Tolentino insists Duterte-Xi fishing deal 'valid' without knowing what it's about

MANILA, Philippines – Neophyte Senator Francis Tolentino on Monday, July 29, asserted the validity of the supposed fishing deal between China and the Philippines without Senate concurrence even if he does not know yet the contents of the deal. 

The fishing deal in the West Philippine Sea was purportedly entered into by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte with Chinese President Xi Jinping "verbally."

Tolentino argued that Duterte can enter into executive deals with other nations, as there are "no restrictions" on the form of international agreements.

"President Duterte can validly enter into legally-binding international verbal agreements with other states, for and behalf of the Philippines. Under international law, states must honor the commitments it takes upon itself under international agreements and treaties, for use of its execution, which maybe written, oral, or implied," Tolentino said in his speech.

"These executive agreements, with due respect, do not require Senate concurrence," he added.

But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon pointed out that to start discussions on the validity of the fishing deal, the Senate "must know" what's in the deal. Asked what exactly the deal was about, Tolentino could not answer.

"I don't have in my possession the contents of the alleged verbal agreement…nor have the capacity to secure the agreements coming from the President," said Tolentino, who admitted that he also relied on media reports.

While Tolentino, a Duterte ally, insisted that there is no law that requires the President to put the fishing deal in writing, Drilon suggested for the Senate to issue a subpoena to the Department of Foreign Affairs to inform the chamber about the deal.

"The Congress and its committees [have the power] to issue a subpoena [as] this is a legitimate inquiry brought up by the gentleman from Cavite (Tolentino) himself. An inquiry is perfectly within the bounds of the Senate," Drilon said.

"In my view, if the agreement seeks to change certain domestic laws, then you need the ratification of the President and the concurrence of the Senate," the minority leader said.

Tolentino's privilege speech came after Duterte used his SONA to "educate" people about the constitutionality of the supposed agreement.

Duterte earlier said that he had entered into a verbal deal with Xi in which he allowed Chinese fishermen to access the Recto Bank off Palawan. This, he said, was in exchange for Filipinos' access to the Scarborough Shoal.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said that while verbal international deals can happen, albeit "very rarely," such deals must pass Senate scrutiny and ratification before it could be implemented

Carpio had earlier said the deal "is so lopsided it should be rejected by the Philippine government."

The Scarborough Shoal is a common fishing ground, as declared by the 2016 Hague ruling. The Reed Bank, meanwhile, is within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone where where Filipinos have exclusive rights. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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