Rodrigo Duterte

Carpio: Duterte’s latest West Philippine Sea remarks can be impeachable offense

Sofia Tomacruz

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Carpio: Duterte’s latest West Philippine Sea remarks can be impeachable offense

FORMER JUSTICE. File photo of retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio.

File photo by Rappler

'It is a betrayal of public trust, betrayal of national interest,' says retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio

Retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio doubled down on his criticism against President Rodrigo Duterte, calling the Chief Executive’s latest statements on the West Philippine Sea not only detrimental to the Philippines’ own interests, but also possible impeachable offenses. 

In an interview on Monday, May 10, Carpio agreed to statements made in legal circles that the President could be held accountable for downplaying the 2016 Hague ruling – the Philippines’ landmark legal victory against China – as trash, and repeatedly claiming in public addresses that Beijing was “in possession” of the West Philippine Sea. 

“Yes, I agree completely. It is a betrayal of public trust, betrayal of national interest,” Carpio said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart, when asked if he agreed Duterte’s statement could be considered an impeachable offense. 

Under Section 2, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution, select officials including the President may be impeached from office for offenses that include “culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.” 

But while Carpio agreed Duterte’s statements could be considered grounds for impeachment, he was quick to dismiss the possibility of any case prospering in Congress seeing as majority of lawmakers were political allies beholden to Duterte. 

“The problem is impeachment is a numbers game and he has control of the House and the Senate. He has the majority, it will never prosper. That is a problem because there is a failure in the checking mechanism. Congress should check the President, but Congress is not doing its job,” Carpio said.

The retired justice had been embattled in a word war with Duterte in recent days with the President going as far as to dare Carpio to public debate, only to back out and direct Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque to represent him instead.

Duterte’s words hurting Philippines

Carpio stressed that Duterte’s words could have consequences for the Philippines and cost the country its own territory. He called Duterte’s repeated claims China was “in possession” of the West Philippine Sea “dangerous,” especially if China took Duterte’s word for it. 

Carpio had earlier urged Duterte to speak up on China’s recent incursions and refusal to withdraw ships from the vicinity of reefs in the West Philippine Sea, saying his silence sent the “wrong signals” to Beijing. 

During his interview on Monday, Carpio cited the unilateral declaration doctrine under international law where heads of state like the President, “if he makes a statement adverse to his nation, on an ongoing dispute, that statement binds his nation if accepted by the other country.”

“That is a principle in international law and that has been repeatedly upheld in international tribunals because the head of state, the President, or even the foreign minister, can bind the country with its pronouncements, and if these pronouncements are adverse admissions against interest, this will bind the country if accepted by the other party. That’s why it’s very dangerous,” he said. 

Following Duterte’s pronouncement belittling the 2016 Hague ruling, the Department of Foreign Affairs had been left to assert that the President’s remarks asserting the arbitral award at the 75th United Nations General Assembly is what stands as the “supreme expression” of the Philippines’ foreign policy on the West Philippine Sea. 

Duterte’s words hurting Filipinos

Not only could Duterte’s pronouncements leave an impression on other states, Carpio said. It could also confuse and discourage Filipino fishermen and industries in the Philippines. 

“The President said ‘China  is ‘in possession’ of the West Philippine Sea.’ You know, when you say that, you’re telling the oil companies that have service contracts with us that they will not be able to go to the West Philippine Sea to drill for the gas that we contracted them [to do] because we are not in possession, China is in possession, and China is claiming all the resources,” he said. Carpio has repeatedly emphasized the urgency of developing Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in the West Philippine Sea as the Malampaya gas field, which accounted for 40% of Luzon’s energy requirements was expected to run out in two to three years. 

“There are consequences,” Carpio said. 

Carpio also cited the move of the military, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, and other agencies to assert the country’s rights and encourage Filipino fishermen to continue fishing in Philippine waters despite the territorial dispute. 

“Our generals, the NTF-WPS, they’ve been telling our fishermen, do not give up our rights, go to the West Philippine Sea to fish because those are our fishing grounds, exclusive fishing grounds, but President Duterte says China is ‘in possession’ of the West Philippine Sea so if our fishermen go there, they will endanger our lives. It is contradictory,” he said. 

Carpio continued: “There is no coherence in what the government is doing because the President is contradicting our own policy.” 

Carpio earlier said Duterte must correct his statements belittling the Philippines’ legal victory against China and claiming the regional giant is ‘in possession’ of Philippine waters, adding the issue of asserting Filipino’s rights was beyond the President. 

He said in Filipino on DZMM’s Teleredyo, “I’m looking at what we will lose – the oil and gas is so valuable, the fish is so valuable. I do not care if he will be jailed or not, that will not improve our situation. That will not improve the situation of the Filipino. This needs to stop. He needs to take back what he said. He should say,  he’s ‘just joking.’” –

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.