The Philippines can still assert its sovereign rights over its territories in the South China Sea without going to war, retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Tuesday.
"Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia are asserting their sovereign rights to their maritime zones against China’s claims," Carpio said in reaction to President Rodrigo Duterte’s remarks during his fifth State of the Nation Address on Monday.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. asked the United States Embassy in the Philippines to rectify its statement that referred to Sabah as part of Malaysia in a Twitter post about Filipino repatriates.
“Sabah is not in Malaysia if you want to have anything to do with the Philippines,” Locsin said on his Twitter account. “You better edit that announcement if you know what’s good for you.”
Locsin made the statement after US Embassy tweeted about the US Agency for International Development (USAID) donation of hygiene kits to the Zamboanga Peninsula office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
The hygiene kits were meant for use by Filipinos who came from Sabah. The US Embassy has not yet issued a statement on the matter, despite requests from reporters.
The Philippines has a long-standing claim over Sabah, the northern part of Borneo Island, which started during the term of President Diosdado Macapagal.
Manila’s claim is anchored on the Sultanate of Sulu’s assertion of ownership over the northern part of Sabah. Several historians believe the former Sultan of Sulu was gifted with the land in exchange for helping the Sultan of Brunei defeat his adversaries.
But Malaysia insists that the land, then occupied by the British empire, was rightfully ceded to them as Spain transferred part of the property of the Sultanate of Sulu to the British under the Madrid Protocol in the 1880s.
Malaysia currently has administrative control over the disputed the land.
Malacañang recently asserted ownership of Sabah despite Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s saying that the Philippines had no claim in the area.
On Duterte's SONA remarks, Carpio says these countries have not gone to war against China, and neither has China gone to war against them.
The President said Monday the government was doing everything to protect the Philippines' rights in the South China Sea, but added he could not go to war against China.
A maritime expert, meanwhile, said Duterte's "defeatist" statement on the Philippines' maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea undermined the improved positions espoused by Manila's foreign and defense ministries.
“Yesterday’s SONA practically brings us back to pre-2019. It’s like we’re back there before instead of reinforcing the little improvements that were made last year in terms of our posture and position,” Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, told ABS-CBN News.
Duterte said during his speech that he was "inutile" and "cannot do anything" against Beijing's pursuit of territory and resources in the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Manila.
Carpio agreed with Duterte that war with China was not an option, but insisted "there are lawful and peaceful means of asserting sovereign rights."
"War is not an option because the UN Charter outlaws resorts to war to settle territorial or maritime disputes. Moreover, the Philippine Constitution renounces war as an instrument of national policy, which means the Philippines cannot go to war to enforce the arbitral ruling" rejecting China’s claims in the South China Sea, he said.
Carpio was referring to the Philippines' 2016 legal victory over the case it filed against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, when the tribunal invalidated Beijing’s nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea and upheld Manila’s exclusive economic zone, including the West Philippine Sea.
Carpio also disputed Duterte's claim that China had "possession" of the country's exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
"Naval powers like the US, UK, France, Australia, Japan and Canada regularly sail in our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea, proving that China is not in possession of our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea," Carpio said.
"The President should not say that China is in possession of our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea because factually China is not in possession.”