Lagman urges Duterte to be polygamous in diplomacy
Albay Representative Edcel Lagman holds out the possibility of an impeachment move against President Rodrigo Duterte should he surrender Philippine sovereignty to China over disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea.
This, as the President leaves for a state visit to China on Tuesday with at least 200 members of the Philippine business community.
Lagman pointed out, the president himself affirmed the statement of senior Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that a trade-off or a surrender of Philippine sovereignty is a culpable violation of the Constitution.
"That's an impeachable offense...We are not talking about an eventual impeachment or conviction; we are talking about the ground as an impeachable offense," he said.
"But you know, whoever thought Erap (Joseph Estrada) will be impeached at the time of his popularity, or (Bill) Clinton for that matter in the US. Let the events unfold," he added.
Lagman reminded, there were arguments about Arroyo administration's proposal of a joint Marine Seismic Undertaking possibly surrendering Philippine soveriegnty, and was ultimately shot down because of constitutionality issues.
Whether or not President Duterte pulls out of his travel bag a copy of the arbitral decision sustaining the Philippines’ sovereignty over the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea, Lagman stressed, "China must be constantly reminded of the Philippines’ victory."
"It is to the Philippines’ national interest for China to be made always aware that the arbitral decision is the President’s gun that will set the tone of the bilateral talks," he said.
Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin, meanwhile, emphasized that the arbitral ruling has given the Philippines moral high ground. While he recognized that the posturing of the president vis-à-vis the US has been colorful, he also believes it can be viewed in the context of his enticing of China.
"We don't want to be caught in a trap going to China. We all know China has behaved aggressively in the West Philippine Sea [and] for the years to come. Such behavior will not change. Our only standing is the abritral ruling, which says the nine-dash-line has no validity and binding effect," he said.
ARBITRAL RULING WEAKENED
Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano believes the president's statements weaken the ruling.
"Instead of taking advantage of this ruling, pinahina ni presidente kasi di nire-raise yun," he said.
(Instead of taking advantage of this ruling, the president weakened it by not raising it.)
Alejano expressed disagreement with Duterte's statement that the options open for the Philippines is talking with China or go to war against them, and that the issue of the ruling will not be mentioned.
"Ang ruling, nagbibigay sa atin ng moral high ground [that] we can use to build consensus among nations na indeed we are on the right side. Ngayon, may legal basis, all the more gamitin to our advantage. Di naman ibig sabihin di makikipag usap sa China," he said.
(The ruling gives us the moral high ground that we can use to build consensus among nations that indeed, we are on the right side. Now, we have the legal basis, we should use it to our advantage all the more. This does not mean we should not talk to China.)
He also warned that getting economically close to China may leave the Philippines in a bind because it will make the Philippines dependent on China, who may not be inclined to drop their claims over the disputed waters.
"Ang pagpipilitin natin to open ourselves some more to China when it comes to trade, lalo nating binabaon ang ating sarili bakit meron tayong conflict of interest sa West Philippine Sea. Kung nagiging dependent tayo sa China in such a way, pag naghigpit sa China, collapse na ang Pilipinas, then wala na ho—tali na tayo forever sa China."
(Our insistence to open ourselves some more to China when it comes to trade will leave us, dig us deeper as to why we have a conflict of interest in the West Philippine Sea. If we become dependent to China in such a way, when China imposes stricter laws, the Philippines will collapse, and then that's it—we will always be dependent to China)
"I don't believe China will not pursue their interest sa West Philippine Sea. Disadvantageous na nag-open tayo sa China, dalhin businessmen sa China para magkaroon ng more economic opportunities. That will be disadvantageous kasi matatali tayo sa China," he said.
(I do not believe China will not pursue their interest in the West Philippine Sea. It is disadvantageous that we opened to China, brought businessmen to China to have more economic opportunities. That will be disadvantageous because we will be dependent on China.)
Villarin, however, believes the President is playing a bluffing game.
"It's sort of a brinkmanship…the idea of playing of brinkmanship game, babalik sa atin 'yan (it will come back to us) because the global context is very fragile," he said.
But for Lagman, the Philippines can always build relationships without destroying old ones.
"I think the complexion of diplomacy is polygamy," he said.