Justice Carpio refutes Duterte gov't: China can't fish in PH

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio refuted the Duterte government on Tuesday evening, June 25, and said it cannot allow Chinese fishermen to fish in the West Philippine Sea.

Carpio issued this statement after Malacañang, interpreting President Rodrigo Duterte, said the Philippines "will allow" China to fish in the West Philippine Sea "because we're friends."

"The Philippine government cannot allow Chinese fishermen to fish in Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea because it will violate the Constitution," said Carpio, one of the Philippines' leading experts on the West Philippine Sea.

He added: "The Constitution mandates, '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."

The West Philippine Sea is part of the South China Sea that belongs to the Philippines based on a 2016 international ruling.

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 in the country's waters.

'Because we're friends'

Duterte addressed the Recto Bank incident in an interview with reporters on Monday, June 24.

A journalist asked the President: "Will you prevent China from fishing within our EEZ? Iyong pwede po bang… kasi 'yun 'yung request ng mga fishermen?" (Will you prevent China from fishing within our EEZ? Can it be... because that's the request of the fishermen?)

Duterte answered: "I don't think that China would do that. Why? Because we're friends. And they are of the same view that that should not result in any bloody confrontation."

Interpreting Duterte's words, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on Tuesday: "He said they will not allow it, but as far as they're concerned, they have historical right to that. Number two, we will allow it kasi we're friends naman, 'di magbigayan muna tayo – parang ganoon ang punto ni Presidente (because we're friends, so let's give way to each other – that seems to be the President's point)."

Carpio in his statement Tuesday stressed the role of Duterte as Commander-in-Chief.

"The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces is the President, who has the constitutional duty to direct the Armed Forces to protect the nation’s marine wealth in its exclusive economic zone," said the justice.

Carpio pointed out, too, that an international tribunal "ruled with finality" in 2016 that the Philippines "has 'jurisdiction' over its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, including the Reed Bank."

"The Philippines has exclusive sovereign right to exploit all the fish, oil, gas and other mineral resources in its exclusive economic zone. 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. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.