MANILA -- The Senate should either "ratify or repudiate" a verbal agreement on fishing in disputed waters between President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, a senior justice of the Philippine high court said Tuesday.
The deal is "lopsided" because China's fishing boats can easily harvest all the fish in the South China Sea. The Philippine Constitution also reserves the exploitation of marine resources within the exclusive economic zone or EEZ to Filipinos, said Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.
During his State of the Nation Address on Monday, Duterte said: "Short of expressly advocating a call to arms, there are those who stand up and stop those who fish in our economic zone. Of course, we will do that, in due time."
Carpio, a long-time advocate of the Philippines' maritime rights, said that with the President confirming the fishing agreement, "The ball is in the court of the Senate. It has to act now to either ratify or repudiate that, it's up to the Senate now... That agreement if you allow China to fish, that requires a treaty or international agreement. That requires concurrence of the Senate."
"The decision of the President must go through the Senate. The Filipino people should know, is that a fair arrangement? To allow the Chinese to fish with their huge fishing fleet? Without any limitation on how many tons of fish they can get? In the Reed Bank in the West Philippine Sea while our small bancas are there fishing outside the lagoon of the Scarborough Shoal," he said.
Article 12, Section 2 of the Constitution reads: "The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens."
While international agreements allow foreign nations to fish inside another state's EEZ in case of a "surplus," such an excess does not exist in the Philippines, Carpio said.
"We are 105 million people. There is not enough fish for us in the West Philippine Sea. Why will we allow the Chinese to fish when they can scoop all the fish and they don't allow us to fish in their own waters? Of course there's no fish there anymore," he said.
Less than a month after Duterte assumed office in 2016, the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of Manila and invalidated Beijing's claims in the South China Sea. The President refused to flaunt the legal victory, in the landmark case initiated by his predecessor, former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.
"There is a ruling, it's ours. We have exclusive rights to fish and extract the gas and oil there. There are many ways of strengthening, enforcing the ruling. We don't have to bring the idea of a war. Nobody talks about war now because the constitution prohibits us from enforcing the ruling through war," he said.
China is also "not in possession" of the disputed waters, occupying 9 geologic features or less than 7 percent of the area, he said.
"Factually, China is not in possession of the West Philippine Sea and we should not concede that because that has a lot of implications," he said.