By Roy Mabasa
President Rodrigo Duterte has a choice not to set aside the July 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling in order to come up with an “economic activity” in the country’s own exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea by allowing a Chinese company to participate either as an equity holder or a subcontractor, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said in a statement Wednesday night.
Del Rosario was reacting to President Duterte’s earlier remarks that “China wants to set aside the (Philippine) claim” and allow everybody connected with Chinese companies to explore the area in exchange for a 60-40 arrangement as purportedly promised to him by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Beijing on August 29.
“Thus, we would like to respectfully remind the President that ‘to come up with an economic activity’ in our EEZ need not involve setting aside the Arbitral Ruling and running afoul of the Constitution,” the former DFA secretary said.
Del Rosario cited as a basis the previous suggestion of Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that an oil and gas development in the West Philippine Sea with China would be constitutional and consistent with the Arbitral Ruling if China participates “through a Philippine service contract—which affirms Philippine sovereign rights.”
“In this way, the President will also not turn back on his promise to the Filipino people made during his October 16, 2016 departure speech, as he embarked on State visits to Brunei Darussalam and China, that he cannot be the “sole authorized agent” to share with the Chinese, our EEZ which belongs exclusively to the Filipino people,” he added.
Del Rosario, who was one of the architects of the petition to invalidate China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea before the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, urged Duterte to listen to the vast majority of the Filipinos who agree that the Philippine government “should assert its right to the islands in the West Philippine Sea as stipulated in the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.”
Citing a recent survey conducted by the Social Weather Station, Del Rosario said the poll also found that 87 percent of Filipinos agree that Philippine officials should “arrest and prosecute Chinese fishermen causing the destruction of marine resources in the West Philippine Sea.”
“We are all familiar with China’s continuing unlawful activities. These include preventing our fishermen from pursuing their livelihood in Scarborough Shoal and in our exclusive economic zone, blocking the Philippine development of our natural resources, destroying elements of the marine environment, erecting military facilities, and ridiculously confronting our President with the threat of war,” he said.