Allow China to fish in PH waters? Panelo cites UNCLOS but forgets Constitution

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo pointed to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to prove the Philippines may allow other countries, like China, to fish in its waters.

However, Panelo failed to mention that the Philippines’ own Constitution, forbids this. 

Sinasabi ni Presidente na even under the UNCLOS eh puwede tayong magbigay ng pribilehiyo sa mga ibang bansa na mag-fish sa lugar ng EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone),” said Panelo on Wednesday, June 26, in an interview on radio station dzMM. 

(The President said that even under the UNCLOS, we can give privileges to other countries to fish in the EEZ.) 

This comes after Panelo interpreted Duterte as saying last Monday, June 24, that China should be allowed to fish within the Philippines’ EEZ because “we’re friends.” 

Panelo went on to say that Duterte likely feels he should be generous to China because Beijing has given the Philippines grants and loans.

"Kumbaga, meron tayong pakinabang sa kanila. Baka sa punto ni Presidente eh magbigay din tayo ng konti sa kanila. Parang ganoon ang dating sa akin sa mga sinabi ni Presidente," he said.

(In other words, we are benefiting from them, maybe the point of the President is we should also give a little to them. That's what I think the President is saying.)

What does UNCLOS say? The UNCLOS, an international treaty that defines the rights and responsibilities of nations when using the world’s oceans, does allow a country to permit other countries to fish in its waters. 

It could “give other States access to the surplus of the allowable catch,” according to Article 62.

However, this would only happen when “the coastal State does not have the capacity to harvest the entire allowable catch.” UNCLOS also says any permission granted to another country should be given “through agreements or other arrangements and pursuant to the terms, conditions, laws and regulations” of the convention.

It further says that the other country has to abide by the laws of the country allowing access to its EEZ.

“Nationals of other States fishing in the exclusive economic zone shall comply with the conservation measures and with the other terms and conditions established in the laws and regulations of the coastal State,” reads item 4 of Article 62.

This would include the Philippines’ Fisheries Code which penalizes foreign vessels for merely being present in Philippine waters. 

What does Philippine Constitution say? Panelo though glossed over the fact that the 1987 Constitution expressly states that natural resources in the EEZ are for the benefit of Filipinos only.

Article 12 of the Constitution says: “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.”

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, said allowing Chinese to fish in the EEZ is a breach of the Constitution, which all presidents are bound to protect.

"The Philippine government cannot allow Chinese fishermen to fish in Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea because it will violate the Constitution,” he said in a statement.

Panelo, on Wednesday, said Filipinos should trust that all Duterte's decisions are consistent with the Constitution.

"They should have faith in the President because his actions, all the steps he is taking, is according to the Constitution, to give protection to the Filipino nation and serve it," said Panelo in Filipino. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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