MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte can face a fresh impeachment complaint if government agencies implement his pronouncement that Chinese fishers can venture into Manila's waters, a maritime law expert said Wednesday.
"Kung mangyari po iyun, i-implement nila iyan dahil sa statement ng Pangulo, pwede po siyang kasuhan ng impeachment," said Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
(If that happens, the implement the statement of the President, he can face an impeachment complaint.)
Duterte earlier this week was asked if the Philippines should bar China from fishing in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, to which he replied that 2 countries are "friends" and that there should not be any "bloody conclusion."
His spokesperson Salvador Panelo later said the government would "tolerate" China's fishermen in the EEZ, where Manila has exclusive rights to resources, based on a 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed court.
Under the constitution, all resources in the EEZ should only be for Filipinos, noted Batongbacal. The Fisheries Code, he added, deems the entry of foreign vessels into the 200-nautical-mile area as poaching, which can be fined.
"At the very least, dereliction of duty iyun kung papayagan mo lang [mangisda ang Chinese]... Ang duty po ng Chief Executive talaga is to implement and enforce the law," he said.
(If you allow Chinese fishers there, that's dereliction of duty. The duty of the Chief Executive is to implement and enforce the law.)
DUTERTE'S BALANCING ACT
Duterte views China as a friend on the basis of trade relations, said his spokesperson and chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo.
"Kumabaga, mayroon tayong pakinabang sa kanila. Baka sa punto ni Presidente e magbigay rin tayo ng kaunti sa kanila," he said in a separate DZMM interview.
(We get benefits from them. The President's point may be for us to give back a little to them.)
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, he said, allows the Philippines to grant another state privilege to fish in its EEZ.
"Sila'y magtiwala sa Pangulo sapagkat siya ay gumagalaw, lahat ng hakbangin nya ay batay sa probisyon ng Saligang Batas na bigyan ng prokteksyon ang sambayanang Pilipino at pagsilbihan ito," Panelo urged the public.
"He's balancing the interest of the state as well as against potential dangerous consequence na puwedeng mangyari kung sakaling tayo ay magkamali sa mga galaw natin," he added.
(They should trust the President because all his moves are based on the provision of the constitution to protect and serve Filipinos. He's balancing the interest of the state as well as against potential dangerous consequence that can happen if we commit a mistake.)
SEA IN DANGER
The presence of Chinese fishers in the area poses a big threat to the natural resources, as seen by how they pillaged nearby Scarborough Shoal, said Batongbacal.
"Talagang inuubos po nila hindi lang iyung isda, kundi pati tirahan ng isda, iyung mga coral reef talagang pinupulbos nila at ginagamit nila iyung mga dead clams," he said.
"'Pag ganyan, malamang maubos lahat ng pangisdaan sa Pilipinas, basta pumasok po sila kasi ganoon na nga ang nangyari sa coastal areas ng China. Kaya sila napupunta rito, kasi inubos nila ang living resources sa sarili nilang coastline."
(They exhaust not just the fish, but also their habitat -- they crush the coral reefs and use the dead clams. All fishing grounds of the Philippines could disappear if they venture there, like what happened to the coastal areas of China. They go here because they have used up the resources in their own coastline.)
Competing claims over the South China Sea are a point of regional contention because trillions of dollars of goods pass through it, and rich petroleum reserves are thought to sit deep beneath its waters.