MANILA, Philippines — Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has criticized the government’s awarding of rare honors to outgoing Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua.
The ambassador, who is set to end his post this November after serving for five years, was recently awarded with the Order of Sikatuna and Congressional Medal of Achievement.
“Our national heroes who died defending our territory against foreign invaders, must now be turning in their graves,” Carpio told lawyers in his speech at the UP Alumni Homecoming on Thursday in Pasay City.
Carpio is one of the leading experts and staunch defenders of the country’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.
The Order of Sikatuna, which was conferred by President Rodrigo Duterte last month, is usually given to diplomats, officials and nationals of foreign states “who have rendered conspicuous service in fostering, developing and strengthening relations between their country and the Philippines.”
Early this week, the House of Representatives conferred Zhao with the Congressional Medal of Achievement for “fostering stronger bonds of very good friendship” between Manila and Beijing.
No ambassador had reportedly received the same award, according to the records on the House website, which only goes back to the 13th Congress.
Carpio said the House of Representatives’ citation may be referring to the article written by Zhao in the Philippine Star in November 2018, where he said: “Being separated by only a narrow strip of water, China and the Philippines have been close neighbors for centuries, sharing xxx geographic proximity.”
For the retired senior magistrate, Zhao meant that “the Philippines and China are very close neighbors, because the nine-dashed line is China’s national boundary in the South China Sea, leaving the Philippines with only a sliver of water as its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone.”
“For this, Ambassador Zhao was conferred a Congressional Medal of Achievement by our House of Representatives. Of course, the House of Representatives was just following President Rodrigo Duterte, who earlier conferred on Ambassador Zhao the Order of Sikatuna with the Rank of Datu,” he added.
Beijing claims most of the South China Sea based on its mythical nine-dash line, which had already been rejected by an international court in 2016. Its claims included territories also being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei. /muf