MANILA - Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Friday said he doubts whether President Rodrigo Duterte would make good on his threat to send to jail those who would dare file an impeachment complaint against him over his recent pronouncements on the South China Sea issue.
“The President knows he can’t do it and we know he won’t do it,” Lacson said in a statement.
For Lacson, Duterte would run into trouble if a third of the members of the House of Representatives “feel more challenged than afraid of his threat.”
It is in the lower chamber of Congress where impeachment complaints are filed.
“A bigger problem is when 16 senators convinced by the evidence presented during the trial. Everything of course is hypothetical,” Lacson added.
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 the EEZ, 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 exclusive economic zone 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.
Tension between Manila and Beijing recently 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.
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.