The 2016 arbitral ruling that upheld the Philippines' claims in the West Philippine Sea provided for traditional fishing rights for several countries in the Panatag Shoal, or Scarborough Shoal, but only Filipinos may fish in its exclusive economic zone.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales made the remark in a joint statement after President Rodrigo Duterte in his State of the Nation Address said that the ruling provided for traditional fishing rights for countries around the South China Sea.
"The West Philippine Sea belongs exclusively to Filipinos, not to China. We must stop giving China primacy over that of our own people. When will Filipinos be first and not last, in our own country?" Del Rosario and Carpio-Morales said in a joint statement.
They said that no presidential agreement with China or any other country could override the explicit constitutional mandate that the “use and enjoyment” of the country's EEZ is “reserved… exclusively to Filipino citizens.”
"The agreement between President Duterte and China is therefore illegal, null and void," they said.
"Unless the Constitution is amended, no public official has the authority to grant foreigners fishing rights in our EEZ," they added.
In his annual state of the nation address before a joint session of Congress on Monday, Duterte defended his non-confrontational policy towards China.
"I was invoking 'yung traditional fishing rights. It is in that arbitral ruling. Ayaw lang ninyong gustong tignan," Duterte said.
"It is mentioned there that even before countries were in existence, people around an ocean or a lake had already been fishing there for generations," he added.
Duterte said this was the reason why fishing rights were allowed "in the so many cases between Finland and Germany, decided by [the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] and the International Law of the Seas.
"China and everybody recognizes traditional fishing rights for the natives who were there even before the creation of republics and governments. That law is a humane law," Duterte said.
Del Rosario and Morales said that while the 2016 ruling designated Panatag as a traditional fishing ground where Filipinos, Chinese and other nearby nationalities could fish, the fishing rights did not cover the entire exclusive zone of the Philippines, where only Filipinos were entitled to fish.
They called out President Rodrigo Duterte for entering into a "secret" fishing agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2016, giving China rights to fish within the country's EEZ following threats of war.
"A crucial question is: why was this agreement secret and hidden from the Filipino people for nearly three years?" they said.
"The answer can only be that this agreement manifestly contravenes our fundamental law – the Constitution," they added.
Coastal nations have the right to explore, manage and exploit resources as well as undersea oil and gas deposits within their EEZ, which covers 200 nautical miles from their shores.
Duterte, who decided to shelve the 2016 arbitration ruling that disregarded Beijing's massive sea claims, has been criticized for his friendly overtures to China despite its aggressive actions and efforts to drive Filipinos away from their own waters in the West Philippine Sea.
The Scarborough Shoal is located 124 nautical miles off the nearest Philippine landmass - Palawan, and 472 nautical miles from China’s nearest coastal province of Hainan.
The tribunal in The Hague ruled that no country could claim sovereign rights over the shoal, as it was a traditional fishing ground for Filipino, Vietnamese and Chinese fishermen. China has refused to recognize the ruling. — DVM/NB, GMA News