Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio yesterday stressed that the Philippine government, in entering into a joint venture with China in the West Philippine Sea, cannot concede that half of the area belongs to the Chinese as this would be in violation of the country’s sovereignty.
“I don’t think it is correct to say that we should be happy, we should be overjoyed because China is sharing it with us. In the first place its ours and we should be very worried if China will get half of it because that will violate our Constitution,” he said.
The Constitution says the state shall protect its marine wealth and exclusive economic zone, and preserve the use and enjoyment of the EEZ exclusively for Filipino citizens, Carpio said.
There is absolutely no way under the Constitution that the Philippine government can concede or give away half of the EEZ or make China co-owner, he said.
Carpio, who visited Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. at the Capitol in Bacolod City yesterday, would not answer questions related to moves in Congress to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from her post. Sereno has gone on indefinite leave from the SC.
“That issue I cannot discuss,but I can discuss with you the West Philippine Sea issue,” said Carpio, who was in Bacolod to speak before the Barristers' Club of the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos last night.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said earlier that the Philippine government is in talks with a Chinese state firm for a joint South China Sea energy resource exploration and extraction, which President Rodrigo Duterte described as akin to "co-ownership" of contested areas.
"Now their (Beijing's) offer is joint exploration, which is like co-ownership. It's like the two of us would be the owners. I think that's better than fighting," Duterte was quoted as saying Wednesday.
Carpio yesterday said that will depend on what kind of joint measure will be undertaken.
“If China’s national offshore companies will secure a contract with the Philippine government under Philippine laws, there is no problem,” he said citing Malampaya where Shell, that is a foreign company,is extracting the gas under Philippine law.
“As long as it is under Philippine law, we don’t have a problem. The problem is if it’s with the Chinese government and we concede that half of the area belongs to them. That cannot be done because that is our exclusive economic zone, we cannot concede our sovereign rights, even the president cannot concede our sovereign rights in the EEZ,” he said.
“We can ask a foreign company to extract our gas and pay it in cash or kind,” but they have to accept that the area where such activity in underway is within the EEZ of the Philippines, he said.
“The international tribunal has already ruled that the EEZ 200 nautical miles from Palawan belongs to the Philippines…we have exclusive sovereign right to get all the oil, gas and other mineral resources, the fisheries… it’s ours,” Carpio said.
Roque asserted in a press statement, that the country can enter into joint explorations of the West Philippine Sea with China, provided that they comply with the country’s Constitution, it does not mean that the Philippines is recognizing China’s sovereign claims over the disputed territory.
“The President just wanted to explain that joint exploration and exploitation will be undertaken by both Philippine and Chinese nationals. Now having said that, you know, ownership is not material here because really, the areas that may be subjected to joint development is EEZ – exclusive economic zone – where we only exercise sovereign rights,” he said.
He belied claims that the President’s statement on the possibility of joint exploration of WPS with China was a betrayal of public trust, citing a Supreme Court decision permitting such an agreement to take place.
Roque further said that a formal deal is yet to be signed between the two countries, which would be subject to theapproval of Congress.
“Let’s not speculate on what will happen. I think that’s a decision, that it will be to the best of our national interest to benefit from the resources in the disputed area, but there’s no meeting of the minds as of yet,” he said.*CPG
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