It’s funny how China has remained silent over a complaint filed by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales against Chinese President Xi Jin-ping for “crimes against humanity” for alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, and how President Rodrigo Duterte and other Philippine officials are tripping over themselves to defend China.
The Chinese government does not have to say anything. It can rely on its friends in the high echelons of the Philippine government to defend them. It has always been the case after all in many issues raised against China in its continued creeping invasion of Philippine territory in the South China Sea. Who needs a spokesperson when it’s the President of the complaining country himself and his top officials who always rise to defend them?
“I would say that there is no jurisdiction over this country, and especially over China,” Duterte told reporters Thursday night. “China is not a member of the International Criminal Court.”
Duterte said he believed the case would not adversely affect the diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China as the two former officials no longer represented the Philippine government and were now considered ordinary citizens.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, of course, agreed with his boss: “The filing of the complaint may be a futile exercise. The ICC has no jurisdiction over China.”
While upholding the right of Del Rosario and Morales to file the complaint, Panelo said: “We reiterate, however, that the Philippines under the Duterte administration is engaged in a diplomatic negotiation, through a bilateral consultation mechanism, over the West Philippine Sea issue. We do not need the help or disturbance of a biased tribunal known to politically prosecute heads of state, the very reason why powerful countries like the United States, China, Russia, and Israel, to name only a few, have either withdrawn their membership as State Parties from the Rome Statute or declined to be members of the ICC,” he added.
Panelo did not stop short of saying Del Rosario and Morales had the right to file the complaint or to say that ICC had no jurisdiction, he went further by describing the international body as “a biased tribunal known to politically prosecute heads of state.”
There you go. Why should China issue any statement, or Xi answer any question regarding the issue? The President of the complaining country and his spokesperson already did the job.
And guess what? The statements by Duterte and Panelo evoked the desired thank you from the Chinese government. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang applauded Duterte’s defense of Xi and describing the situation in the disputed sea as “stable and heading for the better.” “A few individuals in the Philippines cannot stir up big trouble,” he added.
Reassuring words coming from China weeks ahead of a planned fourth visit by the President to meet again with Xi.
The complaint filed by Del Rosario and Morales, which was filed just two days before the Philippines formally withdrew from the ICC, was the first such action from the Philippine side, albeit not from the government, to follow up on a ruling by a United Nations tribunal in July 2016 that the Philippines has exclusive rights over the area around Scarborough Shoal, which is 124 miles west of Zambales, well within the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The Arbitral Tribunal also said China had no legal basis to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within its claimed “nine-dash line.”
Del Rosario and Morales lodged their complaint on behalf of Filipinos and the hundreds of thousands of Filipino fishermen who they said were being “persecuted and injured” by China’s aggressive island-building and occupation of islands in the West Philippine Sea.
Del Rosario, who was the Philippine foreign secretary when the tribunal issued the 2016 ruling, and Morales argued that the “atrocious actions of Chinese officials in the South China Sea and within Philippine territory’’ constitute crimes against humanity that the ICC can prosecute.
US Indo-Pacific commander Admiral Philip Davidson has confirmed that Chinese Coast Guard vessels continue to intimidate Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal). In his testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 12, Davidson said, “Chinese Coast Guard vessels now fall under the command of the Central Military Commission and regularly harass and intimidate fishing vessels from our treaty ally, the Philippines, operating near Scarborough Reef, as well as the fishing fleets of other regional nations.”
Last year, the crew of a Chinese Coast Guard vessel were caught on video taking away the best catch of Filipino fishermen in the area.
The Philippine government, as usual, did not file a protest against these blatant violations of the UN Tribunal ruling and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which the Philippines and China are signatories.
Instead, then Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque dismissed the incidents as “maliit na bagay (of little consequence)” and that what happened was a “barter,” not piracy or harassment as they really are. In fact, he said we should be thankful the Filipino fishermen can now fish there.
Roque was just being consistent with the Duterte administration’s flawed policy of appeasement with regards the Philippines’ relations with China, especially on matters pertaining to the South China Sea territorial dispute.
Panelo echoed the same line recently when he said the Philippines should be thankful to China for building a maritime rescue center instead of filing a protest because he said that could help fishermen in distress.
Del Rosario and Morales know Filipinos can never rely on this administration to protect its people from harassment by the Chinese nor protect the country’s territory from China’s continued assault. They now have turned to the ICC to let the world know that not all Filipinos have grown a blind love to China and not all are willing to give up the nation’s sovereignty.
For this patriotic act, we should salute them.
Val Abelgas is a former editor of Manila Standard. He now lives in the United States.