MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte can be impeached if he fails to protect the Philippines' national territory, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Thursday.
According to Del Rosario, the Philippine Constitution states that the president and the military must secure the national territory, which includes the exclusive economic zone.
"To be able to violate that is really a basis for impeachment of the president. He can be impeached," said Del Rosario.
"The fact that we are giving this away in some form or another it diminishes the position that we have been given in terms of the arbitral tribunal outcome," he added.
President Duterte earlier said Manila and Beijing are friends, adding that China will not allow itself to be prevented to fish even inside the Philippines' EEZ.
“I don’t think that China will do that. Why? Because we are friends. And (they’re) of the same view that that should not result to a bloody conclusion,” he said.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo added that the Philippines will "tolerate" China's fishing in the EEZ.
"Kasi friends nga daw eh. Kung friend, ‘di magbibigayan kayo," he said, adding that he will ask the President if allowing Chinese fishermen in Manila's EEZ is a policy statement.
Twenty-two Filipino fishermen were left at sea by a Chinese crew after sinking their boat on June 9. They were later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel. Manila and Beijing have agreed to conduct a joint probe on the incident.
In the interview, Del Rosario said Duterte may have prejudiced the outcome of the investigation after calling it a "little maritime incident."
The President later said the Filipino fishing boat was only "sideswiped" and not intentionally rammed.
"It's difficult to say whether the Philippine government has done enough in terms of probing this in an independent objective way because there's a sense that the president had prejudiced the outcome by saying this is a little maritime incident," Del Rosario said.
Duterte has been criticized for his soft stance on China's militarization efforts in the disputed South China Sea.
He also refused to flaunt Manila's arbitral victory, which invalidated Beijing's sweeping claims in the disputed waters in 2016.
The chief executive clarified that he is not afraid of China but rather fears the possible decimation of Filipinos in the event of war.
"I think in this modern world, this is an unreasonable thought. I think we should look at what the experts are viewing that China's economy is based on global trade and their fuel is imported for the most part so they are depending on open shipping lanes. The main shipping lanes are of course the Indian Ocean and the Malacca Strait, and these by the way [are] controlled by the US Navy. Even Minister Wang Yi agrees that this is not a good option," Del Rosario said.
For former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, the reference to war every time there is a move to repel China's actions only emboldens the Chinese to continue harassing the country.
"They see us a yellow dog. Takot ang Pinoy. Takot sila, that emboldens them to continue with their illegal activities," she said.