FACT CHECK South China Sea: Waters of Contention

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Sotto wrong in saying it’s ‘difficult’ to claim exclusivity in PH EEZ

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III is wrong in claiming that it is “very difficult” to determine the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).


In an interview with ANC on June 26, Sotto weighed in on calls for President Rodrigo Duterte’s impeachment, after the chief executive said he will allow China to fish in the country’s EEZ — a violation of the Constitution. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Allowing China to fish in PH EEZ violates Constitution, local laws)

Sotto said:

“Then it would be a very good test case. I suggest that they file an impeachment and let’s see if they’re right. It’s very difficult to say that there is exclusivity when it’s underwater. The fish could be coming from China and the fish from the Philippines could be going to China.”

Source: ABS-CBN News, Sotto sees no problem with allowing Chinese fishers in PH waters | ANC, June 26, 2019, watch from 2:23 to 2:49

After receiving flak, Sotto clarified that his comment was made “tongue in cheek.”


Contrary to Sotto’s claim, the Philippines, through Republic Act 9522 or the Philippine Archipelagic Baselines Law, has already defined the areas in which it has “dominion, sovereignty and jurisdiction.”

The law establishes the country’s baselines, which were used to map out its EEZ.

Screenshot from The Philippines’ Memorial – Volume I, which was used in its arbitration case against China on the South China Sea at the Permanent Court of Arbitration

An EEZ is an area beyond and adjacent to its territorial sea, which may not extend beyond 200 nautical miles from the baseline of a coastal State.

The map was included as a reference in one of the Philippines’ submissions in its winning case against China on the South China Sea territorial dispute at the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a coastal State like the Philippines, has exclusive or sovereign rights over its EEZ:

“…for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superadjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds.”

Article XII, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution mandates the State to “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.”



ABS-CBN News, Sotto sees no problem with allowing Chinese fishers in PH waters | ANC, June 26, 2019

Official Gazette, RA 9522, Sponsorship speech on The 2009 Baselines Bill, Jan. 27, 2009

Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Philippines’ Memorial – Volume I (p. 47), March 30, 2014

Permanent Court of Arbitration, South China Sea Arbitration Award, July 12, 2016

United Nations, UNCLOS Part V: Exclusive Economic Zone

United Nations, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

Official Gazette, 1987 Constitution

ABS-CBN News, Sotto defends ‘tongue in cheek’ remark on Chinese, PH fish, June 27, 2019, My views on West PH Sea row were just ‘tongue in cheek’ — Sotto, June 27, 2019, Passport for fishes? Netizens poke fun at Sotto’s fish remark, June 28, 2019


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)