MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Leila de Lima on Thursday questioned the need for President Rodrigo Duterte to go to China and ask for permission to access the Scarborough Shoal, which is also called Panatag and Bajo de Masinloc.
According to de Lima, the Philippines does need to ask for China’s permission since an international arbitral tribunal ruled that Scarborough Shoal is a traditional fishing grounds for Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese fishermen as well as those from other countries. China has rejected the ruling and the arbitration case that the Philippines filed in 2013.
“May common rights to really fish and to utilize, exploit the resources in the Scarborough Shoal,” she said at a press forum at the Senate on Thursday.
The Philippine government has held that the shoal is “an integral part of the Philippine territory” under Masinloc town in Zambales. It is is within the country’s 200-km Exclusive Economic Zone. China has had de facto control of the shoal since 2012 after a standoff between Philippine and Chinese vessels there.
De Lima said that instead of rallying and soliciting support from the international community, the president is doing the opposite by “trying to dilute, if not weaken, the import and significance of that ruling.”
The senator gave her unsolicited advice to the president to be careful with his pronouncements, moves, and actions, as there is jurisprudence.
“Pronouncements by officials, state officials, particularly the head of state himself can be binding,” de Lima said.
De Lima also warned that there are consequences, and that Duterte may be held accountable under the Constitution.
De Lima added that Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio already warned the president about it, and said that she completely agrees.
“He certainly knows what he is talking about and I agree with him completely,” she said. Duterte has also acknowledged that Carpio is right and said that he is not giving up Philippine territory.
De Lima said that the Philippines is now in the period of enforcement and assertion of the ruling, and that there should already be concrete moves and actions on how to assert the right of the Philippines recognized by the Arbirtal Tribunal.
The Philippines and China have agreed to hold bilateral talks on the sea dispute.