Carpio slams DFA stand on PH reef incident
The Philippines must protest China’s landing of military aircraft on Panganiban Reef or its silence may be taken as implied consent, according to acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio.
“If we don’t protest, we acquiesce. We consent impliedly, [we lose],” Carpio said in an interview on Saturday.
[It’s] to preserve our rights: No, we don’t agree [to the landings]. That’s ours [Panganiban Reef]. It remains [disputed]. If we don’t protest, [for them] it’s no longer disputed,” he added.
The Inquirer published last week surveillance photos obtained from a source that showed two Xian Y-7 military transport planes on the tarmac of Panganiban Reef (internationally known as Mischief Reef), which is located within the Philipppines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea. The photos were taken on Jan. 6 this year.
Just note verbale
“We should be protesting. It doesn’t cost anything, just a note verbale on a piece of paper then we preserve our rights,” Carpio said, observing the government seemed to be avoiding displeasing China.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said last week that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was “taking all diplomatic actions” to protect the Philippines’ claims in the South China Sea, but refused to say what the agency would do about the military landings on Panganiban Reef.
“China has been protesting every time we send survey ships to Recto Bank (Reed Bank) … . Vietnam always protests even up to now. China itself protests. [But we], why do we handicap ourselves?” Carpio asked.
“[Protest is] very peaceful. [We won the arbitration in] The Hague [because] we showed we protested. [We questioned many things]. Can you just imagine if we did not protest that?” he added.
Carpio was a member of the legal team that argued the Philippines’ case in challenging in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague China’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea, including swaths of the Philippines’ EEZ known as West Philippine Sea.
The arbitral court handed down a ruling in July 2016, declaring China’s sweeping claim invalid and that it violated the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and explore for resources in the West Philippine Sea.
Panganiban belongs to PH
Part of the ruling says the Philippines has sovereign rights over Panganiban Reef, but China has refused to acknowledge the court’s decision.
President Duterte, who came to power shortly before the ruling, put the Philippine victory on the back burner, mended fences with China and went on to win aid and pledges of investment from Beijing.
Surveillance photos published by the Inquirer in February showed China, while helping finance Mr. Duterte’s infrastructure program, was pursuing the completion of artificial islands on Panganiban and other reefs claimed by the Philippines in the Spratly archipelago.
The other Philippine-claimed reefs seized and transformed by China into artificial islands with military facilities are Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven), Mabini (Johnson South), Zamora (Subi) and McKennan (Hughes).
China has also topped Kagitingan and Zamora with runways that can handle military planes.
“China is doing this incrementally so it won’t create a shock. It’s like water torture, you don’t know you’re being boiled,” Carpio said.
“[They are coming a few at a time – fighter jets, long-range bombers. It’s obvious that’s a military grade runway. There are hangars for fighter jets. [China’s doing it little by little] so people will get used to it. [That’s China’s strategy],” Carpio said.
‘Gateway’ to Recto Bank
He described Panganiban as a “gateway” to Recto (Reed) Bank, where the Philippines had started to explore for oil and gas, but suspended operations in 2014 to make way for the arbitration in The Hague.
“If the Philippines sends survey vessels to Recto Bank, the Chinese could act fast by sending blocking forces from Panganiban Reef,” he said.
“China calls Mischief Reef Pearl Harbor in the South China Sea. [Their] radar can monitor any aircraft that lands or takes off from Puerto Princesa. They can monitor our movements,” he added.
Carpio also criticized National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.’s statement that he would rather prioritize domestic security concerns like the communist insurgency and terrorism before tackling the territorial dispute with China.
“When I graduated [from] college in 1970 [the communist and Moro insurgencies were already there]. You mean to say we will wait for another 50 years when the West Philippine Sea has already been taken? This is more important because once we lose it, we lose it forever,” he said.
“If China invades Palawan, do we say domestic issue first?” he said.
War not an option
Carpio agreed that war was not an option, but he tried to explain it better than the government’s line that the Philippines did not have military muscle to take on China.
“[War is not an option, that’s the reason why we went to The Hague],” he said. “We relied on international law. It’s against the Constitution, against the human charter. You can’t settle the dispute by going to war. We will be isolated. We never considered war, that’s why we went to The Hague.”
On Friday, Carpio addressed graduating law students of the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, telling them that every Filipino has a role to play in asserting the country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea through “people-to-people conversation” to get China to comply with the arbitral court’s ruling.
“Let it not be said by future generations of Filipinos that today’s generation of Filipinos slept while China seized the West Philippine Sea,” he told the graduates.
Carpio said he wanted “to get people involved in talking to the rest of the world.”
“That’s my advocacy, that we Filipino people [take up] the defense of the West Philippine Sea. [They say] that’s too quixotic, but [we have no] alternative… [If the government doesn’t want to, let’s do it ourselves]. They can’t stop us. This is freedom of expression,” he said.
Carpio said he had published an e-book, and suggested the new lawyers use the arguments there.
“You talk to everybody. This is something we should’ve been doing with the government leading. If it doesn’t want to lead, then we do it ourselves. We have to bypass them and they can’t stop us,” he said.
Subscribe to our global nation newsletter
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.