MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio on Monday, March 5, disputed the claim of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque that the Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed joint exploration within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as constitutional.
Roque earlier said the SC "sanctioned" joint exploration in a 2004 ruling. The ruling involves the case between the La Bugal-B'laan Tribal Association and then environment secretary Victor Ramos, among others.
In an interview on ANC's Headstart, Carpio explained that the La Bugal case "refers to the extraction of minerals on land territory," not the "extraction of oil and gas" in the EEZ.
The EEZ is the area 200 nautical miles from a coastal state's baselines, within which the coastal state has exclusive rights to explore and exploit marine resources. The Philippines' EEZ covers the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Referring to Roque, Carpio said, "He did not state correctly that the La Bugal case does not apply to the exclusive economic zone because the exclusive economic zone is governed by a separate provision of the Constitution."
La Bugal ruling about minerals
The La Bugal ruling states, "A legally organized foreign-owned corporation may be granted an exploration permit, which vests it with the right to conduct exploration for all minerals in specified areas, i.e., to enter, occupy and explore the same."
Aside from the La Bugal case being about minerals, Carpio also cited a provision in the 1987 Constitution which says the State "shall protect the nation's marine wealth" in its EEZ, "and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens."
"That particular provision does not apply to extraction of minerals on land. It applies only to the exclusive economic zone, and we have not yet decided any case on that," he said.
Carpio noted that a related case, questioning the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking under the Arroyo administration, is still pending with the SC.
Roque, in a Monday press briefing, responded to Carpio, saying that the La Bugal case, while referring to mining on land territory, still provides legal basis for joint exploration in the EEZ.
"The decision said you could allow foreigners to engage in exploitation of mineral resources even in areas subject to complete sovereignty. How much more in an area where there is only sovereign rights?" said Roque.
The Philippines exercises special rights over its EEZ, including rights to exclusively fish, drill, and use other marine resources in the area.
The debate on joint development of resources with China comes after President Rodrigo Duterte likened joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea to "co-ownership" with Beijing. Facing criticism, Roque said Duterte used this term only to "simplify" the concept of joint exploration. – with a report from Pia Ranada / Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.