How to defend Panatag Shoal


Ricardo Saludo

SUPREME Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who contributed immensely to our winning our arbitration suit against China’s “nine-dash line” maritime claim, wants President Rodrigo Duterte to shut up.

He didn’t put it that way, but it was part of his point. Justice Carpio asked the President to take care in speaking on territorial issues, to avoid explicitly or implicitly relinquishing sovereign claims and rights.

As head of state, President Duterte speaks for the Republic. Hence, if he says, for instance, that the Philippines can do nothing about construction and other actions by China on Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, it could be construed as giving up our claim.

And if the Duterte government actually does nothing, not even protesting Beijing’s building plan or work, it may further buttress the claim that we’re not interested in asserting territorial rights.

Plus: The President may be shirking his constitutional duty to defend the national territory and patrimony — an impeachable offense.

Another expert in international maritime law, however, begs to differ with His Honor the Senior Associate Justice.

Legal luminary Estelito Mendoza was Philippine representative in global negotiations decades ago forging the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the legal regime for maritime sovereign rights, freedom of navigation, and other provisions governing the high seas.

The Marcos-era justice secretary and solicitor general also advised in crafting the 2008 Baselines Law and claiming the 130,000-sq km Benham Rise undersea plateau, which the UNCLOS declared part of our extended continental shelf, with no nation objecting.

The ECS confers exclusive rights to harness resources in the seabed, like offshore oil, while the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) covers use of the waters, like fishing.

Mendoza believes President Duterte has not said or done anything weakening territorial and maritime claims, even in declaring: “We cannot stop China from doing its thing [on Panatag]. Even the Americans were not able to stop them.”

Or when he disclosed that he allowed China to do marine research at Benham Rise, amid concern over a Chinese vessel staying there for three months last year. (Notably, Justice Carpio also said research on the waters is fine, but not on the seabed.)

So, which legal opinion is correct? We won’t know for sure until President Duterte’s actions and statements are cited by a rival claimant in some international tribunal on conflicting territorial claims. But it’s wise to be careful, as Justice Carpio urged.

Asserting sovereign rights
He also suggested five ways for President Duterte to fulfill his constitutional duty of asserting territorial claims, even without force. One is to avoid statements and actions undermining sovereign claims and rights. The government can also strongly protest violations — “the least the Philippines can do,” said Carpio. And Duterte can send vessels to patrol our claimed areas.

Third, the government can ask Washington to declare Panatag Shoal as part of territory covered by the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty, Carpio argued, since it was part of the country when we were under American rule. And he urged accepting the US standing offer of joint naval patrols in disputed areas, which President Duterte stopped.

The Palace has not been utterly silent on territorial issues. Last week, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella raised concerns over the Chinese vessel in Benham Rise. He also asked Beijing to clarify reports that it plans to build a environmental monitoring station on Panatag Shoal.

Yesterday, China’s Foreign Ministry denied it just when the Justice and Foreign Affairs Departments said they would file a strong protest.

On Carpio’s proposals, one hopes the President would mind his tongue on maritime matters, despite his refusal to be silenced on other issues.

Despite his amicable policy toward China, downplaying disputes, there should be room for protests even between friends. But sea patrols, especially with the US, seem unlikely for now. The Navy will secure Benham Rise, which isn’t disputed territory.

Regarding the defense treaty, President Duterte reiterated during his Myanmar visit his aversion to military activities with the US, which may provoke China, even though he saw much improved ties with President Donald Trump’s administration.

Time to get a real stick
So, is that all we can do about territorial encroachments — speak softly, since we don’t have a big stick?

In fact, there are defensive capabilities we should develop, but never did, due to our excessive dependence on the US alliance.

In April 2012, when the past regime lost Panatag Shoal, the Washington security think-tank Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) urged: “The United States needs to help the Philippines develop its own set of ‘anti-access/area denial’ capabilities to counter China’s growing power projection capabilities.”

Those A2/AD assets include maritime surveillance planes to survey the high seas, anti-ship missiles to deter intruders, and anti-aircraft systems to protect the projectiles, argued the CSBA report, “The Geostrategic Return of the Philippines” <>.

Former National Security Adviser RoiloGolez has long advocated acquiring 200 BrahMos supersonic anti-ship missiles made in India with Russian know how. The truck-mounted hard-to-find rockets, with their 300-to-400-km range, can protect our entire EEZ and most of our ECS.

