MANILA - There is no way that the Philippines will give up to China its claims in the West Philippine Sea, Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said Friday.
A strong advocate of Manila's claims in the disputed waters, Carpio rejected proposed joint ventures of the Philippines and China unless these are covered by Philippines laws.
"There's no way for any government or for us to concede," he said.
The West Philippine Sea is the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, where Beijing has asserted expansive claims and fortified artificial islands.
President Rodrigo Duterte had on Wednesday said joint exploration with China may be likened to co-ownership of the disputed area with the Asian giant.
Malacañang downplayed the President's remarks, saying Duterte was just trying to simplify the term “joint exploration” and ended up using “co-ownership.”
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, echoed Carpio's sentiments.
“In so far as territory is concerned, in so far as the exclusive economic zone and our natural resources are concerned, the constitution mandates that the benefits of our marine resources, our marine wealth up to the exclusive economic zone is reserved exclusively for Filipinos," he said.
"The state cannot just share them, cannot admit any kind of co-ownership arrangement or anything similar to that for these resources. Definitely, di puwede 'yan,” he added.
Batongbacal said he thinks government officials have not clearly thought out the state's policy on the West Philippine Sea.
"The thing is, it sets a precedent. It indicates a policy so yes, it's possible what we do in the West Philippine Sea could also be done in any other parts of the country whether its Benham Rise, Sulu Sea, [or] Celebes,” he said.
Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, meanwhile, said Duterte's statement may be considered an impeachable offense.
"A clear example of culpable violation of the Constitution [and] betrayal of public trust. The West Phil[ippine] Sea is exclusively ours. He's giving it away," Hilbay said in a tweet.
Hilbay and Carpio were part of the delegation that brought China before an international tribunal to assert Manila's claims in the West Philippine Sea.
The international court ruled in favor of the Philippines in July 2016, invalidating China's nine-dash line claim.
Beijing, however, has continued to ignore Manila's arbitral victory, asserting indisputable sovereignty over nearly all of the resource-rich waters.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate also criticized Duterte's remarks, saying "co-ownership" can be interpreted not only as a sellout but as a "total surrender of our national territory to the Chinese."
"Justifying the arrangement with China as co-ownership can even be construed as a capitulation to China's militarization program in the area," he said.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano added that Duterte's actions are a clear disregard of the country's national interest.
"Ang ginagawa at gagawin pa ng Duterte admin sa pagpaubaya sa China ay klarong taliwas sa ating national interest at seguridad hindi lamang ngayon kundi sa mahaba pang panahon,” he said.
(What the Duterte administration is doing and will continue to do in giving way to China goes against our national interest and security not just now, but for a long time to come.)
Batongbacal added that getting into business with a foreign state-owned company may require legislation.
"It can be argued since it’s not expressly prohibited," he said.