MANILA – Malacañang on Tuesday downplayed an argument that President Rodrigo Duterte is surrendering Philippine sovereignty by not aggressively pursuing an arbitral ruling against China’s massive claims in the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“It is absolutely fallacious to argue that the President is surrendering our sovereignty by not aggressively pursuing the arbitral ruling in our favor rendered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.
In July 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled in favor of the Philippines’ arbitration case filed against China’s nine-dash line which nearly covers the whole of WPS or South China Sea.
Duterte has decided to temporarily shelve the PCA verdict to maintain peace, stability, and cordial relations among claimant countries in the region. The President, however, said he will raise the ruling “maybe once” before his term ends in 2022.
Panelo defended Duterte from critics anew, citing how a provision in the Constitution stipulates that the Philippines “renounces war as an instrument of national policy” which explains the chief executive’s decision to resort to diplomatic means in dealing with the sea row.
“The President’s measured tack, as I described it before as calibrated responses, is consistent with Section 2 of Article 2 of the Constitution stating: ‘The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations,’” Panelo said.
Panelo emphasized that Duterte believes that aggressively enforcing the arbitral award “will only precipitate or trigger an armed conflict that could escalate into continuing bloody encounters detrimental to the national interest.”
“Let me remind the critics, the issue here is not about which country has a better claim based on its constitution or laws, nor it is the enforcement of our upheld rights which unfortunately until now, no entity or country is inclined to perform,” Panelo said.
“What is the issue? The issue is how to go about getting the benefits without endangering the lives of our countrymen and bringing us to the precipice of war,” he added.
Contrary to critics’ claims, Panelo said the Duterte administration has maintained claims with respect to the country’s territory and executive economic zones (EEZs) while maintaining friendly relations with all nations.
“This Administration has been filing diplomatic protests against the activities of China and their elements. We have been raising specific issues and concerns through Bilateral Consultation Mechanism. We have been fighting for, and enjoining other countries in crafting a code of conduct, that will be observed by all stakeholders in the disputed areas of water,” Panelo said.
“We reiterate that we remain steadfast in maintaining our claims with respect to our territory and exclusive economic zones,” he added.
President’s prime duty
While acknowledging that the Constitution contains a provision that reserves use and enjoyment of the nation’s marine wealth to Filipinos (Section 2, Article 12), Panelo said this provision should not be read in “isolation” but in “relation” to other provisions.
Panelo emphasized the importance of Section 4, Article 2 of the Constitution which states: “The prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people.”
“Section 2 of Article 12 of the Constitution, reserving the use and enjoyment of the nation’s marine wealth to Filipino citizens, should – as it must be – read in relation to primordial duty of the President to serve and to protect the Filipino people,” Panelo said.
“If you go over the Constitution, most of the provisions, if not all, relative to the protection of the State and its people emanate from that (Section 4, Article 2). That is the basic premise,” he added.
He said the provision in the Constitution protecting the natural resources and marine wealth is actually designed to safeguard their very existence and survival.
“…In the hierarchy of rights, the right to life takes precedence over the right to property,” Panelo said.
Panelo further said that the framers of the Constitution could never have intended to “chain” the President in performing his constitutional duty by placing provisions in the Constitution in derogation of such obligation.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio earlier pressed Duterte to defend the Philippines’ EEZ after the chief executive bared that he has made a verbal deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Last week, Duterte said he and Xi agreed to allow Chinese to fish within the Philippines’ EEZ so that China would also allow Filipinos to fish in the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
Carpio, a staunch critic of Duterte’s handling of the sea row with China, insisted that Philippine marine wealth cannot be “shared with or given away to foreign nationals” as stated in the 1987 Constitution. (PNA)