Duterte's remarks on sovereignty, EEZ 'erroneous'  â ex-solgen Hilbay
President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his speech during the 122nd anniversary of the Presidential Security Group at the PSG Compound on June 26, 2019.
Presidential photo/Yancy Lim
Duterte's remarks on sovereignty, EEZ 'erroneous' — ex-solgen Hilbay
Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - June 27, 2019 - 3:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte's latest pronouncements on the country's sovereignty and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) are erroneous, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said.

Duterte claimed that no country in the world has sovereignty over its EEZ and the Philippine and Chinese governments have agreed to allow fishermen from both countries to fish in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

"These statements are erroneous under international and domestic law," Hilbay said in a statement.

Hilbay cited the 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal, which invalidated Beijing's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.

Under Article 73 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, "The coastal State may, in the exercise of its sovereign rights to explore, exploit, conserve and manage the living resources in the exclusive economic zone, take such measures, including boarding, inspection, arrest and judicial proceedings, as may be necessary to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations adopted by it in conformity with this Convention."

The 2016 ruling of the arbitral tribunal also indicated that the Philippines does not share any "overlapping entitlements" with China over Recto Bank, wherein a Chinese trawler rammed a Filipino fishing boat.

Duterte called the incident near Recto Bank a "small maritime accident." Hilbay stressed that Recto Bank is within Philippine EEZ, where Filipinos can exercise rights to the exclusion of others.

The Philippines' rights over its EEZ are also consistent with the Constitution and fisheries laws, according to the former solicitor general.

"Under Rep. Act 8550, as amended by R.A. 10654: It shall be unlawful for any foreign person, corporation or entity to fih or operate any fishing vessel in Philippine waters," Hilbay said.

"The entry of any foreign fishing vessel in Philippine waters shall constitute a prima facie presumption that the vessel is engaged in fishing in Philippine waters," he added.

While investigations into the Reed Bank collision are ongoing, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said it was unsure if the Chinese vessel was in the area to fish or was just passing through.

The Chinese Embassy itself earlier admitted that fishing boat Yuemaobinyu 42212 was engaged in a "light purse seine operation" and was berthed at the vicinity of Recto Bank on June 9.

Duterte is obligated to protect Philippine waters both in the territorial sea and the EEZ as mandated in the constitution, Hilbay said.

The 1987 Constitution states that the national territory is comprised of "the Philippine archipelago, with all the islands and waters embraced therein, and all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction."

RA 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 defines "Philippine waters" as "waters including other waters over which the Philippines has sovereignty and jurisdiction, and the country's 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf."

Whether in areas where the Philippines has sovereignty such as the territorial sea or sovereign rights over the EEZ, Duterte is constitutionally mandated to enforce these rights, Hilbay said.

"Acts of the President inconsistent with these obligations are a culpable violation of the Constitution and a betrayal of the public trust," the former solicitor general said.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, meanwhile, said Duterte's position on allowing Chinese fishermen in Philippine EEZ worsens the situation in the West Philippine Sea.

The former top diplomat warned that this would embolden Chinese fishermen in trawling within Philippine waters.

Del Rosario added that this could also be a basis for impeachment as the president, as well as the military, are obligated to secure national territory, which covers the EEZ.

"To violate that is really a basis for impeachment of the president. He can be impeached," Del Rosario told ANC's "Headstart."

Section 2, Article XII of the Constituion states that, "The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens."

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