MALACAÑANG on Thursday, June 27, said the position taken by President Rodrigo Duterte on Chinese fishing activities in the disputed sea is not an impeachable offense as alleged by critics.
"Ano ba ang nakalagay sa ano? Culpable violation of Constitution? Ano? Like what? Bribery, wala. Graft and corruption, high crimes? Ano 'yun? Ano ang ginawa niya (What does the Constitution say? Culpable violation of Constitution? What? Like what? Bribery, there is none. Graft and corruption, high crimes? What? What did he commit)?" said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
He challenged the President's critics to file an impeachment case against Duterte.
"Under the Constitution, merong provisions on impeachment. Kung naniniwala sila na may ginawa siyang impeachable ground, eh 'di mag-file (If they believe that he committed an impeachable ground, they should file a case)," he said.
"But you cannot stop the President from doing measures, steps that to his mind is the correct way to obey the constitutional command to him to protect and to serve the Filipino people," Panelo added.
For now, Panelo maintained that Duterte is just being careful in dealing with China to avoid a possible situaton that "will reap danger and put the lives of hundred plus million Filipinos on the edge."
He assured that the policy of Duterte's administration is to "enforce the law" if China is proven to have committed violations.
"We will enforce the law kung may violation (if there is a violation)," he said. "If it's unlawful for them to enter [the Philippine waters], then we will enforce the law."
Section 91 of Republic Act 10654 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 provides that, "It shall be unlawful for any foreign person, corporation or entituy to fish or operate any fishing vessel in Philippine waters."
Panelo also reiterated that the government would hold accountable the crew of the Chinese vessel that rammed and sank a Filipino fishing boat anchored near Recto Bank if investigation shows that the Chinese were fishing in Philippine waters.
"Ang problema kasi nga hindi pa natin alam. Siguro 'pag meron ng findings at wala tayong ginawa, iyan, you can pounce on this government. Eh kung wala pa ngang nangyayari, nagco-conjecture lang tayo. Hintayin na natin," he said.
(The problem is we don't know the facts yet. If the findings are already out and we do nothing, you can pounce on this government. As of the moment, let's just wait because the investigation is still ongoing.)
"Basta kapag may nag-violate (If they violate), we will prosecute," he added.
Duterte earned public backlash after he said on Wednesday, June 26, that he would allow the Chinese fishermen to fish in the Philippine waters in accordance with his deal with China President Xi Jinping.
The President said: "Nag-tanong sila (They asked), 'Will you allow the Chinese to fish? Sabi ko (I said), 'Of course. Yan ang pinag-usapan namin noon, kaya tayo nag-uusap eh (That was our deal, that's why we're talking.)"
"And that's why we were allowed to fish again. It was a mutual agreement. Sige, bigayan tayo. Fish ka doon, fish ako dito (We both agreed to allow each other to fish in the disputed waters)," he added.
In a statement Thursday, Panelo clarified that what the President meant was that China would not allow its citizens to fish in Philippine waters because Manila and Beijing are friends.
Duterte and Xi discussed Filipinos' fishing rights in the disputed Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal back in 2016. The two leaders, however, have not signed an agreement.
Panelo said he is not aware of the full scope of Duterte and Xi's agreement on fishing activities in the disputed sea. (SunStar Philippines)