Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Thursday called on the Senate to repudiate President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration that he and China have agreed to allow Chinese fishermen to fish in the country’s exclusive economic zone, particularly in the West Philippine Sea.
Since the President’s declaration effectively bound the country to his commitment, Carpio asked the Senate to immediately approve a resolution either repudiating the agreement outright or indicating that it needed concurrence from the Upper Chamber, a treaty-ratifying body under the 1987 Constitution.
President Duterte earlier admitted that he had a verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping to allow Chinese to fish in Recto Bank in exchange for allowing Filipino fishermen to fish in Scarborough Shoal.
The SC justice noted that prior to Duterte’s pronouncement in his interview with Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, there was still a debate in the government on whether the verbal fishing deal was legally binding.
“But the President came out yesterday and said, ‘Yes, there was verbal agreement.’ Now the problem is, that binds us,” Carpio said, in an interview.
Carpio, who has been a strong advocate of Philippines’ sovereign interest in the South China Sea, particularly the WPS, said that the only way to stop the President’s verbal agreement is for the Senate to adopt a resolution disapproving it.
“The only way we can stop this is for the Senate as soon as they convene to pass a resolution repudiating it. That stops it,” he said.
“Or the Senate can, if they want to be diplomatic about it, say that a verbal agreement cannot take effect until we ratify it. That is our only defense now,” Carpio added.
Carpio said the verbal fishing deal with China which supposedly also allows Filipino fishers to fish in China-controlled areas in the South China Sea was an international agreement on a substantive issue and needed Senate concurrence.
“Those are sovereign rights. It’s not procedural... And so it needs ratification by the Senate,” Carpio said, adding that a Senate resolution on the need for its concurrence would also give Duterte a way to save face.
“I don’t think the Senate will ratify,” Carpio said.
Critics argued that President Duterte may have committed an impeachable offense for entering into a verbal fishing agreement with China since only the Philippines has the right to fish in the country’s waters including the 200-nautical mile EEZ.
Earlier, the President said he might use his fourth State of the Nation Address on July 22 to “educate” his critics on his verbal fishing deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
But Carpio advised the President not to tackle in his SONA the matter of the fishing deal with China because it will make the verbal agreement binding to the Philippine government.
Duterte has been criticized for setting aside the Arbitral Award invalidating China’s massive claims in the South China Sea in pursuit of warmer relations with China.
The President has repeatedly said that Philippines cannot win a war with China because it will only result in a massacre of Filipino soldiers.