MANILA — The Philippine government will violate the constitution if it allows Chinese fishermen to venture in waters where Manila has exclusive rights over natural resources, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Tuesday.
The magistrate made the statement after Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the government would "tolerate" China's fishermen in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the disputed South China Sea, following President Rodrigo Duterte's pronouncement that the 2 countries are "friends."
"The Philippine Government cannot allow Chinese fishermen to fish in Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea because it will violate the Constitution," said Carpio, one of the longest serving high court justices and staunch advocate of Philippine sovereignty in the disputed waters.
The constitution mandates the government to "protect the nation’s marine wealth in its exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens," he noted in a statement.
"This means that the Philippine Government cannot allow Chinese fishermen to fish in our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea. This also means that the 'use and enjoyment' of the fish in our EEZ is reserved exclusively to Filipinos," he said.
The EEZ covers Recto (Reed) Bank, where a Filipino boat sank after being hit by a suspected Chinese militia vessel earlier this month, leaving 22 fishermen adrift for hours before they were rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
The constitution defines the “national territory” to include “other submarine areas” over which the Philippines has “sovereignty or jurisdiction", Carpio pointed out.
The arbitral tribunal at The Hague has ruled with finality the Philippines has “jurisdiction” over its EEZ in the West Philippine Sea, including the Reed Bank, he said.
"The Philippines has exclusive sovereign right to exploit all the fish, oil, gas and other mineral resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone. This sovereign right belongs to the Filipino people, and no government official can waive this sovereign right of the Filipino people without their consent," said the magistrate.
Beijing refuses to recognize the July 2016 ruling that invalidated its claim to around 90 percent of the resource-rich South China Sea. Trillions of dollars of goods pass through the vital sea lane and rich petroleum reserves are thought to sit deep beneath the waters.
Duterte has largely set aside the maritime row to court trade and investments from Beijing.