Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio is calling on President Rodrigo Duterte to file a “strong” formal protest against the Chinese building activity on Scarborough Shoal, locally referred to as Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, to make sure that the interests and rights of the Philippines are properly protected.
“This is the least that the President should do,” the magistrate said, stressing the President as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces is tasked by the Constitution to defend the country’s territory.
Under Republic Act 9522, Carpio said Scarborough Shoal is part of national territory.
“This is what the Vietnamese did recently when China sent cruise tours to the disputed Paracels,” he added.
While Carpio conceded that the country “is no match to China militarily,” he said Mr. Duterte can still send patrol ships to Scarborough Shoal.
If the Chinese attack Philippine Navy vessels, then the President can invoke the Philippines-US Mutual defense Treaty, which covers any armed attack on Philippine navy vessels operating in the South China Sea, the magistrate said.
Also, Carpio said the government can ask the United States to declare that Scarborough Shoal is 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.
“The US has declared the Senkakus as part of Japanese territory for purposes of the US-Japan mutual defense treaty,” he added.
He also urged the President to accept Washington’s “standing offer” to hold joint naval patrols in the South China Sea, which includes Scarborough Shoal.
“This will demonstrate joint Philippine and US determination to prevent China from building on Scarborough Shoal.”
The President the other day that he cannot stop China from building on a disputed shoal near the country’s west coast because China is too powerful.
Carpio, however, asked Mr. Duterte to 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 natural patrimony in the West Philippine Sea,” Carpio said.
South China Sea tensions have eased somewhat since Beijing erupted in fury last year after a Hague-based arbitration tribunal ruled on a case filed by the Philippines, invalidating China’s sweeping territorial claims and determining that China violated the rights of Filipinos to fish at Scarborough Shoal.
China has since allowed Filipino fishermen to return to the shoal following Mr. Duterte’s calls for closer ties between the countries, but it does not recognize the tribunal’s ruling as valid and insists it has historical claims to almost the entire South China Sea, through which an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes each year.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have long contested ownership of the South China Sea, which straddles one of the world’s busiest sea lanes and is believed to sit atop vast deposits of oil and gas.
Mr. Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, had actively challenged China’s claim to control most of the South China Sea, despite counter-claims by several other nations.
But Mr. Duterte, who took office last year, has reversed that policy and is seeking billions of dollars worth of investments and grants from Beijing.
China has responded enthusiastically, with promises of increased trade and billions of dollars in pledges for infrastructure projects in the Philippines.
“We are now improving the economy because of the help of China. Why will you be so shameless just because they are passing by?” he earlier told reporters.
Julius Leonen with PNA