by Rey Panaligan
Supreme Court (SC) Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio said President Duterte would violate the Constitution if the Philippines would enter into a “joint venture” with China on the exploitation of minerals in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) if it is done through a sovereign agreement between the two countries.
Carpio pointed out that the Philippine government may enter into contracts with China or any other country provided the “other country would act only as a contractor but not as a sovereign entity.”
“Other countries can enter as contractor but not in a sovereign agreement because that is prohibited by the Constitution. We can ask other countries if they have the technology but we don’t give up our sovereign rights because that is prohibited under our Constitution,” he stressed.
But Carpio said that should President Duterte pursue his plan to forge a joint exploration with China, the deal “will have to avoid language that implies that we recognize the sovereignty of China or the sovereign right of China over the areas in the West Philippine Sea.”
He said any joint exploitation of minerals in the islands in the West Philippine Sea which had been declared part of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines “would violate the country’s sovereignty.”
“The language of the Constitution is explicit that the exclusive economic zone is part of the national territory and that it should be for the enjoyment and exploitation exclusively of Filipinos alone. We cannot enter into joint development within the EEZ,” he said in an interview.
Any joint development with China over the West Philippine Sea within the Philippine EEZ, particularly on Scarborough shoal and Benham Rise, would be tantamount to conceding sovereignty to China, he pointed out.
“Scarborough Shoal is defined as part of the Philippine territory under our domestic law. Of course, we cannot concede any of our sovereign rights or sovereignty over our Scarborough Shoal,” Carpio said.
In the case of Benham Rise, Carpio said “we also have sovereign rights over Benham Rise because we have exclusive right to explore and exploit the oil, gas, and other mineral resources in that area which has been confirmed by the United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLOS) as part of the extended continental shelf of the Philippines,” he added.
In its award last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) upheld major submissions of the Philippines, including the declaration that China’s nine-dash line has no basis in law and contrary to UNCLOS.
The PCA also upheld the Philippines’ submission that China’s move to shoo away Filipino fishermen at the disputed Scarborough Shoal was unlawful.
It also declared that the Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal and Reed Bank as “part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines, and are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.”
Reed Bank is said to be rich in oil and natural gas.
In his second State-of-the-Nation address, President Duterte said the Philippines and China may conduct a joint exploration of minerals in the areas within the West Philippine Sea.
Since the Philippines cannot wage a war against China, the two countries may conduct joint exploration activities that may be similar to a “joint venture,” the President said.
The President, however, did not give details on the “joint venture.”
CODE OF CONDUCT
Meanwhile, Foreign ministers from Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) and China are scheduled to convene in Manila this week to tackle regional issues and concerns during the 50th ASEAN ministerial meetings hosted by the Philippines.
“We expect that the ministers will issue two outcome documents: the first one being the Framework of the Code of Conduct; the second one being the extension of the ASEAN-China Center,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said in a Palace news conference.
Bolivar said the ASEAN and Chinese foreign ministers will “endorse” the framework of the SCS code of conduct aimed towards promoting peace and stability in the region.
The meeting will be held on August 6.
He noted that the Philippines earlier obtained commitment from ASEAN and China to approve the framework within its chairmanship year. He said this was already a “major step” towards realizing the code of conduct in the disputed territory.
“The framework basically presents an outline of the Code of Conduct,” Bolivar said.
“So after it is endorsed, after the approvals process has been done, dealt with, we expect that the talks on the actual Code of Conduct will begin in earnest,” he said. (with a report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)