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‘Word war’ over WPS still raging

Retired Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio on Friday urged Filipinos to “shout out” to President Rodrigo Duterte to wake him from his slumber and prod him to correct the narrative that China is in possession of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea.

“Shout out to President Duterte that China is not in possession of the West Philippine Sea. Shout out loud so that President Duterte will wake up from his sleep under the kulambo (mosquito net) and admit to the nation the truth — that China is not in possession of the West Philippine Sea,” Carpio said in an online forum hosted by the Philippine Bar Association.

The retired magistrate said it is “grossly incorrect” for the President to repeatedly say that China is in possession of WPS. He noted that Duterte made these remarks in November 2018, during the State of the Nation Addresses in 2019 and 2020, and again in April this year.

Carpio said China is in possession of only eight geologic features in the Spratlys plus Scarborough Shoal, which constitute less than 7 percent of the total maritime area in the West Philippine Sea.

He also noted that all the member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agree with the 2016 arbitral award in favor of the Philippines, and all outside naval powers support it. China is the only state that opposes the award, he said.

At the Senate, at least 15 senators signed a resolution condemning the continued presence of Chinese militia vessels in the country's exclusive economic zones.

On Friday, Senator Manny Pacquiao said he chose not to sign the resolution filed by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon as he already sent a letter to the Chinese embassy for the immediate removal of its vessels.

Pacquiao said he sent his letter to Chinese ambassador Huang Xilian on April 10, or about two weeks before the Drilon-led resolution made the rounds at the Senate.

“The continuing presence of Chinese ships at the said reef, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, only creates tension and harbors divisiveness in our region and evidently destabilizing to the international rule of law. In line with this, we reiterate our call to your government to promptly withdraw these vessels from our territory. We demand nothing less than for your country to respect our sovereignty,” Pacquiao said in his letter.

On Wednesday, the President blamed Carpio and former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario for the loss of Scarborough Shoal to China.

“If you’re bright, why did we lose the West Philippine Sea?” Duterte said.

Carpio lashed back at Duterte, saying he did nothing when China seized Sandy Cay from the Philippines in 2017.

Sandy Cay is just two nautical miles from Pagasa, the largest island in the Spratlys.

“China’s seizure of Sandy Cay has resulted in the loss of one-third of our territorial sea in Pagasa, a loss of a maritime area three times larger than the land area of Quezon City. Still President Duterte has declared ‘I simply love President Xi Jinping,’” Carpio said in a statement.

Carpio, who has been pressing the government to strongly assert the country’s sovereignty over disputed maritime territories in the West Philippine Sea, also clarified that in late 2012 when China seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines, he was in the Supreme Court.

He also reminded Duterte it was former President Benigno Aquino III who won the arbitral award only for Duterte to set it aside.

In his speech during the forum, Carpio considered Duterte as one of two challenges to the enforcement of the arbitral award, the other being China.

Carpio enumerated Duterte’s so-called “self-inflicted blows” that are detrimental for the enforcement of the arbitral award.

Among them, Carpio said, are Duterte’s statement shortly after taking office setting aside the arbitral award to secure $22 billion in loans and investments from China, of which less than 5 percent has so far materialized; the President's statement in September 2016 that the Philippine Navy will patrol only territorial seas, not the Philippines’ EEZ; the Chief Executive's decision in July 2019 to enter into a verbal fishing agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which Carpio said is a derogation of the exclusive sovereign right of Filipinos to fish in the West Philippine Sea; and Duterte's July 2019 State of the Nation Address where he admitted to being “inutile” or useless in defending the West Philippine Sea.

Nonetheless, Carpio said there are several initiatives that the Philippines could explore to enforce the arbitral award, including sponsoring a resolution before the UN General Assembly to demand that China comply with the award.

He cited as examples the cases of Nicaragua in 1997 when the United States refused to recognize the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to pay damages for supplying arms to Contra rebels and mining the harbors of the country, and Mauritius when it secured UNGA backing to enforce an ICJ ruling that the United Kingdom should return the Chagos Archipelago.

“A resolution of the UN General Assembly calling China to comply with the Award will send a strong moral message to China that the world will not legitimize China’s illegal act of seizing the South China Sea,” he said.

He also suggested entering into a convention on the South China Sea with other adjacent coastal states incorporating and implementing the arbitral award by practice.

Carpio also recommended that the Philippines conduct joint patrols with neighboring coastal states in their respective EEZs and join freedom of navigation operations with the United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan, Australia and Canada.

The former SC justice said the Philippines could also encourage Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam which have disputes with China, to question the latter's claim to additional fishing rights to strengthen the 2016 arbitral award or agree with them to establish the Spratlys as a marine protected area, suspending their claims for the next 100 to 150 years.

Carpio said the Philippines should file an extended continental shelf claim before the UN Convention on Limits of Continental Shelf.

However, Carpio lamented that with Duterte’s attitude towards the ruling, it means the arbitral award will have to be enforced “under a new administration” after the President’s term ends in June 2022.

Senators, meanwhile, continued to speak out against China for asking the Philippines to stop its maritime activities in the West Philippine Sea to supposedly prevent complicating the situation and escalating disputes in the resource-rich waters.

De Lima, who was part of the Philippine delegation who argued the Philippines’ arbitration case against China over the WPS before The Hague during her stint as Justice secretary, said that China, and not the Philippines, is the one escalating disputes in the WPS.

She scored China for continuously assaulting the country’s sovereignty in the area without getting any objection from Duterte.

“They should be the one to vacate our territories. They trampled upon our sovereignty, destroyed our resources and abused our people and now, they are threatening us," said De Lima.

Senator. Grace Poe added: "We must stand firm against illegal occupants in our waters and remain resolute in protecting our maritime domain in the WPS.”

She said the Philippines' friendship with its fellow nations must pave the way for common respect and rules-based approach in maintaining peace and stability in our waters

"Our presence in the West Philippine Sea is an unyielding display that we are standing our ground on what is ours and securing our people's productive access to our marine resources," she added.

Topics: Supreme Court , Antonio Carpio , Rodrigo Duterte , exclusive economic zone , West Philippine Sea
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