Top judge clashes with Duterte over fishing rights

China is allowed to fish in regions of the South China Sea where the Philippines has exclusive rights, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman said.

The pro-Beijing Duterte gave China this “privilege” out of friendship because of funding and trade relations agreed with China, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told broadcaster dzMM.

But he insisted Duterte would not compromise Philippine sovereignty.

“We have negotiations with China that will help develop our country. We are benefiting from them, so maybe what the president wants is that we also give a little of what’s ours,” Panelo said. 

Other figures in Manila have warned that allowing China to fish in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) violated the constitution. 

Senator Panfilo Lacson tweeted today (Wednesday) that friendship was not a basis for abandoning exclusive economic rights.

Duterte lacked the authority to abandon sovereign economic rights to areas that should be used only by Filipinos under the constitution, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said today. 

The constitution says the government must “protect the nation’s marine wealth in its exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens”, he argued. 

“This means that the Philippine government cannot allow Chinese fishermen to fish in our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea. This also means that the ‘use and enjoyment’ of the fish in our EEZ is reserved exclusively to Filipinos,” Carpio said.

“No government official [or politician] can waive this sovereign right of the Filipino people without their consent,” the leading judge, who is one of the longest-serving high court justices and staunch advocate of maritime sovereignty, said in a statement.

The EEZ covers Recto or Reed Bank, where a Filipino boat sank after being hit in what was categorised as a hit-and-run attack by a larger Chinese vessel earlier this month, leaving 22 fishermen in peril for hours before they were rescued by a Vietnamese boat.

The international arbitral tribunal at The Hague ruled shortly after Duterte took office in 2016 that the Philippines had “jurisdiction” over its EEZ in the West Philippine Sea, including the Reed Bank, Carpio said.

Beijing refuses to recognise the July 2016 ruling from the Netherlands that invalidated its claim to around 90 per cent of the South China Sea. 

An estimated US$5 trillion of trade passes through the resource-rich sea each year and rich petroleum reserves are thought to lie beneath the seabed.



The Philippine armed forces are no match for their Chinese counterparts. Picture credit: Wikimedia