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Carpio: 3 possible scenarios in South China Sea arbitration ruling

/ 06:23 PM March 31, 2016
Philippines South China Sea

This July 20, 2011 file photo, captured through the window of a closed aircraft, shows an aerial view of Pag-asa Island, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of western Philippines. AP File Photo/Pool

Three scenarios are likely in the decision of the The Hague on the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea, with the tribunal not ruling on the case as the “worst case scenario,” Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said on Thursday.

“The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will die because that means it cannot settle the most important maritime dispute today and if it cannot settle, then it’s useless. People will not go to avail of the remedies under UNCLOS,” he said in a forum.

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The forum “Arbitration Ruling: Geopolitical Possibilities, the 2nd Heneral Antonio Luna Colloquium Series” was held in Camp Aguinaldo and was attended by military personnel, representatives from embassies and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The worst case scenario, according to the senior justice, is when the tribunal does not rule on the validity of the 9-dash lines; declares that Itu Aba generates an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and Scarborough Shoal generates only a territorial sea; and does not rule on other issues.

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READ: China’s 9-dash threatens rule of law, Justice Carpio tells D.C.

If this happens, Carpio said the Philippines and other claimants will have to “buy warships, warplanes and anti-ship missiles” to defend their maritime zones.

Carpio said Itu Aba or Taiping occupied by Taiwan is not capable of human habitation or economic life of its own. The UN court has to decide whether it is a rock or an island. If the UN decides it is a rock, then it means that Palawan has a full 200 nautical mile EEZ facing the South China Sea.

If Itu Aba is capable of human habitation, this means that its 200 nautical mile EEZ would reach Palawan province.

With the worst case scenario ruling, China will enforce its 9-dash claims as its national boundaries and will block or harass Philippine, Vietnamese and Malaysian resupply to islands they occupy in the Spratlys; and the legal dispute continues.

Tensions will further increase because the United States will conduct regular freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea which will be opposed by China.

The senior justice suggested that the Philippines must seek a formal declaration with Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei that none of the islands or high tide elevations in the Spratlys generates an EEZ.

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This scenario is possible, however, Carpio said, “I don’t’ think it will happen but we have to be prepared for that.”

The other scenario, which Carpio calls the “middle ground,” would be when the tribunal declares the 9-dash lines as void;  Scarborough Shoal generates only a territorial sea which is a traditional fishing ground of Filipino fishermen; and the tribunal does not rule on all other issues.

READ: Justice Carpio to speak in Washington on China’s sea claim

One of the consequences of this decision is that the maritime space under legal dispute between the Philippines and China would be drastically reduced from over 531,000 square kilometers to only about 23,000 square kilometers; freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, outside the territorial sea and territorial airspace in the South China Sea are reinforced.

On the Scarborough Shoal, Filipino fishermen can also fish exclusively within the EEZ and it may also fish with Chinese fishermen, he said.

Carpio noted that China is not expected to comply with the ruling unless there is a strong opinion for them to comply and the Chinese people will realize their historic claim has no basis.

The Philippines can file a new arbitration case on Itu Aba that it does not generate an EEZ, he added.

Best case scenario

However, the senior justice is hopeful of the best case scenario, in which the tribunal would rule the 9-dash lines claims as void; the Itu Aba does not generate an EEZ, confirms the status of the low tide elevations identified by the Philippines; Scarborough Shoal generates only a territorial sea which is a traditional fishing ground of the Filipino fishermen.

READ: UN tribunal ‘totally ignored’ China’s 9-dash line – Carpio

Palawan will have full 200 nautical miles EEZ, excluding the territorial seas around the islands/ high tide elevations in the Spratlys. Low tide elevations such as Mischief and Subi Reef will belong to the Philippines.

Maritime space under the dispute between the Philippines and China is reduced from over 531,000 square kilometers to just 1,551 square kilometers of territorial sea around every Spratly island/ high tide elevations and Scarborough Shoal.

The Philippines should also launch a diplomatic campaign in the United Nations, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), European Union and worldwide to demand that China comply with the ruling and abandon the 9-dash line as a claim to maritime zones, Carpio said.

“I’m very optimistic that the [best case] scenario will prevail,” he told reporters later. RAM

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TAGS: arbitration, China, Philippines, ruling, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, South China Sea, Unclos, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
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