MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte last night dared critics of his policies on Chinese fishing in Philippine waters to impeach him, warning that he would put all of them behind bars.
“Impeach ako? Kulungin ko sila lahat. Subukan nyo (Impeach me? I’ll put them all in jail. Just try it),” he said in a chance interview at Malacañang.
He also said the constitutional provision on the country’s exclusive economic zone is for the “thoughtless and the senseless” as he claimed that the Charter would become a mere piece of paper in case war erupts over the EEZ.?
Former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said Duterte may be impeached for failing to perform his constitutional mandate to defend ?Philippine territory. He said the national territory includes the 200-nautical-mile EEZ.?
Del Rosario made the statement after Duterte said China could not be prevented from fishing in the Philippines’ EEZ because the two countries are friends.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio cited a provision in the Constitution mandating the president to protect the country’s marine wealth in archipelagic waters, territorial sea and EEZ, and to reserve its use and enjoyment to Filipinos.
“That is a provision for the thoughtless and the senseless. The protection of our economic rights about the economic zone resolves this? I am protecting the country and 110 million Filipinos,” Duterte said.
He stressed that China would not allow itself to be shamed into going along with that provision in the Philippine Constitution, and would get back at Filipinos: “Ang China, ganito yanm parang Filipino hindi mo puede hiyain. Magwawala yan at magpuputak, puputaktihin kayong lahat.”
“I will go and tell them, get out, this is the Constitution. They will tell you, ‘you run out of toilet paper, use that.’ If they say, you present to me a Constitution like that and we have this ruckus claiming the same place in our jurisdiction, I will say, if you do not have something to wipe your butt with, use your Constitution. Because that means war,” Duterte said.
He stressed: “That piece of paper, the Constitution, will become meaningless, with no spirit except desperation, agony and suffering.”
He said China’s missiles could reach Manila in seven minutes, and that Chinese President Xi Jinping had given him a warning when he talked about his plan to dig for oil in the West Philippine Sea.
“Xi Jinping (said) there will be trouble. So answer me, Justice,” Duterte said, referring to Carpio, “give me the formula and I’ll do it.”
He repeated that critics wanted to shame him by compelling him to drive away the Chinese who would likely challenge him to a fight:
“Ang gusto ng mga u*** na ito hiyain ako. Pagdating ko doon, sabihan ko yung (Chinese) commander doon na umalis kayo. Ay sabihin sa akin, p***** i**, sino ka ba mag-utos sa akin? Gusto mo upakan?”
Critics have urged Duterte to send Filipinos to fish in China’s EEZ in the South China Sea, to test his avowed friendship.
Duterte reiterated what he said on Wednesday, that the Chinese could not be driven away from Philippine waters. He also said he had an agreement with Xi.
“It was a mutual agreement. Let us give and take. You fish there, I fish here. But China said we have others so we took this for ourselves,” Duterte said during the 122nd anniversary of the Presidential Security Group in Malacañang.
The President was referring to China’s decision to allow Filipino fishermen to enter Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales, an area that has been under Beijing’s control since 2012.
Duterte cited the assistance given by China to the Philippines, including firearms and infrastructure loans.
“We were told, let’s not discuss this. Let’s be friends first. We will give you firearms. What else do you want? Look at the projects,” Duterte said.
Duterte, however, said the Chinese cannot be driven away from Philippine waters because they have insisted that the area is theirs.
“Now, they say, ‘You have to ban China. Prohibit them.’ If I prohibit them, how do I enforce my desire?” he said.
His spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte did not intend to say that the Chinese can fish inside Philippine EEZ, a policy that critics said would violate the Constitution.
“I have evaluated that it appears that what the President meant was China would not allow their nationals from fishing in our EEZ since they treat us as their friends, knowing that permitting their fishermen to fish in our EEZ would only result in an unwanted hostility leading to an armed confrontation,” Panelo said in a statement issued early yesterday.
Panelo said his statement was based on a conversation with the President last Wednesday.
“The fact is – we do not know if Chinese nationals were fishing there at the time of the maritime incident. Everything is purely speculative at this stage. Even during the allision, facts remain unclear if the Chinese vessel was fishing or only exercising their right of innocent passage,” he added.
Panelo stressed the President has not committed any impeachable offense. ?“What was stated under the culpable violation of the Constitution, like what – bribery, there’s none; graft and corruption, high crimes. What did he do?” Panelo remarked at a press briefing.?Panelo dared critics to file an impeachment complaint against Duterte, whose allies are set to dominate the incoming Congress. ?“Under the Constitution, there are provisions on impeachment. If they believe he has done something that constitutes a ground for impeachment, they should file (a complaint),” Panelo said. ?“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. ?Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a coastal state has sovereign rights to explore, use, conserve and manage the natural resources in its EEZ.
