Want to challenge PH foreign policy? Become president first, Calida says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 15) — The government’s top lawyer poses a challenge to anyone who dares to contest the Philippines’ foreign policy under President Rodrigo Duterte: Become president first.

“Under our laws and Constitution, the chief architect of foreign policy is President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and not any interloper who probably wants to be president,” Calida told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Monday. “He should be president before he contests what the chief architect of foreign policy is doing.”

This was also echoed by Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who said, "Kung pagpipilitan ng mga kritiko 'yung kanilang gusto, eh siguro sa susunod na halalan, tumakbo silang presidente para 'pag sila na ang presidente, lahat ng gusto nila pwede nilang gawin kung sila na rin ang chief architect."

[Translation: If the critics would insist on what they want, then maybe they should run for president in the next elections so that when they become president, everything that they want, they can do if they are also the chief architect.]

Panelo added that Duterte has studied the situation and opted for the "safest" and "smartest" option.

Calida also stressed that the government has been doing enough to safeguard the West Philippine Sea, a portion of the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines.

The Constitution does not explicitly say that the president is the chief architect of foreign policy, but this has been held by the Supreme Court in several rulings about the chief executive's power to enter into agreements with other countries.

Duterte has been repeatedly hit for his pivot to China and his unassertive stance on the landmark arbitral ruling that invalidated the Asian giant’s sweeping claims over virtually the entire South China Sea and held that it violated the Philippines’ exclusive rights over features within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Among the chief critics of the Duterte administration’s stance toward China amid its encroachment in Philippine waters is Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who, on the anniversary of the ruling, said the Philippines under him has done nothing to enforce the award and even risked losing it because of his pronouncements.

In a speech before graduating students of the Ateneo de Manila University Law School, Carpio also enumerated several ways in which the country can enforce the arbitral award without ever going to war, as Duterte repeatedly warned. This was thumbed down by Malacañang, saying all of these options has been considered by the President.

Other active critics include former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who filed with the International Criminal Court a complaint against Chinese President Xi Jinping and two other top Chinese officials for crimes against humanity for the “near-permanent” environmental destruction in the West Philippine Sea.

Del Rosario and Morales’ complaint also reference the 2016 arbitral ruling.

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, meanwhile, has called on the government to do more about China’s presence in the West Philippine Sea, even going as far as suggesting that the Philippines invoke its defense treaty with the U.S.

Defeated senatorial candidate Chel Diokno is leading a legal team from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines which represents fishermen in a case that wants the Supreme Court to order the government to protect sea features which the arbitral ruling said is within the country’s EEZ.

READ: SolGen says lawyers of fishermen in writ of kalikasan case may face disbarment

Some legal experts have also warned that Duterte risks getting impeached by entering into a deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping which allows Chinese fishermen into Recto Bank, a sea feature within the country’s EEZ, in exchange for Filipino fishermen going back to Scarborough Shoal.

Duterte has said that he will use his upcoming State of the Nation Address as a venue to prove that this deal is constitutional — a move which Carpio has warned against as this may legitimize the verbal deal and end up becoming binding on the Philippines.

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent Ina Andolong contributed to this report.