Lawyers from opposition slam Palace ‘sell-out’ stance in China talks
MANILA, Philippines — Lawyers from different opposition slates have questioned Malacañang’s stance on issues involving China, accusing President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration of sacrificing the public interest in exchange for the funding of pet projects.
Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares said on Tuesday that the statements of Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo — that it is ‘natural’ to give up patrimonial assets if the country fails to pay its loans from China — revealed the government’s soft stand in territorial discussions.
“Secretary Panelo’s statement yesterday show the administration’s utterly defeatist stance on the plight of our fishermen in the West Philippine Sea. Faced with various testimonies about the China Coast Guard’s atrocities against our fisherfolk, all Panelo could come up with is ‘show us proof’,” Colmenares said in a message to reporters.
“But I guess the President has become blinded by the billions of money being offered by China for his pet projects. He has apparently decided that the interests of our fisherfolk [are] less important than getting loans from China, despite their onerous and highly irregular, if not illegal, conditions,” he noted.
Colmenares also said that local government units whose constituents were affected by the supposed harassment were already waiting for Malacañang’s instructions.
“Panelo should not dismiss the complaints of our fisherfolk. We are told even the local government officials in Zambales and Pangasinan are paralyzed and awaiting word from the Palace on what to do with the complaints of our fisherfolk,” he said.
“I’m sure the government is aware of this. President Duterte does not even have to ride a jetski to Panatag Shoal to know the real situation,” he added
On Monday, Panelo dismissed fears that provisions in deal contracts would allow China to seize resources like the Recto Bank. He also asked for proof that the Chinese Coast Guard harassed Filipino fisherfolk.
Panelo said that they would file diplomatic protests if there was sufficient evidence. Colmenares, however, stressed he has proof on this.
“In the law school where I came from, testimonial evidence is proof,” he added, alluding to a video he uploaded on social media, showing fishermen complaining of lower catch because Chinese authorities have destroyed their equipment.
Panelo and international policy
Former Solicitor General and Otso Diretso candidate Florin Hilbay, on the other hand, questioned whether Panelo’s views reflected the state’s foreign policy.
“Are Panelo’s statements the official position of Malacañang? If it is, it proves that the government itself sells our country – our territories and the resources that can be harvested from them – away,” Hilbay said in a statement
“If it isn’t, Panelo is either a liar or ignorant again of what the law says,” he added.
In a presentation on March 24, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio warned that China can seize the gas-rich Recto Bank if the Philippines cannot pay the $62 million loan for the construction of the Chico River Pump Irrigation.
Panelo, however, said that there was no problem with the provision because the country would surely pay its loans.
Still, Hilbay cited provisions in Article XII (National Economy and Patrimony) of the 1987 Constitution to disprove Malacañang’s contentions that natural resources could be used as collateral for loans.
“Even if Panelo says it’s okay to do it because we can pay our debts anyway, the Constitution is clear in Article XII, Section II: ‘…all lands of the public domain, waters, mineral… and other natural resources are owned by the state’,” Hilbay explained.
“And by logic, should not be used by the government as collateral to get loans. This is a basic concept taught in law school, which Panelo seems to have conveniently forgotten again. Our natural resources are not owned by any government or politician; only the Filipino people are its rightful owners,” he added./ac
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