MANILA - Senator Leila de Lima on Friday slammed President Rodrigo Duterte for threatening to send to jail those who would dare file an impeachment complaint against him over his pronouncements on the country’s rights to exploit marine resources in its exclusive economic zone.
In a dispatch from her detention cell, De Lima said it was obvious that Duterte again resorted to his “dictator” and “coward” ways when confronted with the issue of Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
“Sa halip na ilabas ang tapang niya para ipagtanggol ang mga Pilipinong mangingisda at ang dignidad ng ating bansa mula sa Tsina, nanakot pa itong si Duterte na ipakukulong ang sinumang magsasampa ng kasong impeachment laban sa kanya,” De Lima said in a statement.
(Instead of being brave enough to fight for the rights and dignity of Filipino fishermen against China, Duterte chose to threaten to jail those who would file impeachment complaints against him.)
“Nasa tuktok ka man ngayon, hindi mo pa rin kayang takutin ang lahat ng tao, Ginoong Duterte. Higit sa lahat, hinding-hindi mo matatakasan ang panahon ng paniningil para sa mga kasalanan at pagtataksil mo sa bayan.”
(You may be on top now, but you can’t bully everyone, Mr. Duterte. Most of all, you cannot escape accountability for the sins and treachery you committed against the country.)
Duterte earlier this week was asked if the Philippines should bar China from fishing in the country's exclusive economic zone. The President replied that Beijing and Manila 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 its exclusive economic zone, where Manila has exclusive rights to resources, based on a 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed court.
Critics say the President and his Cabinet officials’ pronouncements on the matter could be used as bases for an impeachment complaint against the popular chief executive.
Under the constitution, all resources in the 200-nautical mile EEZ should only be for Filipinos, noted maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal. The Fisheries Code, he added, deems the entry of foreign vessels into the 200-nautical-mile area as poaching, which can be fined.
Tensions between Manila and Beijing rose anew after a Chinese vessel rammed a Filipino fishing boat in Reed Bank (Recto Bank) last June 9.
Twenty-two Filipino fishermen were left at sea by the Chinese crew after sinking their boat. They were later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
An investigation is underway to determine whether the ramming was intentional, but government officials and critics are in agreement that the Chinese crew’s abandonment of the Filipino fishermen in open waters cannot be justified.
Duterte has downplayed the incident, prompting outrage from critics who want Manila to stand up to Chinese aggression.
Competing claims over the South China Sea are a point of regional contention because trillions of dollars of goods pass through it annually, and rich petroleum reserves are thought to sit deep beneath its waters.