The 1987 Constitution also requires the state to protect the nation’s marine wealth in its EEZ and “reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”?Panelo said the President does not mind if he loses his position and his life performing his duty.?“He said ‘I’m willing to sacrifice my life, my position. You can put me in jail, you can assassinate me…’ As long as he is doing it for the sake of the people. These are the things that critics do not see.
“There is only one very important duty of the President and that is ‘to serve and to protect the Filipino people.’ All provisions of the Constitution emanate from that,” Panelo said.
Panelo claimed critics wanted the administration to pursue an “aggressive and isolationist” policy that is “very dangerous” during these times.
“He (Duterte) just avoids forcing actions that will put the lives of Filipinos at risk. They are forcing him. He said ‘they are looking for trouble’,” he said.
Asked to react to former senatorial candidate Chel Diokno’s statement that the Chinese fishermen can be sanctioned under the Fisheries Code just by entering the Philippine EEZ, Panelo replied: “It’s just prima-facie. That means it is not yet a proof beyond reasonable doubt… for instance, in that Reed Bank incident, we do not know if they were fishing or just passing by.”
“They are also entitled to innocent passage right? That is precisely the reason why we want an investigation,” he added.
Panelo assured the public that violators of the Fisheries Code would be prosecuted.
“If it is unlawful for them to enter, we will enforce the law,” he said.
Wrong or right
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the possible impeachment complaint against Duterte over the fishing rights could be a good test case.
Sotto, however, refused to elaborate further, saying if the impeachment case prospers, the Senate will convene as an impeachment court.
“I cannot answer that question because if indeed, a case is filed against the President, we will be the impeachment court,” Sotto said. “Then it would be a very good test case. I suggest that they file an impeachment and see if they are right.”
Sen. Richard Gordon, for his part, said any impeachment complaint against the President over the issue is a waste of time.
“Don’t talk about impeachment, it is a classic divide and rule,” Gordon said.
Sotto, on the other hand, stressed the President is responsible for making his decisions.
“He’s the President. The buck stops with him. If it’s wrong or right, it’s his accountability. Perhaps, we’re only focusing on China and the controversies surrounding the area. That’s why there is a perspective different from the President’s coming from other quarters,” Sotto said in an interview with ANC.
Sotto said he doesn’t see any problem allowing Chinese fishermen in the Philippines’ EEZ as long as Filipino fishermen are also allowed to fish in their zones.
“But we must realize that there are fishermen from other countries there also. It is confined to Chinese fishermen. There are Vietnamese fishermen and there are Indonesian companies that ply the route,” he added.
“As long as we are also allowed to fish in their zones. And I don’t see anything wrong because they will treat us as friends likewise.”
At the same time, Sotto clarified his earlier statements that the “fish (catch) could be coming from China and the fish from the Philippines could be going to China.”
Sotto said his comment was a “tongue-in-cheek” statement that was misunderstood by many.
Foreign policy and friendship
Gordon called for a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) over the Recto Bank incident.
Gordon said foreign policy should not depend on friendships with other countries as regards sovereign rights.
“The President should now call for NSC regularly… we are always in this fight with the Chinese. The foreign policy and the defense of this country cannot depend on the personal friendship of the President. That is most welcome to be friends. But there are other issues to be considered,” Gordon said.
At the same time, Gordon advised other officials to stop making statements about the issue while top executives are finding a solution to the matter.
“If you keep talking while the negotiation is ongoing and if your position is to stand hard, it would be difficult change tack… The first thing that we should do is to shut up and call the NSC instead of talking and talking,” Gordon said.
Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Sato, meanwhile, called on the government to reveal the results of the investigation by the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) over the Recto Bank incident.
Sato said it has been a week since the report was submitted to Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade.
She said Tugade confirmed the investigation report was submitted to him after both agencies “wrapped up” their probe.
“We believe that it is to the interest of the Filipino people that we see that report, especially the findings and recommendations of the Marina and the Coast Guard,” Sato said.
“The priority should always be the Filipinos, our fishermen who were the victims in this incident. What really happened? We need to know. We call for the release of the report now,” Sato stressed.
Twenty-two Filipino crewmembers of Gem-Vir 1 were left floundering in the sea off Recto Bank, also known as Reed Bank, off Palawan after their fishing boat was hit by a Chinese vessel on June 9.
The Filipino fishermen were later rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.
They claimed the Chinese vessel intentionally hit their boat and abandoned them when Gem-Vir 1 began to sink.
The typically brash Duterte had urged calm on what he described as a “little maritime accident” in his efforts to soothe anger over the crash.
Critics have voiced anger over the Chinese trawler’s failure to rescue the 22 Filipino fishermen.
Opposition politicians as well as segments of the public and media charge that Duterte has bartered away Philippine sovereignty with little to show in return.
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