China will ignore all diplomatic protests filed against its aggressive behavior in the South China Sea because they run counter to its objective of establishing its national boundary based on its excessive nine-dash line claims, retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio said Friday.
“China’s objective is to seize all islands and waters within the nine-dash line, making the nine-dash line China’s national boundary in the South China Sea,” Carpio said in a text message to Manila Standard.
“Everything that China is doing in the South China Sea is towards this objective. Naturally, China will not listen to diplomatic protests from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia that will detract China from realizing this objective,” he said.
Carpio was reacting to China’s apparent lack of action on the series of diplomatic protests filed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) over the presence of more than 240 Chinese militia vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef, as well the swarming of other features and islands in the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Asked on what strategy the Philippines should take to effectively stop Beijing’s grand plan in the South China Sea, the retired SC magistrate proposed that Manila should join the freedom of navigation operations with the United States and other allies in the West Philippine Sea.
“Join the FONOPS (freedom of navigation operations) of the US and its allies in the WPS,” Carpio said.
He also suggested that the Philippines should hold joint patrols with other claimant-nations aimed at showing China that its nine-dash line claims cannot intrude on their respective exclusive economic zones.
“Conduct joint patrols with Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia in each other’s EEZ to show China that its nine-dash line cannot encroach on their respective EEZs,” Carpio said.
Carpio earlier warned that the Philippines will lose maritime territory larger than the country’s total land mass if it loses its exclusive economic zone to China.
Carpio said the country would lose 80 percent of its EEZ if it will not challenge China’s aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea.
“They will get everything within the nine-dash line. That means they will get 80 percent of our economic zone,” he said, noting that this would be a maritime area “larger than our total land area.”
Carpio suggested that the government should adopt the following strategy to protect the country’s maritime territory in the West Philippine Sea. “First, legal fight through arbitration. Second, we have to strengthen our alliance. Third, we have to strengthen our self defense,” he said.
Carpio expressed apprehension that China is eyeing control over the entire South China Sea and may even go beyond the nine-dash line, saying Beijing is able to accelerate this because of “people like President Duterte who cooperates” with them.
He asserted that invoking Philippines’ rights over its EEZ will not compromise its trade relations with China, citing the policies of Vietnam and Malaysia, which he said are “facing Chinese in the high seas” but still enjoy good business relations with the Asian powerhouse.
Carpio believed that the presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea would pave the way for the building of structures in the area.
The retired magistrate stressed the need for the Philippines to invoke the 2016 arbitral ruling since it is China’s “weakest point.” Nonetheless, he admitted that this cannot be pushed without the approval of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“He’s the chief architect of the foreign policy. We cannot file a case before the arbitral tribunal without his consent, his approval,” Carpio said.
Carpio cautioned that the Code of Conduct between China and the ASEAN nations, which is supported by the Philippines, will just legitimize the artificial structures that they have built outside their territories.
“From the very start, China said we will sign a Code of Conduct at the appropriate time, when the time is right. When is the time right for China? When China has completed all its artificial islands,” he said.
Carpio said that it is the President Rodrigo Duterte, not his Cabinet members, who needs to speak up on the ongoing tensions in the West Philippine Sea as China only listens to a country’s top leader.
Carpio noted that despite the strong statements issued by ForeignSecretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the Palace is still playing down the presence of Chinese vessels in the WPS.
“This is a very important national issue. Our sovereign rights are involved. The President must speak, he must stand up himself because if his subordinates do the talking, China will not listen because China will only listen to the leader of the nation and if the President is silent, then China will continue,” Carpio said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, said China has chosen to use force because it knows its nine-dash line has no basis in international law.
“Let us not allow China to belittle our rights over the West Philippine Sea,” said Hontiveros.
She said the Philippines, along with the international community, should continue to fight for what is fair, just, and equitable.
“China thinks she can maybe push smaller countries around, but she certainly cannot push around a region united against her, let alone the world… China is not backing down, so all the more neither should we,” she said.
In the House, Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon urged the government to engage in naval exercises with the United States in the country’s territorial waters.
“We can see that for a while there seemed to be a cooling off of the relationship between the Philippines and the US, but I think it’s time for us to engage our longtime allies and even possibly forge new ones,” Biazon said. “We have the international community sympathetic to our cause, and I think it’s the next step that we should be taking to make up for the imbalance of military power between China and the Philippines.”
“Obviously, militarily, if we compare the two, the Philippines is way behind. But we have the international community on our side, both on the legal front through the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the military front through the Department of National Defense,” he added.
Biazon, the vice chairman of the House committee on national defense and security, also said the Philippines should pursue diplomatic action on the presence of Chinese ships in the Julian Felipe reef and China’s harassment of a Filipino vessel ferrying local media in the West Philippine Sea, and continue with maritime patrols in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).