MANILA - A joint exploration agreement between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea would be an impeachable offense, President Rodrigo Duterte's fierce critic said Thursday.
"It is unconstitutional and it’s an impeachable offense if it will be sealed and implemented. We already have this law defining our territory, the Archipelagic Baselines Law…These areas (West PH Sea) are definitively ours," Senator Antonio Trillanes IV told ANC's Headstart.
"If you will sign it, you’re practically selling out. That’s what these people in the government are doing, especially Mr. Duterte," he said.
Trillanes, an author of the Baselines law, said that if a Filipino company wants to explore in the contested waters with a foreign partner, it would have to be a "private enterprise."
"You hire the foreign company because we don’t have the technical know-how to extract those minerals, and that becomes a private endeavor which we could tax, but it will not affect the sovereign rights over the area," he said.
"If the joint exploration would happen in the area of China, then it is in our interest to have such exploration; but if it’s going to happen within our territory, then it is against the Constitution," he added.
Trillanes, who had back-channel talks with China during the Aquino administration, said Beijing would always assert its sovereign rights over the territory.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 rejected Beijing's historic claims to most of the South China Sea, acting on the case brought by the Aquino administration after a standoff between Chinese Coast Guard ships and a Philippine naval vessel in the Scarborough Shoal.
Duterte, however, set this decision aside as he distanced Manila from its traditional ally, the United States, and embraced China, seeking financial and military aid.
Last month, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, an expert on the law of the sea, said it is only the Philippines that can explore and exploit resources within its exclusive economic zone, and though it can tap foreign subcontractors, the company must "submit to Philippine laws."
The Philippines may tap China as a private contractor in exploring oil reserves in the West Philippine Sea, but Beijing must first recognize that these resources are owned by Manila, he said in an interview on ANC.