Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio acknowledged the conflict between the Philippine Constitution and international law on whether national territory included areas in the West Philippine Sea within 370 kilometers from the country’s coastline, referred to as the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
He admitted that the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) does not consider EEZs as part of a country’s national territory.
In case of conflict
But Carpio insisted that the 1987 Constitution must prevail over international law.
“The rule is, as repeatedly held by the Supreme Court, in case of conflict between our Constitution and international law, our Constitution will prevail, and this is what our government officials must follow,” Carpio stressed.
“Just because we do not have sovereignty, but only sovereign rights, in our EEZ does not mean we should not protect our EEZ. Sovereign rights are priceless, too; that is why the Constitution directs the state to protect its marine wealth in its EEZ,” he added.
He said the government could avoid conflict by classifying national territories into two: those over which the Philippines has sovereignty and those over which the Philippines has jurisdiction.
“In any case, the Philippines must defend both types of national territory because that is the mandate of the Constitution,” Carpio insisted.
The magistrate warned that President Duterte violated the Constitution by allowing Chinese fishers to trawl within the Philippines’ EEZ, including Recto Bank off Palawan province, where a Chinese vessel sank a Filipino fishing boat and abandoned its crew of 22 on June 9.
He said under the Constitution, national territory included the EEZ “because the Constitution defines our national territory to include ‘other submarine areas’ over which the Philippines has ‘sovereignty or jurisdiction.’”
However, “international law does not recognize [a country’s] sovereignty beyond the 12-nautical-mile territorial sea,” Carpio added.
Under the UNCLOS, having sovereign rights over an area does not confer sovereignty.
While the Unclos recognizes a state’s sovereignty or exclusive legal authority over its internal waters and territorial seas, it also accepts a state’s “sovereign rights” to its EEZ to explore, exploit or manage the natural resources in the area “such as the production of energy from the water, currents, and winds.”
Carpio cited Section 2, Article XII of the 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 the exclusive sovereign right to exploit all the fish, oil, gas, and other mineral resources in its economic zone. This sovereign right belongs to the Filipino people, and no government official can waive this sovereign right of the Filipino people without their consent,” he stressed.
Carpio said the July 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague declared Recto Bank part of the Philippines’ EEZ.