Panelo: No need for Congress in Duterte deal to unleash China on PH fishing areas
MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang doubled down on its defense of President Rodrigo Duterte’s supposedly verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping that would allow China to fish in Philippine territorial waters, saying the President was simply exercising his powers to enter into verbal or written agreements with other countries.
In a commentary published in Inquirer, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales questioned the secrecy behind Duterte’s fishing deal with Xi. They said there was something fishy about the fishing deal being kept “secret and hidden from the Filipino people for nearly three years.”
Duterte previously revealed that he agreed, during his bilateral meeting with Xi, to allow Chinese fishermen to bring their trawlers into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in exchange for China allowing Filipinos to fish in Scarborough Shoal, which is part of the Philippines but has been under the control of China since 2012.
“The contention that the agreement between PRRD and President Xi is void as it was entered under duress or fear is of no moment,” said Salvador Panelo, presidential spokesperson and chief legal counsel, in a statement that used the initials of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
“The agreement was entered into not because of any threat or vitiation of consent, but because the President sees such arrangement as pragmatic which can keep at bay any conflict between two countries, while we gain a venue where we can assert our sovereign rights,” Panelo added.
Panelo said Duterte was motivated by nothing but “the welfare of the Filipino people in general not just to ensure their physical safety but also to enable them to exploit the natural resources in the waters being controlled by China as a source of their livelihood.” “These are being achieved now,” Panelo said.
Panelo said “we also find it absurd” for Carpio-Morales, also a former Supreme Court justice, and Del Rosario “to argue that we have kept the secret agreement.”
“It is not as if they or the critics were the ones who discovered said agreement and revealed it to the Filipino people,” he added, saying the “the oral agreement was recorded by an appropriate officer during the bilateral meeting.”
“The President was explicit about it,” he said.
“At the risk of being redundant, we reiterate: The agreement was made to maintain peace and order in the disputed waters while negotiations are ongoing,” he added, referring to Scarborough which is part of Philippine territory as “disputed.”
He said Philippine laws have “long recognized that such quintessential power may be exercised by the President even without the concurrence of Congress because executive agreements are usually less formal and deal with a narrower range of subject matters than treaties.”
“Conventions or high-level meeting among foreign leaders are useless if they cannot commit and bind their countries at the time of said engagement,” Panelo said.
He again cited Article 12, Section 2 of the Constitution, saying it “must be read not in isolation but in relation with Article 2, Sections 2 and 4 of the same instrument.”
“The provision reserving the use and enjoyment of the nation’s marine wealth to Filipino citizens, must be read in relation to the prime duty of the President to serve and to protect the Filipino people, as well as to our country’s adherence to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations,” he said.
He said “we live in a community of nations hence we have to comply with our international obligations” although the Palace position on being in a community of nations and heeding international obligations was vastly different in the case of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution calling on the Philippine government to allow an international investigation of summary killings being linked to Duterte’s bloodthirsty campaign against drugs and crime.
According to Panelo, one of the Philippines’ international obligations, which justified the verbal deal between Duterte and Xi for China to freely fish in Philippine waters, was “to observe friendliness towards our neighboring countries.”
Based on his interpretation of the Charter, the deal doesn’t present “any impediment in enforcing our Constitution and our statutes within our domestic sphere.”
Citing a decision which Panelo said was written by Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, a vocal critic of Duterte’s refusal to assert Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, the presidential spokesperson said “a state may not invoke provisions in its Constitution or its laws as an excuse for failure to perform its international obligations.” Panelo’s interpretation, however, appeared to be different in the case of the UNHRC resolution. Malacañang was adamant that an international investigation of allegations of massive human rights violations by the Duterte administration was an affront to the Constitution and Philippine sovereignty.
“The rationale for this is simple: In a world where countries have the ability to craft their own respective sets of rules, conflicting municipal policies are inevitable in cases which reach the level of an international concern,” Panelo said.
He said the President “has already made it clear” in his fourth State of the Nation Address last July 22 that “as far as we are concerned we, as owner of the West Philippine Sea, are only granting fishing rights to China.” His statement placed the word owner in quotation marks.
“This is analogous to the civil law aspect of ownership which has an attribute of providing the owner the right to allow others to use one’s property. And such right is being exercised by the President not arbitrarily but with the country’s interest as his primary consideration,” he added.
Panelo assured Filipinos that “we will continue to fight for what is ours.”
“And we will do so in a peaceful manner via one of the most effective modes of settling international disputes, through negotiations,” he said./TSB
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