President Duterte should file a strong protest to block China’s plan to build on Panatag Shoal, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said on Monday.
Carpio, a member of the legal team that successfully argued the Philippines’ challenge to China’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea before the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague last year, offered an unsolicited advice to Mr. Duterte after the President said he could not stop Beijing from building permanent structures on Panatag Shoal.
Carpio said the President had at least five options in dealing with China’s provocative actions and incursions into Philippine territory in the South China Sea.
As Commander in Chief of the military, the President is constitutionally mandated to defend the national territory, Carpio said.
“Under RA (Republic Act) No. 9522, Scarborough Shoal is part of [the] Philippine national territory,” he said, referring to the law enacted by Congress in 2008 that established the country’s archipelagic baseline.
The same law declared Panatag Shoal and the Kalayaan Group of Islands in the Spratlys group parts of the Philippines’ territory as defined under Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Panatag Shoal, internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, is a rich fishing ground located 230 kilometers west of the coast of Zambales province, well within the 370-km exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines known as the West Philippine Sea.
Xiao Jie, the top Communist Party official in Sansha City that has administered China’s South China Sea claims since 2012, was quoted in the official Hainan Daily on Friday as saying that preparations were under way to build an environmental monitoring station on Panatag Shoal.
The preparatory work on the station and others on five other islands in the South China Sea is among the top priorities of China for 2017, Xiao said.
On Sunday, Mr. Duterte said he could not stop China from building on Panatag Shoal because it was too powerful. “We cannot stop China from doing [these] things,” he told a news conference in Davao City before leaving for Burma (Myanmar).
“What do you want me to do, declare war against China? I can’t. We will lose all our military and policemen tomorrow and we [will be] a destroyed nation,” he said.
“Any statement that the Philippines cannot stop China from building on Scarborough Shoal actually encourages China to build on Scarborough Shoal,” Carpio warned.
He said “the least” Mr. Duterte could do was to lodge a “strong formal protest” against Beijing’s planned construction of an environmental monitoring station on Panatag.
He said Vietnam protested after a Chinese-registered private cruise ship set sail for the Paracels, a group of islands claimed by Hanoi that China, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim as their own.
Carpio said Mr. Duterte could also deploy a Philippine Navy ship to patrol Panatag Shoal and solicit the help of the United States, the Philippines’ oldest military ally, to generate military muscle.
“If the Chinese attack Philippine Navy vessels, then invoke the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which covers any armed attack on Philippine Navy vessels operating in the South China Sea,” Carpio said.
Regarded as the “mother” of all military deals between the two countries, the August 1951 agreement stipulates that “an armed attack on either of the parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”
Carpio said the Philippines may follow the lead of Japan and ask the United States to recognize Panatag Shoal as “part of Philippine territory for purposes” of invoking the MDT.
He pointed out that Tokyo had asked the United States to declare the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea “as part of Japanese territory for purposes of the US-Japan mutual defense treaty.”
“[Panatag Shoal] has been part of Philippine territory even during the American colonial period,” Carpio said.
Mr. Duterte, he said, may opt to consider the Americans’ invitation for the United States and the Philippines to conduct joint naval patrols in the South China Sea.
“This will demonstrate joint Philippine and US determination to prevent China from building on Scarborough Shoal,” Carpio said.
Carpio said Mr. Duterte should “avoid any act, statement or declaration that expressly or impliedly waives Philippine sovereignty to any Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea.”
“This will preserve for future generations of Filipinos their national patrimony in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
Mr. Duterte, however, is unlikely to take the US option, having adopted an “independent foreign policy” to steer the Philippines away from US influence and called then US President Barack Obama a “son of a bitch” for criticizing his brutal war on drugs.
He has also scaled back military cooperation between the Philippines and the United States and threatened to scrap the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that allows US forces increased access to Philippine military bases.
Carpio had earlier warned that China’s reported construction project on Panatag Shoal was a prelude to its plan to limit air travel in the region by declaring an air defense identification zone.
“These developments call for a national debate, and consensus, on how the nation should proceed with its bilateral relations with China,” he said.
The Hague ruling
China seized Panatag Shoal after a two-month standoff with Philippine vessels in 2012, but The Hague court declared in July last year that China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea had no legal basis and that it had violated the Philippines’ sovereignty and right to explore for resources in waters within its EEZ.
China rejected the ruling, insisting that it had “undisputed sovereignty” over the South China Sea but offered to settle rival claims through bilateral negotiations.
Besides China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan claim parts of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in global trade passes every year and where islets, reefs and atolls are believed to be sitting atop vast energy reserves.
Mr. Duterte, a self-styled socialist, upended Philippine foreign policy after winning presidential election last year by deferring assertion of The Hague ruling and making friendly overtures to China and Russia and distancing himself from the United States. —WITH REPORTS FROM AFP AND AP
Tags: Carpio, Duterte, East China Sea, EDCA, Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Japan, Panatag Shoal, Permanent Court of Arbitration, Philippine Sovereignty, Philippine territory in the South China Sea, Philippines, Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty, Scarborough Shoal, Senkaku Islands, South China Sea, U.S., US-Japan mutual defense treaty, West Philippine Sea