Panelo’s ‘legal possession’ remark weakens Philippines’ stand on maritime row – Carpio
MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo’s statement that China has “legal and constructive possession” of the South China Sea will impair the Philippines’ position in its maritime dispute with China, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said.
Carpio also stressed that President Rodrigo Duterte and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. should “disown” Panelo’s statement.
“It’s very serious because China will always cite the statement of the chief presidential legal counsel that ‘The Philippines has admitted that we (China) are in legal possession and therefore that ruling will not apply anymore, because this is a subsequent statement of the Philippines’,” Carpio said in an interview with CNN Philippines on Thursday.
Carpio was referring to the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague in The Netherlands in 2016 which invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim after the Philippines filed a case in 2013 challenging China’s sweeping claim of nearly the entire South China Sea.
The senior magistrate pointed out that it is the duty of both the President and foreign affairs secretary to “disown” Panelo’s statement.
“Secretary Panelo added that this is the thinking of the President that China [is in] legal possession. So it’s the duty of the President to disown the statement, it’s the duty of the foreign affairs secretary to disown the statement,” Carpio said.
“Otherwise we will be bound by this statement and China will keep on citing this in the future, every time we assert the ruling they will say ‘Oh, you already admitted we are in legal possession’,” he further said.
During his fourth State of the Nation Address (Sona), Duterte said that China is already “in possession” of the South China Sea.
But his defense and security officials were quick to clarify the President’s remark.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Tuesday said that China is just “in position” in the South China Sea as it had established its presence in key areas.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana backed Esperon’s statement.
“I’m happy that Secretary Lorenzana and Secretary Esperon have taken the position of clarifying that it is not possession, it’s position. And because they understand the consequence,” Carpio said.
He explained that an admission that China is “in possession” of the South China Sea would mean that the military, which is tasked to protect Philippine territory, “have been remiss.”
“If you say in possession then one: the Armed Forces of the Philippines—tasked under the Constitution to protect our national territory, to protect or exclusive economic zone—have been remiss, they have not performed their duty,” he said.
“That is like telling to the Armed Forces ‘You have not performed your duty’. So, I think for them (Esperon and Lorenzana), they cannot accept that, and I agree with them, and factually that is not correct because China is not in actual possession,” he added.
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