the rules for common use so there will be no skirmishes and no fighting by fishermen,” Carpio said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said Thursday the government’s “no-gloating” policy was the best tack to take.
“If the Palace is curbing its enthusiasm, then it is a mature and reasoned reaction which contrasts sharply to the tantrums thrown by other parties,” he said.
“We’re calm and collected. Compare this to other countries who are sending gunboats. What does this say? Let me quote a Chinese saying: ‘He who strikes the first blow admits he’s lost the argument’.”
Recto said there was no need for the Palace “to resort to theatrics to accentuate the obvious.”
“The Palace position was right. After all, the decision had already sent shock waves throughout the world. So I think it is letting the decision speak for itself. In my view, it did not mute nor magnify it. [There’s] no need to spin it,” he said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta
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