China barred from fishing in PH—Carpio

The Philippine government cannot allow Chinese fishermen to fish in the country’s exclusive economic zone because this would violate the 1987 Constitution, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Wednesday.

China barred from fishing in PH—Carpio

“The Constitution mandates that the state shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens. This means that the Philippine government cannot allow Chinese fishermen to fish in our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea, This also means that the use and enjoyment of the fish in our EEZ is reserved exclusively to Filipinos,” Carpio said, in a statement.

Carpio was reacting to statement of President Rodrigo Duterte that he would allow the Chinese to continue fishing in the country’s EEZ days after a Filipino fishing boat was sunk by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

President Duterte, who considered the Recto Bank collision as a “little maritime accident,” said he did not think that China would allow its fishermen to be barred from Philippine waters because they are “our friends.”

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However, Carpio disagreed with the President’s position, saying that the Constitution is clear on who is allowed to fish and exploit the resources in the country’s EEZ.

Carpio said the Constitution defines “national territory” to include other “submarine areas” over which the country has “sovereignty or jurisdiction.”

He said The Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in its 2016 ruling, debunked China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea through its nine-dash line policy and ruled with finality that the Philippines has jurisdiction over its EEZ in the West Philippine Sea, including Recto Bank. 

“The Philippines has exclusive sovereign right to exploit all the fish, oil, gas and other mineral resources in its EEZ. This sovereign right belongs to the Filipino people, and no government official can waive this sovereign right of the Filipino people without their consent,” Carpio said.

The senior magistrate also reminded Duterte that as the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, he has the constitutional duty to direct the AFP to protect the nation’s marine wealth in its EEZ.

“The AFP is specifically tasked by the Constitution to be the protector of the people and to secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory,” Carpio said.

Carpio has been prodding the Duterte administration to protest aggressive Chinese activities within the country’s EEZ and territorial waters, saying that failure to do so would mean that the government is allowing their depredation to continue.

The senior SC magistrate was also instrumental in the filing of the case against China before the arbitral tribunal in the Netherlands in 2013, leading to the 2016 ruling that rejected Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.

Earlier, an expert in maritime law from the University of the Philippines said allowing Chinese vessels to operate within the country’s EEZ can be considered a crime.

“That’s not right. They’re allowing an illegal activity,” said Jay Batongbacal, executive director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law. 

“Friendship or toleration is not an excuse not to implement your own laws,” he added, hinting that the President might face an impeachment complaint if his pronouncement is implemented.

In response, the Palace called on the public to trust the President.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Philippines can give “privileges” to other countries to exploit resources around the country’s EEZ.

Panelo also reiterated that Duterte might have considered the country’s friendly ties with China, a major trade and investment partner.

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“In other words, China helps us. From the point of view of the President, maybe it’s just to give back a little to them.,” Panelo added.

Without citing any particulars, Panelo said the public should simply trust the President.

“I can only tell them to trust the President because he acts and all his actions are in accordance with the Constitution to protect and serve the Filipino people,” he said.

“All of his actions are for the welfare of the country... He is balancing the interest of the state, as well as against potentially dangerous consequences that we might face.”

But Senator Panfilo Lacson said the 2016 arbitral ruling was unenforceable, and if Duterte is impeached for failing to carry it out, the country would “witness a rapid succession to the presidency of this country that the world has never seen before.”

He added that his statements to the media would not be sufficient to impeach the President.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, on the other hand, said the Recto Bank is part of the Philippines’ EEZ.

“This is clear to all, especially to the 22 Filipino fishermen who asked this of Secretary [Manny] Piñol after they almost drowned because a Chinese vessel rammed their fishing boat,” he said.

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He said the government has a sacred duty to defend the country’s marine wealth in the EEZ and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.

During celebrations for the 121st founding anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the government continues to pursue an independent foreign policy.

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“We have not backed down in our pursuit of this independent foreign policy,” Locsin said.

“We have stood our principled ground on various issues, such as the return of the Balangiga Bells, the West Philippine Sea, the protection and repatriation of displaced persons—ours and that of other countries, the promotion, and protection of the welfare of our overseas workers, the decent treatment of migrant workers, most famously the open-arm reception of refugees—and that garbage thing,” he added, referring to the recent return of Canadian garbage to its port of origin.

The foreign affairs chief said Manila continues to reassess its relationships with other countries.

Meanwhile, former Foreign secretary Albert del Rosario raised several questions about allowing Chinese to fish in the country’s EEZ.

He asked:

1) Is this to be viewed as a successful Chinese invasion without a shot being fired?

2) Is this now a Philippine policy? 

3) Is this not a clear violation of our Constitution that mandates our President and our military to defend what is ours?

4) To what extent will this adversely diminish or nullify what we had won in our arbitral tribunal victory?

5) To what extent will this embolden the Chinese militia vessels to further bully our fishermen? And what is to happen to our poor fishermen?

6) How close are we now towards also giving up our exclusive rights to oil and gas within our EEZ?

7) With the artificial island building, the destruction of the marine environment and now this, how much faster will it take to exhaust the fish resources?

8) And when will we stop giving our northern neighbor primacy over that of our own people?

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Topics: Chinese fishermen , exclusive economic zone , 1987 Constitution , Supreme Court , Antonio Carpio
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