MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has no authority to “set aside” Manila’s legal victory in the South China Sea to push through with a joint oil and gas exploration deal in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Friday.
Carpio, one of the country’s staunchest advocates of Philippine ownership of disputed islands in the South China Sea, said to “set aside” the ruling was to "abandon, overrule, reverse or annul” it.
“In this legal sense, the President under Philippine law has no authority to ‘set aside’ the arbitral ruling issued by the Hague tribunal,” Carpio said in a statement.
“However, as Chief Architect of the State’s foreign policy, the President exercises the prerogative when to assert the arbitral ruling, without setting aside the ruling. Thus, the President can temporarily ‘put aside’ the ruling and assert it at an appropriate future time.”
Carpio said whenever China infringes on the Philippines’ sovereign rights under the tribunal ruling, Manila must “officially and promptly protest such infringement to avoid acquiescing or impliedly consenting to such infringement.”
“Any acquiescence or implied consent can result in the loss of our sovereign rights under the arbitral ruling,” he said.
“The Duterte administration, and the Filipino people, must always be vigilant to avoid such acquiescence or implied consent.”
Duterte on Tuesday said Chinese President Xi Jinping told him that Beijing was ready to be a minority partner in a joint energy venture at the Reed Bank (Recto Bank), located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, but Manila must first set aside the 2016 award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, a ruling China does not recognize.
The Hague tribunal’s interpretation of maritime boundaries also ruled that China's claim to most of the South China Sea had no legal basis under United Nations maritime law, in what was a big blow to Beijing.
The arbitral ruling is still subject to talks between the two countries, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told a regular news conference. Meanwhile, the countries could focus on items that could be of mutual benefit, he added.
Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has pursued warmer ties with China, avoiding criticism or confrontation with Beijing exchange for billions of dollars in loans, grants and investment, much of which have yet to arrive. – reports from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News; Reuters