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Editorial

Trashing the Constitution

/ 05:07 AM July 02, 2019

Hearing the “i” word last week sent President Duterte into a fit of cussing frenzy that included a threat to “jail them all” who would try to impeach him. “You scare me with impeachment, son of a bitch, just try doing it … Just try me. If you are a man and you are brave and have balls, do it, son of a bitch,” the President railed.

The cardiac-inducing reaction was, however, a firestorm entirely of his own making.

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Upping his defense of China over the Recto Bank incident, Mr. Duterte pronounced on Monday that he could not bar Chinese fishermen from the West Philippine Sea, as he didn’t think China would allow it. Moreover, he said, he would allow China to fish in Philippine waters because “we’re friends.”

Even against the context of Mr. Duterte’s reflex praise for and defense of China and its actions in the last three years, the remarks represented a startling new low — the kind of unabashed, abject surrender to a foreign power that was met with disbelief by a nation already made wary of China’s intentions and the President’s unmistakable docility to Beijing.

The next day, Mr. Duterte went further by revealing that, during his first visit to Beijing in 2016, he struck a deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping to allow Chinese fishermen to fish in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea — a deal that had not been previously disclosed. What are the terms of this deal? Malacañang has released not one official detail of the supposed agreement.

Allowing China access to the Philippines’ EEZ is a clear violation of the Constitution, as a broad cross section of the political class, including respected jurists, constitutionalists and academic experts, was quick to remind the President.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio pointed to Article 12, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution: “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.”

“The Philippines has exclusive sovereign right to exploit all the fish, oil, gas and other mineral resources in its [EEZ],” Carpio said. “This sovereign right belongs to the Filipino people and no government official can waive this sovereign right of the Filipino people without their consent.”

Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, maritime law professor Jay Batongbacal and former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario — who, together with Carpio and officials of the Aquino administration, filed a successful arbitration case against China in 2013 — were also among those who lined up against any deal that would hand China entry to the Philippines’ EEZ.

But Mr. Duterte, rather than finding the statesman in him and deploying his vaunted ballsiness to fight for Philippine interests against China’s encroachments, once again chose the easy way out — by turning on his own countrymen.

He called the respected Carpio “buang” (stupid), threatened to jail anyone who entertained thoughts of impeaching him for his increasingly treacherous foreign policy, and, most shockingly, rejected the Constitution that barred him from sharing the country’s resources with Beijing, describing the constitutional prohibition as for the “thoughtless and the senseless.”

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If he brandished the Philippine Constitution before his Chinese friends, Mr. Duterte said, the Chinese would just tell him to use the document as toilet paper.

What was Mr. Duterte’s oath of office again in 2016 — his commitment to the nation before he could become President?

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties as President of the Philippines, preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation.”

Trashing his own Constitution on behalf of the Chinese government is a profound disservice to the Filipino people who ordained the basic law of the republic under which he was elected, and who gave him the mandate to serve and protect them under that very Charter.

Mr. Duterte has no authority outside of the 1987 Constitution to make secret deals abdicating Philippine territory, much less allowing foreign nations to disrespect the Philippines’ fundamental law as mere “toilet paper.”

For him to disregard all that — to assert the Chinese position in the face of his countrymen’s anger over a bully neighbor’s repeated acts of aggression, instead of standing by his fellow Filipinos and standing up for the Constitution he had vowed to “preserve and defend” — is betrayal of the highest order.

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, impeachment, Inquirer editorial, Maritime Dispute, PH-China relations, Recto Bank incident, Reed Bank incident, Rodrigo Duterte, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea
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