Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Harry L. Roque defended the President on Thursday, March 1, on the latter’s ‘co-ownership’ remark on China and the Philippines’ possible joint exploration in the disputed South China Sea, saying it is “not a betrayal of public trust.”

“President just wanted to explain that joint exploration and exploitation will be undertaken by both Philippine and Chinese nationals. Now having said that, you know, ownership is not material here because really the areas that may be subjected to joint development is EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), where we only exercise sovereign rights. So let’s not talk about ownership, because a sovereign right is different from title,” Mr. Roque said in a press briefing at the Palace on Thursday, March 1.

Former Solicitor General Florin T. Hilbay, said in social media post on Wednesday night that Mr. Duterte’s latest pronouncement is “a clear example of impeachable offenses involving culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.”

“The West Philippine Sea is exclusively ours under the Constitution and the decision in Philippines v. China. He’s giving it away,” Mr. Hilbay added.

When asked to comment, Mr. Roque argued that it was not an act of betrayal of public trust. “But he’s free to file an impeachment complaint,” he added.

As for Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio’s opinion that it is against the constitution to liken the joint exploration in South China Sea to ‘co-ownership’, Mr. Roque said: “Again, Justice Carpio dissented [what] was the minority view in La Bugal. The existing jurisprudence is ‘yes,’ we can enter into joint exploration and joint exploitation with foreign entities provided that it complies with the Constitution among others. It [should] be pursuant to a written agreement signed by the President and submitted to Congress.”

“That’s the majority [decision] and the jurisprudence in La Bugal versus Secretary of Environment and Resources,” he added.