Better alternative
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - June 28, 2019 - 12:00am

No matter how one looks at them, the subsequent moves and reactions of President Duterte on the Filipino boat sinking incident are indeed highly questionable and may even be in violation of our Constitution. In the very first article of our Charter (Section 1), it is clearly and unquestionably provided that “The national territory comprises the Philippine Archipelago, with all the islands and waters embraced therein, and all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction, consisting of its terrestrial, fluvial and aerial domains, including its territorial sea, the seabed, the subsoil, the insular shelves, and other submarine areas. The waters around, between, and connecting the islands of the archipelago, regardless of their breadth and dimensions, form part of the internal waters of the Philippines.”

And the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has already ruled in August 2016 that the Recto Bank, also internationally known as the Reed Bank, together with the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal and the Mischief Reef are within the Philippines’ 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Hence, the Philippines has sovereign rights to exclusively explore, use, conserve and manage the natural resources within said areas as they are part of the Philippine territory defined by Article 1, Section 1 of the Constitution.

Since he assumed office however, Duterte refused to enforce said decision despite China’s open disregard of said ruling. He even stopped the joint maritime patrol of the Philippines and the United States of America (USA) in the West Philippine Sea where the Panatag Shoal, Mischief Reef and the Recto Bank or Reed Bank are located. Hence a previous incident already happened in June 2018, when the Chinese Coast Guard started patrolling said Sea and confiscated the catch of Filipino fishermen in the Panatag Shoal. But the Duterte administration initially ignored the fishermen’s plight until it was publicized and aired in media. His reaction then is very much like the boat sinking that happened last June 9, 2019 when he kept quiet for several days until he came out later with an assessment disparaging the latest incident as a minor maritime accident. He even said just recently that the Chinese vessel did not ram but only sideswiped the Filipino fishermen’s boat. So people cannot really help but conclude that he favors China over our fellow Filipinos especially the lowly and poor fishermen.

More constitutionally questionable is the latest announcement of Duterte allowing China to explore and use the natural resources in these exclusive economic zones over which the Philippines has the sovereign rights, because of friendship between Philippines and China. In a clarification of said statement, his spokesman Salvador Panelo even confirmed that “China may fish in said zones”. Duterte’s declaration and Panelo’s clarification are once more clearly in violation of the constitutional provision that “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them” (Article II, Section 1). Hence, I agree with Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio that no government official, not even the President, can “waive the sovereign rights of the people to exploit and use all the fish, gas, oil and other natural resources within the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zones belonging to the Filipino people, without their consent.”

In reaction, Malacanang once more sow more confusion and dissension. He berated Carpio and even called him “stupid” (buang). Then he clarifies his earlier “friendship” remark, and says that such friendship only means that it is China which would not allow its fishermen to ply their trade in the Philippines’ EEZ even if the Philippines allows it.

In his latest outburst against his critics on his China policy, he reiterated that the Philippines could not stop China from its activities in those areas within the exclusive economic zones over which the Philippines has sovereign rights, and could not enforce fishing ban within them. Then in a speech during the 122nd anniversary of the Presidential Security Group at Malacanang, he dared America, Britain, France to stop China from doing so. “Let us assemble in Palawan and proceed directly to the Spratlys. Let us seize whatever we can seize, he said. If they all perish they will say “Duterte is not protecting the interest of the Filipino people.” Then cursing once more, he continued, “You want me to put the lives of 110 million Filipinos at risk by going into trouble”? He even accused America of putting him into such trouble.

On the other hand, a lot of people are now thinking that with this kind of belligerence and narrow-mindedness on the part of Duterte, he may be the one who will put our country and our people into trouble. He should know that in dealing with other countries and promoting our interest in the international community, we should always “secure to ourselves and our posterity a regime of …love, equality and peace” (Preamble). Hence we need not go to war with China and risk the lives of 110 million Filipinos even if China continues to intrude into and exploit our territory. We can do it peacefully by enforcing the Arbitral Ruling of The Hague through the United Nations. All we have to do is to diplomatically ask the help of the UN to enforce said ruling. The UN can ask the member countries to sanction China by imposing a trade embargo on said country and boycotting all its products until it complies with said ruling and stops intruding into the Philippines’ EEZ. This is the Constitutional and better alternative.

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