JOINT exploration in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) with China is in accordance with the 1987 Constitution, Malacañang insisted on Thursday, after President Rodrigo Duterte likened China’s offer of joint exploration to “co-ownership” of the disputed area.
In a news conference, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. rejected Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s claim that Duterte’s idea of joint exploration with China was against the Constitution, which states that only the Philippines can exploit its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“The existing jurisprudence is, yes we can enter into joint exploration and joint exploitation with foreign entities provided that it complies with the Constitution among others…pursuant to a written agreement signed by the President and submitted to Congress,” Roque told reporters.
Roque, a former international law professor, said any agreement for joint exploration to be entered into by the Duterte administration would not mean the government was ceding sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea to China.
“Joint exploration is exactly what it is. It is a practical solution for the Filipinos to utilize natural resources without having to deal with the contentious conflicting claims to territories,” Roque added.
Duterte has been open to the idea of the Philippines jointly exploring the disputed waters with China, a turnaround from the stance adopted by his predecessor Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Talks ‘moving forward’
In a television interview, Roque confirmed that talks between Filipino and Chinese firms for joint exploration were “moving forward.”
The Palace official did not identify the companies involved in the talks.
“It’s not a done deal. On our part, there are political considerations. On the part of China, there’s also a consideration that they are not used to entering into joint agreements,” Roque said.
He said joint exploration under Duterte would be different from the Arroyo administration’s Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU), whose constitutionality was questioned before the Supreme Court.
“There is no decision yet from the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of the JMSU, joint marine seismic (undertaking). But for us, this joint exploration (under Duterte) is really different because theirs is only seismic exploration. Here, we’re talking of actual exploitation,” he said.
At the House of Representatives, Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate urged the Supreme Court to rule on the legality of the JMSU.
“A final ruling of the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of the JMSU would be most vital in determining the Philippine’s foreign policy direction, its subsequent dealings with China and any other foreign states seeking to partner for marine exploration and resource exploitation, and the policy directives of the Congress,” Alejano said in a statement.
Duterte a ‘traitor’ – Joma
Exiled Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria “Joma” Sison called Duterte a “traitor” on Thursday for saying China could be considered a “co-owner” of the West Philippine Sea.
“Duterte exposes himself as a traitor and violator of national sovereignty and territorial integrity by wishing to make the Philippines a province of China and making China a co-owner of the exclusive economic zone and extended continental shelf in the West Philippine Sea,” Sison said in a Facebook post.
Sison described Duterte as a “cheap and craven puppet” of a foreign nation.
“He is so afraid of China that he cannot even make a diplomatic protest and other actions under international law to assert the sovereign rights of the Filipino people,” the communist leader said.
Former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said the President might have “misquoted himself ” with his recent remarks on the West Philippine Sea.
He cited the international arbitral tribunal ruling in July 2016 that disregarded the nine-dash line claim of China over the disputed waters.
“China has been claiming almost 90 percent of the West Philippine Sea. When you say co-ownership, what does that mean? Ten percent, 20 percent or 30 percent or 50/50? I think the President misquoted himself and the implication of his statement could affect sorely our legal stance on this matter,” Golez said.
The West Philippine Sea is about 800,000 square kilometers, twice bigger than the territory of the Philippines, Golez noted.
with DEMPSEY REYES AND LLANESCA T. PANTI