SUPREME COURT Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio said allowing Chinese fishermen to trawl in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is unconstitutional.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, Mr. Carpio said the Constitution mandates the state to protect the nation’s wealth in its EEZ for exclusive use of Filipinos.

“This means that the Philippine Government cannot allow Chinese fishermen to fish in our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea. This also means that the ‘use and enjoyment’ of the fish in our EEZ is reserved exclusively to Filipinos,” he said.

Article 12, Sec. 2 of the Constitution reads: “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.”

Mr. Carpio also again cited the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration under the United Nations, which ruled with finality that the country has jurisdiction over its EEZ in the West Philippine Sea, including the Reed Bank

“The Philippines has exclusive sovereign right to exploit all the fish, oil, gas and other mineral resources in its Exclusive 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 said.

Mr. Carpio noted that President Rodrigo R. Duterte, as the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, has the “constitutional duty to direct the Armed Forces to protect the nation’s marine wealth in its Exclusive Economic Zone.”

The statement of the SC justice came after Mr. Duterte on Monday said China could fish within the country’s EEZ given the friendly ties between the two countries.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo, in a press briefing on Tuesday, explained that the President’s statement means “parang ito-tolerate mo lang, hindi (you will just kind of tolerate, not) necessarily grant” fishing rights.

He added that he will ask Mr. Duterte if his statement is actually a “policy statement.” — Vann Marlo M. Villegas