Contrary to President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim, China is not in possession of the South China Sea, acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said Friday.
Speaking before a conference of doctors at the Philippine International Convention Center, Carpio said China does not and cannot possess the South China Sea as the President said during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Singapore this week.
China is in physical possession of the entire Paracels, seven geologic features in the Spratlys, and Scarborough Shoal. These geologic features, and their territorial seas, constitute less than 8 percent of the total area of the South China Sea. Factually, China is not in possession of the South China Sea, said Carpio, who has been advocating the Philippines’ territorial jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea.
The country’s top magistrate emphasized that about 25 percent of the South China Sea is composed of high seas, which no state can possess under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea because they “belong to all mankind.”
“Under UNCLOS, there is freedom of navigation and overflight in the high seas for all nations,” he said.
Carpio reiterated his position that the Philippines has sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zones in the West Philippine Sea, which is part of South China Sea.
“If China can possess the South China Sea, then the Philippines cannot exercise its exclusive sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.
Under UNCLOS, there is also freedom of navigation and overflight in the EEZs (exclusive economic zones) for all nations,” the acting chief justice said.
“Like all other coastal states in the world, the Philippines under UNCLOS has exclusive sovereign rights to explore and exploit the natural resources in its EEZ in the West Philippine Sea, which is part of the South China Sea,” Carpio said.
During the ASEAN summit earlier this week, Duterte was quoted as saying that “China is already in possession [of the South China Sea]. It’s now in their hands.”
The President said this as he called on the United States and other countries to just accept this “reality” and avoid creating “friction” that could lead to full-scale military confrontation.
Carpio recently said that he would not change his stance on the territorial dispute against China in his bid for the top judicial post.
He said he would maintain his position, which is contrary to that of the administration, which has opted not to protest China’s incursions into disputed areas of the South China Sea.
He said he would not sacrifice his advocacy in the West Philippine Sea, which he considers more important than being selected as the next chief justice.
“The President has the prerogative to appoint whoever he wants and I will respect that. But that will not stop me from continuing my advocacy because for me this is more important than anything else,” he said in an interview.
Carpio is one of the five nominees for the top Supreme Court post vacated by the retirement last month of chief justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and is expected to be considered for the position due to the President’s pronouncement that he respects seniority in appointing the chief justice.
The other four nominees are Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Estela Perlas - Bernabe and Andres Reyes Jr.
Earlier, Carpio called on the Duterte administration to file new protest against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration over the harassment of Filipino fishermen by Chinese Coast Guard in the Scarborough Shoal off Zambales province.