MANILA - Allowing Chinese fishermen to fish in the country's exclusive economic zone would need the consent of the people, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said on Thursday.
“The exclusive economic zone of the Philippines gives rights of the Philippines to have exclusive sovereignty over it. Since it is exclusive, you cannot allow other countries to fish in these areas which are covered by this economic zone without the consent of the people,” said Morales in an interview on ANC’s Headstart.
Morales said Congress, and not the president alone, should grant permission to fish in Philippine waters.
In the same interview, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said allowing Chinese fishermen into the Philippines’ EEZ would only embolden the "bully".
"This will no doubt embolden fishermen, if they are fishermen under the militia strategy that they are using because they were acting like bullies before this was declared by the president, what more now?" Del Rosario said.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Tuesday told reporters that Chinese can fish in Philippine EEZ after President Rodrigo Duterte said Manila and Beijing are friends.
But Panelo said he would still ask if this is a policy statement.
This comes after a Chinese ship rammed into a Filipino boat and left 22 fishermen at sea near Recto (Reed) Bank, located within Manila's 200-nautical-mile EEZ.
"I think the expectation of a worsening of the situation there can be expected," Del Rosario said.
Del Rosario also believes that Duterte's earlier statement that the ramming was a maritime incident has prejudiced the investigation.
"He has, in my view, prejudiced an objective outcome because he already dictated what he thinks it is and you don't expect the institution that would later investigate this to divert from what he had said," he said.
Manila and Beijing have agreed to conduct a joint probe over the incident. However, Duterte raised doubts whether a joint investigation would resolve the issue.
"I'm not for it. It occurred in the maritime zone of the Philippines and therefore following the Constitution and following the Revised Penal Code, it is the Philippines' exclusive jurisdiction over the incident," said Morales.
Del Rosario said the Philippines recognized the benefits to the country of China's rise.
"We have been a beneficiary of a part of what they have committed to us. But I think our people should look at the measure of these benefits vis-a-vis the value of our natural resources and how it will benefit not only ourselves but our future generations," he said.
In 2016, the Philippines defeated China in a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal, which invalidated Beijing’s economic claim to the strategic sea lane.
However, China has ignored the ruling and insists it has sovereignty over the waters.
"It will certainly dent the arbitral decision to allow China to fish in our EEZ," said Morales.
Del Rosario added, "Allowing them verbally to do this, it weakens our case because exclusive economic zone is precisely exclusive to us."
Del Rosario and Morales earlier filed a communication against Chinese President Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes against humanity.
"If the incident indeed is proven to be harassment, that would all the more enforce our claim that the Chinese had been bullying, had been harassing, had been depriving our fishermen of their livelihood," said Morales.
Morales said the ICC is still in the process of determining jurisdiction over the communication they filed against the Chinese president.
"The last we heard from them when they emailed us which was received on May 22 that they are analyzing the allegations in the communication to determine whether or not the ICC has jurisdiction over the alleged crimes, but that they are trying to expedite and accelerate the determination of such matter," she said.
The former DFA secretary meanwhile remains hopeful.
"The message we're trying to deliver here, China has committed many injustices against our people and we are delivering the message that we're not taking this sitting down, that we will find ways to push back," he said.