By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Francis Tolentino on Wednesday countered Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and said the verbal fishing agreement between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping does not need the Senate’s concurrence.
Tolentino, lawyer and former presidential political adviser, said he does not see any reason for Senate to intervene in the verbal pact entered into by Duterte with Xi to allow Chinese fishing vessels to get resources from the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
He considered the fishing pact a “mere” executive agreement which, he noted, can be and has already been done in government.
“Iba lang talaga ang interpretation ni Justice Carpio (Justice Carpio has a different interpretation)…Sabi niya (He said) because of that oral agreement, there is a need for Senate to concur, I respectfully disagree,” Tolentino told reporters in an interview.
“That oral agreement in international law is binding; it has been done before in several instances. That oral agreement is akin to the nature of an executive agreement,” he added.
Tolentino likened the Duterte-Xi agreement to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States, which was signed in 2014.
“EDCA was never subjected to a Senate scrutiny for concurrence because [it is an] executive agreement. Because EDCA [is an agreement] under the Mutual Defense Treaty. The EDCA is just implementing the treaty,” he explained in a mix of English and Filipino.
He also cited the SC ruling in January 2016 that executive agreements, such as the EDCA, do not need the Senate’s concurrence. He added that the Constitution allows the President to enter into an executive agreement.
According to Tolentino, the verbal agreement falls under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which the Philippines ratified and now “forms part of the laws of the land.”
China, he noted, was also a signatory to the UNCLOS despite it not recognizing the 2016 Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the West Philippines Sea.
“So there is no need for [Senate] concurrence,” he reiterated.
In his fourth State of the Nation Address last Monday, Duterte said his agreement with the Chinese leader was part of the arbitral ruling.
He said he and Xi agreed to respect their countries’ “traditional fishing rights” over the area.
But Carpio disputed this, saying on Tuesday that the UNCLOS ended China’s historical claims over the Philippines’ EEZ.
Carpio urged the Senate to immediately act on the verbal fishing pact between the two country leaders.