By Azer Parrocha, PNA
MANILA — Malacañang believes that President Rodrigo Duterte did not commit an impeachable offense because he never allowed Chinese to fish within Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the first place.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo insisted that it was “speculative” to assume that the Chinese vessel which allegedly rammed and abandoned a Filipino fishing boat in the Recto Bank (Reed Bank) was indeed fishing in the area when it could have merely been passing through.
“Under the Constitution, merong (there are) provisions on impeachment. Kung naniniwala sila na may ginawa siyang impeachable ground, e di mag-file (if they believe that he did something impeachable ground, then, they should file a case),” Panelo said in a Palace briefing on Thursday.
“But you cannot stop the President from doing measures, steps that to his mind is the correct way to obey the Constitutional command to him to protect and to serve the Filipino people,” he added.
Critics including former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier warned that allowing Chinese to fish in territorial waters violates the 1987 Constitution.
Del Rosario said Duterte’s failure to defend the country’s territory, including the EEZ, violates the Constitution and is a basis for impeachment.
Following calls of Filipino fishermen for the President to ban Chinese from fishing within Philippine waters, Panelo said Duterte saw no need to prevent them from doing so.
Panelo clarified that Duterte trusts China would not allow their nationals to fish within the country’s 200-nautical mile EEZ since the two countries consider each other as “friends.”
“It is not necessary to prevent them from fishing because they will not do that. In other words, why should I prevent somebody to do something he is not going to do that?” Panelo said.
On Monday, Duterte himself was quoted saying: “I don’t think that China would do that (fish within Philippine EEZ). Why? Because we’re friends.”
Panelo defended Duterte following concerns that entering into a mutual agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping on fishing rights without the concurrence of Congress is unconstitutional.
“Ano ba ang unconstitutional doon sa napag-usapan nila na wag magkagulo doon sa isang lugar. Kasi tandaan ninyo (What’s unconstitutional about agreeing to prevent conflict in the area. Because remember) this is a disputed territory,” Panelo said.
Duterte earlier admitted the Philippines could not stop China from fishing within the Philippine EEZ because of their previous agreement to allow both Chinese and Filipinos to fish in the area.
“Kasi nagtanong sila (Because they asked), ‘Will you allow the Chinese to fish? Sabi ko (I said) ‘Of course, ‘yan ang pinag-usapan namin noon (that was what we agreed upon),” Duterte said.
Citing the President, Panelo explained that sovereignty in the 1987 Constitution is “not absolute” and allowed certain actions that effectively diminish the sovereignty of this country.
“We allow it, because kailangan din natin iyon (because we need it), and for that matter lahat ng bansa ganyan (all countries are that way),” Panelo said.
“The logic there is we are in a world, we are not in an island ng tayo-tayo lang (with just ourselves). We have to deal with nations of the world,” he added.
Panelo, however, said Duterte was merely goading the United States, Great Britain, and France when he asked them to help the Philippines claim its territories.
“Sa akin, ang tingin ko doon nangangantiyaw siya (For me, I think he was only teasing them),” Panelo said.
Duterte posed this challenge to the three Western countries amid criticism that he has failed to confront China over its aggression in the contested waters.
“Ito ang hamon ko, ang hamon ko sa America, Britain, France, mag-assemble tayo dito sa Palawan tapos diretso na tayo doon sa Spratly. Agawin na natin kung maagaw natin (This is my challenge, my challenge to America, Great Britain, France is that we assemble in Palawan and go straight to Spratly. Let’s claim it if we can),” Duterte said in his speech during the 122nd founding anniversary of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) at Malacañang Park on Wednesday (June 26) night.
Panelo, however, said Philippine government will prosecute the Chinese crew if proven that they were fishing within Philippine waters.
“Then we will enforce the law. If it’s unlawful for them to enter, then we will enforce the law,” Panelo said.
“Basta violation ng batas (As long as it is a violation of the law), under our jurisdiction, we will prosecute,” the Presidential Chief Legal Counsel added. (PNA)