Supreme Court applicants: Duterte can allow China to fish in PH waters

Lian Buan
Supreme Court applicants: Duterte can allow China to fish in PH waters
Two Court of Appeals justices use an argument mostly used by the Supreme Court itself in past decisions that upheld Duterte policies: presidential discretion

MANILA, Philippines –  President Rodrigo Duterte has the power of discretion even in allowing a foreign entity to operate in Philippine waters, according to justices applying for a post on the Supreme Court bench.

The justices made the statement when the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) asked the applicants  on Wednesday, June 26: Do you agree with the statement of Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that allowing Chinese nationals to fish within our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is unconstitutional?

Court of Appeals (CA) Associate Justice Eduardo Peralta Jr said that it is within Duterte’s discretion as President to let China fish in the Philippines’ EEZ. 

The West Philippine Sea issue heated up again after a Filipino fishing boat was sunk by a Chinese ship in Recto Bank (Reed Bank), a potentially oil-rich region where the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights.

“I am of the assumption that this permission, I would say, is a recognition, on the contrary, of prerogative on the part of the Philippine government. It carries with it an implied assertion of authority over the area,” said Peralta.

Malacañang, interpreting Duterte, said the Philippines “will allow” China to fish in the West Philippine Sea “because we’re friends.”

In questioning the legality of the move, Carpio had cited Section 2, Article XII of the Constitution that says: “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its…exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”

When asked if giving such leeway to China violates the Constitution, CA Associate Justice Mario Lopez said it could “eventually violate the Constitution if that agreement would not benefit the country.”

Lopez, who had earlier agreed that Duterte had the discretion to allow China to operate within the Philippines’ EEZ, was asked if constitutionality relies on the “resultant benefit to the country.”

“That is a wisdom that can be determined by the executive in so far as entering into an agreement with another country. I would even think, Your Honor, that this may be a political issue because these foreign policies are entered into by the President and it is something that is conferred to the Chief Executive as part of his function as the leader of the state and the Court cannot possibly question the wisdom of the executive of whether or not to enter into an agreement with another country,” said Lopez.

The Supreme Court itself had invoked presidential discretion in its decisions upholding Duterte policies, most prominently, the President’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao, and his successful requests to extend it 3 times, or until December 2019.

‘Not ground for impeachment’

Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Alex Quiroz said Duterte’s move in favor of China was not a ground for impeachment.

“I don’t think it will constitute ground for impeachment because the betrayal of public trust must be couple with grave offenses such as treason, bribery and graft and corruption, and grave violation of the Constitution,” said Quiroz.

Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution says “the President..,may be removed from office, on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.”

The JBC interviewed 23 applicants for the vacancy that will be created by the retirement of Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo next month. The applicants includes mostly CA justices, Sandiganbayan justices, and Court Administrator Midas Marquez. CA Associate Justice Stephen Cruz withdrew his application. 

The President has the final say on  who would be appointed to the High Court. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.