MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A national policy cannot be based on a mere verbal agreement, Senator Panfilo Lacson said on Tuesday, July 2, referring to the so-called fishing deal in the West Philippine Sea entered into by President Rodrigo Duterte with China.
"Is that verbal agreement already part of our national policy? Is it being carried out? It is my humble view that it is not," Lacson said in a statement.
"Why? There is no showing that the Department of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Department of National Defense, are implementing that so-called verbal agreement," he added.
Duterte said on June 26 that he can't ban Chinese fishermen from fishing in Philippine waters, because of an "agreement" he reached with Chinese President Xi Jinping in a meeting in 2016.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo has been echoing that statement – infuriating Lacson.
"Maybe our problem is, we have a spokesman who talks more than he should," Lacson said. "He telegraphs every move and every plan that the executive has on issues that need a little diligence and study.
But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon believes that the verbal deal carries some weight in public debates, but Beijing will not invoke it if Chinese fishermen are caught in the Philippine exclusive economic zone.
"[China] will claim that they exercise sovereignty over (where they fish)," the minority leader said.
In that case, there's basis to impeach Duterte, according to detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima.
But Drilon conceded that it would be hard to pin down the President in any formal proceeding, precisely because of the absence of any document about such an agreement.
"The President's mind as a lawyer and as a prosecutor is working. Tell me, if it is a ground for impeachment, how do you prove a verbal agreement? In this case, the primary evidence would either be a document signed or a verbal testimony. There is no document," Drilon told reporters on Tuesday.
The Duterte administration has responded to the incident in tentative and confusing ways – ranging from being dismissive about it, to slamming to China, to saying it can fish in Philippine waters, to proposing a third party to help investigate what happened.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio insisted that China can't fish in the Philippines, saying that to allow them do so violates the Constitution.
The Recto Bank is recognized as part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ), when the Philippines won against China in the dispute over the West Philippine Sea.