Since the BrahMos would secure offshore oil deposits, their deployment could be an energy-related undertaking funded with Malampaya gas royalties, now well over P150 billion. Vietnam is buying the BrahMos, along with that other key A2/AD weapon: submarines. (President Duterte should mention both when he visits Moscow.)

Why didn’t Washington follow CSBA advice and provide A2/AD gear, as Tokyo is doing with two surveillance planes recently turned over? Just a wild guess, but maybe it’s because if we could defend ourselves, we wouldn’t let American forces escalate deployment and use bases in our country.

What if we’re attacked or invaded for sinking intruding ships? Then the US alliance kicks in. And despite Duterte’s cussing, America will fight to keep the Philippines from falling into enemy hands and becoming a vast hostile military platform dominating Asia.

So, Mr. President, you’re right for us to bide our time until we’re strong enough to defend what’s ours. Now, let’s get those A2/AD armaments pronto.

Mabuhay ang Inang Bayang Pilipinas!


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  1. florendo abad on

    Wala na sa lahi ng Filipino and pagkabayani. puro na duwag at selfist. kaya kawawa ang susunod na lahi ninyo. Pa under kyo sa Chinese. Chinese na nag ang mayayaman dyan gusto pa ninyong ibigay sa kanila ang buong pilipinas mga TANGA.

  2. @BHING GO
    your ignorance is showing…..during the regime of your idol panot, wala naman kayong ginawa pati na ang mga amerikanong nagsulsol sa AMBOY na si carpio ng tinayuan at inangkin ng china ang mga isla at kahit ng manalo tayo sa arbitration sa UNCLOS, iniwan lang tayo ng mga amerikano sa ere kung paano natin iienforce yung ruling na yun. kaya nga tinawag na PHYRRIC VICTORY lang yun dahil wala namang saysay. isa pa, mayabang si pano nuon pero nung inangkin ng china mga isla, may nagawa ba siya para kontrahin yun???yung mga namaningisdang nawalan ng pagkakakitaan dahil sa gulo, anung ginawa ni panot at ni carpio,wala, nganga lang…pero dahil sa madiplomasyang pamamaraan na ginawa ng pangulong Duterte, naayos nya at naibalik ang magandang pagsasamahan ng Pilipinas at China. at kung sobrang tapang mo, bakit hindi mo sugurin yung panatag shoal at paalisin ang mga intsik duon??/puro lang kase kayo ngakngak yung mga kritiko ng Pangulong Duterte pero bahag naman ang buntot pag nagkagulo na… sinong tanga ang hindi matatakot sa china??/mismong amerikano nga, atubili na galitin sila at baka palagan sila at magkabistuhan…1/3 ng population ng mundo ay mga chino at nos2 economic power sa buong mundo. mismong US nga , baon sa utang sa china…..mahilig lang kayo sa dakdak at porma, pero pag nagkagulo na, siguradong unang una kayong tatakbo at iiwan ang mga kawawa nating mga kababayan…..WAG KA NGA!!!

    • And how much did Pinoy steal from the government? None. How much did China pay Duterte to get Scarborough Shoal and Benham Rise? Billionds of dollars. As Santiago said, “The Chinese invented corruption. To HELL with all you chinese in the Philippines who have been exploiting the people and the natural resources. Go back to China. And do not wait for an incident where Indonesia and Vietnam did to the Chinese.

    • florendo abad on

      Chinese ka nga . Go.. Si duterte ang president ngayun sabihin mo sa kanya wag nyang ibenta ng secret. bigyan naman nya kayo.

  3. Was Carpio already a China expert when, “In April 2012, when the past regime lost Panatag Shoal”? What was his advice then?

    • Jose Samilin on

      No!! Du30 is still the expert of China matters, including US matters, because he carefully consider past history.

  4. Dont expect Duterte to act on these problems against China. Duterte is scared that China will soon divulge what they gave him (could be billions of dollars and his presidential candidacy fund) in return of these Philippine territories. To Duterte and Alvarez, China is their God. To them, nothing is wrong with what China is doing on the Philippine islands. Also, at this time, let us kick all of those ARROGANT, MEAN and ABUSIVE children of rich Chinese out of the country. Kick out all the Chinese including their parents. Dont let ourselves be bullied by these kids for they are not Filipinos.