PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte should be careful with his public pronouncements on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute and assert, not undermine, the Philippines’ claims, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has said.
Carpio agreed that the Philippines could not afford to go to war with China but stressed that the President possessed the constitutional duty as commander in chief of the Armed Forces to assert the country’s rights over the contested waters.
The magistrate – who helped build the country’s case in an international arbitration case against China on the maritime dispute that was resolved in favor of the Philippines in July 2016 – made the statement in reaction to the President’s remarks that he won’t stop China from building structures at the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal as the Philippines could not afford to go war.
“We cannot stop China from doing this thing. The Americans cannot even stop them from doing so. My point to China is, do not do anything to my coast guard if they go there. Because they (China) claim to own it, I claim it to be mine. In the meantime, just keep it open and don’t touch my coast guard,” Duterte said on Sunday before leaving for a state visit to Myanmar.
The President can fulfill his constitutional duty, Carpio said, by doing any, some or all of the following:
• file a strong formal protest against Chinese building activity;
• send the Philippine Navy to patrol Panatag Shoal;
• ask the US to declare Panatag Shoal part of Philippine territory for purposes of the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty, since the shoal has been part of Philippine territory even during the American colonial period;
• accept the standing US offer to hold joint naval patrols in the West Philippine Sea, including Panatag Shoal, to
prevent China from building on it; and
• avoid any act, statement or declaration that expressly or impliedly waives Philippine sovereignty to any Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea.
Carpio said filing a protest was “the least that the President should do.”
“This is what the Vietnamese did recently when China sent cruise tours to the disputed Paracels,” Carpio said.
He noted that the US had declared the Senkakus as part of Japanese territory for purposes of the US-Japan mutual defense treaty.
In case the Chinese attack Philippine Navy vessels, the Philippine government should invoke the Philippines-US Mutual defense Treaty which covers any armed attack on Philippine Navy vessels operating in the South China Sea, Carpio said.
Asserting the Philippines’ claims “will preserve for future generations of Filipinos their national patrimony in the West Philippine Sea,” the magistrate said.