The Philippines cannot seek military assistance from allies, which includes the United States, in its ongoing dispute with China over the West Philippine (South China) Sea.
This was stressed by Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio during his presentation at the “Perspective on the Issues Involving the West Philippine Sea” which was held at the AFP Commissioned Officer’s Club at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
“The Philippines cannot hope to deter China given the state of the Philippines’ external defense forces. The Philippines cannot invoke the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty because the disputed islands in the Spratlys are outside the scope of the treaty,” he added.
The Philippines and the US signed in 1951 a Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.
The Philippines has one of the weakest Armed Forces in the Southeast Asian Region and is relying on American aid to prop up its dilapidated Air Force and Navy.
Recently, the country made some progress in modernizing its forces but despite the improvements, it cannot hope to to deter China from making aggressive moves in the West Philippine Sea.
Carpio said that the only recourse the country can do to break the impasse is the legal one.
“The only effective response available is to bring the dispute to an arbitral tribunal under UNCLOS, to which both the Philippines and China are parties. Even then, UNCLOS governs only maritime disputes, not territorial disputes. Nevertheless, the maritime dispute covers 85.7 percent of the South China Sea waters, drastically reducing the area of conflict if the Philippines wins the arbitration,” he added.
UNCLOS refers to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Carpio earlier said if the International Tribunal will not apply the UNCLOS to the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea, then it would mean the end of that particular Convention.
“Why is it important to apply UNCLOS to the South China Sea dispute, because if we don’t apply it then UNCLOS, the Constitution for the ocean and seas of our planet cannot also apply to any maritime dispute in the rest of the oceans and seas of the world, it would be the beginning of the end of UNCLOS,” he added.
And should this happen, Carpio said the rule of the “naval cannon will prevail in the oceans and seas.”
This will trigger a naval arms race among coastal countries, he added.
“Just imagine if the tribunal says we don’t have jurisdiction the 9-dash Line is valid then what will happen, the only way we can protect our ourselves is to acquire warships, warplanes, anti-ship missiles, resources that should go to education, infrastructure, and social services will have to be re-allocated to defense and, no matter how many warships we buy we cannot defeat China, we can only hope to deter China but there is no way we can win in a total war, so its totally useless,” Carpio pointed out.
“(And) if the tribunal says there is no jurisdiction, the 9-dash Line prevailed, then there is no law of the sea anymore, everybody will have to arm, every nation will have to arm itself but that’s not enough to resolve the dispute, it will just worsen the dispute, and the judges in the tribunal will be out of job because nobody will follow the law of sea anymore,” he concluded.