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Commentary

Uphold the 1987 Constitution

Never in the history of our country has a President disrespected the Philippine Constitution in a manner so shameful and shocking.

Words do matter, and President Duterte’s depiction of the fundamental law of the land as worthless in the face of foreign power betrays a defeatist attitude that accepts the logic of the lawless that might is right. This is both inexcusable and unforgivable.

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The President has undermined our citizens’ faith in our Constitution, the bedrock of our democracy and our democratic institutions. He has compromised the rule of law. He has betrayed the public trust.

Take these instances of the President’s abdication of his responsibility to protect the interests of our people:

Failure to advance our 2016 victory in Philippines versus China. On July 12, 2016, we won a landmark ruling under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea upholding our exclusive rights over Philippine waters against China’s all-encompassing and illegal “nine-dash line” doctrine. The Duterte administration, by its words and actions, has miserably failed to advance the gains we achieved in that historic victory. Worse, it has in fact undermined that victory by failing to protect our fisherfolk, marine resources and national territory.

Inability to implement the Philippine fisheries law. The executive department demonstrated its inability to implement our laws by refusing to take action as required by Republic Act No. 8550, as amended by RA 10654, or the Philippine fisheries law. We have an existing legal framework creating rights and responsibilities that mandate every administration to protect and police our waters and punish violators, particularly those who transgress our borders. Yet, the Duterte administration has either refused to implement our own laws or been remiss in its duties. Instead of a robust diplomatic initiative, this administration has sold our interests short by strangely invoking China’s nuclear capability as its rationale for its policy of submission and inaction. Its inability to protect 22 Filipinos in Recto Bank endangers all Filipino fisherfolk.

Entering into an agreement over the country’s marine wealth with another country without notifying Congress. The President demonstrated his disdain for our Constitution by invoking a supposed verbal agreement with China as justification for allowing Chinese fishermen to poach in our waters, in violation of Article XII of our Constitution (National Economy and Patrimony) and the treaty powers of Congress.

Article VII, Section 21 states: “No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.”

The Constitution is clear, and both the President and his spokespersons have tied themselves in knots explaining away their rationale for allowing China to fish in Philippine waters. Their argument that the agreement is “verbal yet binding” is patently incompatible with our Constitution.

This illegal and unfair bargain threatens our territory and goes against the Constitution’s policy to promote an independent foreign policy.

Betrayal of public trust. The President, more pointedly, has betrayed public trust by not protecting the country’s marine wealth for the exclusive use of Filipinos, as mandated by our Constitution.

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Our scientists from the UP Marine Science Institute has warned that the West Philippine Sea, which covers 40 percent of our exclusive economic zone, is vital to our economic, ecological and food security. Our short- and long-term national interest requires that we protect the marine life in our waters and conserve their habitat and ecosystem. Irresponsible inaction undermines our capacity to exercise responsible stewardship over these resources, to the detriment of the rights of future generations of Filipinos.

The pattern, method and unrestrained ways of fishing and exploitation exercised by China in our waters has, according to the Marine Science Institute, caused severe damage to the complex marine biodiversity in our waters. This was the same finding of the arbitral tribunal at The Hague that awarded us the victory in 2016. Our scientists have noted the continued “decline in the country’s fisheries output.” This drain on our marine resources threatens the country’s food security. The government’s policy to set aside our legal rights is an abdication of its responsibility to protect our marine resources.

Finally, Article XI of the Constitution (Accountability of Public Officers) gives Filipinos and their representatives the right to file a verified complaint for impeachment. The President’s threat, whether real or a  bluff, to jail those who attempt to impeach him is an illegal impediment to the exercise of constitutional rights, and sends a chilling effect that compounds the climate of fear already experienced by our citizens.

Ed Garcia is one of the framers of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Florin T. Hilbay, former Solicitor General and agent of the Philippine Republic in Philippines v. China, taught Constitutional Law at UP Law.

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